Since stretch marks are very difficult to eliminate, many people appeal to more radical solutions in order to get rid of their unaesthetic aspect. Laser treatments are the most invasive, but also the most effective methods to reduce these marks and improve the general aspect of the skin. Their success depends mostly on the age and severity of the stretch marks. There are different types of laser treatments available, but all of them usually lead to noticeable results when it comes to improving the appearance of the skin and to minimizing the visual impact of the stretch marks.
Classifications of Laser Treatments for Stretch Marks
There are two (2) major classifications of laser therapies used in modern medicine in order to treat stretch marks, and they are generally known as the “ablative” and “non-ablative” methods. The former technique strips the outside layer of the skin, called the epidermis up to a certain exact depth. This way, the connections that bind the skin’s molecules are disrupted and forced to disintegrate. The process is not the same with the burning of the skin, contrary to the popular belief. The injury created encourages the dermis’ fibroblasts to produce elastin and collagen, thus leading to the development of a smoother and healthier looking skin.
- Ablative Lasers
The ablative method includes the Excimer Laser Therapy and the resurfacing of the skin with the CO2 or the Erbium Laser. Since it involves the removal of the skin’s outer layer, the recovery process is longer than that involved by the non-ablative method.
- Non-Ablative Lasers
The non-ablative method uses lasers that penetrate the epidermis and concentrate on the deeper layers of the skin, without obviously damaging the outside dermal layers. This procedure has a minimal effect on the epidermis, allowing the skin to heal faster and reducing the pain. Pulsed dye lasers, fractional laser treatments and therapies using radio frequency are among the most common non-ablative methods.
4 Types of Laser Treatments for Stretch Marks
- The CO2 and Erbium Laser Therapy (Ablative Laser)
The CO2 and Erbium laser therapy is an exact technique that resurfaces the skin, but causes less pain than chemical peels or the microdermabrasion. It involves the removal of a certain part of the outside layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, encouraging the production of collagen and the skin renewal process.
In order to avoid pain during the procedure, a local anesthetic is applied. After the treatment, it takes approximately 7 to 10 days for the skin to heal completely. Some specialists consider this therapy as controversial, because there is a risk for it to cause more harm than good, and to intensify the severity of the stretch marks.
- The Excimer Laser Treatment (Ablative Laser)
The Excimer laser therapy is another ablative method that, unlike the one above, stimulates the production of melanin instead of that of elastin and collagen. The melanin causes the stretch marks to darken their color in order to match the pigmentation of the skin surrounding them. Several treatment sessions are necessary in order to obtain the best results. However, this method works better for whitened stretch marks and for people with lighter skin tones, as it does not affect the texture of the skin, but only the pigmentation.
- The Pulsed Dye Laser Therapy (Non-Ablative Laser)
PDL (pulsed dye laser) treatments are non-ablative procedures in which short light pulses are used at a low wavelength, aiming the original layer of the skin, the dermis, where the stretch marks form. These pulses stimulate the production of elastin and collagen that are necessary in order to keep the skin elastic and flexible. Once the treatment is applied, the results appear in approximately two months.
- The Fractional Laser Method (Non-Ablative Laser)
Among the modern laser therapy treatments, the fractional laser is the latest and most advanced. It was proved to be very effective in treating older, whitened marks. It works by penetrating the patient’s dermis (the source of the marks) vertically in order to stimulate the growth of collagen.
The injuries created are as small as hair shafts. The process encourages the collagen production deep in the dermis. As the targeted areas remain surrounded by healthy cells, the damaged ones are encouraged to create the necessary collagen. This way, the old tissue is replaced by a new one and the marks are filled, resulting in a healthier, better-looking skin, with smoother texture. Some of these therapies use lasers such as Fraxel and Affirm.
The Safety of Laser Procedures
Laser therapies are based on precise cosmetic lasers that are handled by specialized technicians. Therefore, on the condition that the specialist is chosen after a thorough research, the laser treatment can be a safe procedure for reducing stretch marks. Although it does present its risks as it is a more invasive technique than the use of creams, laser therapy generally received good reviews from patients. Its benefits include a short recovery period compared to plastic surgery (liposuction or tummy tucks) and noticeable results.
Laser Procedures and Pain
As all procedures that involve physical damage, laser therapy is not without pain. However, the level of pain produced is significantly lower than the one associated with most invasive techniques. The threshold of pain is generally tolerable for most patients and it is rated mostly as a 2 or 3 out of 10.
The Side Effects of Laser Treatments
The side effects are generally very low, as the recovery period is short and the procedure only provides a mild degree of discomfort. The only disadvantage is usually resented by darker skinned people, who may not respond to the treatment or end up with hyperpigmentation. Overall, patients found it to require a negligible downtime and confess to having been able to go through the procedure in the afternoon and return to work on the following day.
Repeated Treatments are Required
Generally, people suffering from stretch marks require several sessions of laser therapy, depending on the type of treatment followed, on the severity, size and age of the marks. This type of treatment may prove costly, as repeated visits to the specialist are required for optimal results.
The options available for minimizing or hiding stretch marks are extremely various. Many focus on prevention, because, once the marks develop and age, it becomes more difficult to reduce their appearance successfully.