Promising new treatment for stretch marks

February 26, 2010 6:05:08 PM PST
Almost anyone who has given birth or lost significant amounts of weight has experienced stretch marks. Now the Food & Drug Administration has approved a new option to treat them.

At 45 years old, Hanan, who asked us not to use her last name, still has some subtle reminders from the birth of her children.

"I want to have those stretch marks gone so I can really feel good and feel confident wearing a bikini walking down the beach," she said.

But the sunglasses she puts on a few minutes later are not for the beach. They are to protect her eyes during a laser treatment newly approved by the FDA to treat stretch marks.

In her office at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, plastic surgeon Dr. Carolyn Chang begins to zap Hanan's stretch marks using a laser called the Lux. The laser light produces a series of circles on her skin. But Chang says the actual treatment is happening beneath surface. The heat from the laser creates damage in the layer of tissue directly under the skin, which then stimulate collagen to rebuild.

"It's a little bit like a scar effect. It stimulates things to repair," Chang said.

In clinical trials, the collagen stimulation was shown to subtly stretch the skin and lighten stretch marks.

"It helps to plum out the thin layers," Chang said. "So when you thicken those thin areas, theoretically the actual depth and width of the striata should look more normal."

She says the treatment can produce slight discomfort, but since the laser light is applied incrementally, there is little to no risk of burning the skin.

Because the application is new though, Chang and dermatologist Dr. Vic Naururkar, are conducting research to develop final protocols for its use on stretch marks. Ultimately the device could become an option for patients who have lost dramatic amounts of weight, or mothers like Hanan, who just want lighten the footprint left over from pregnancy.

"I don't have to hide the stretch mark or feel uncomfortable," Hanan said.

One side effect of the laser treatment is a slight darkening of the skin's pigmentation, although that appears to be temporary. Cost for the treatment runs about $500 to $1,000 per session, and three treatments are typically required.

Written and produced by Tim Didion