,b>Up to 70 percent of pregnant women get stretch marks. But what women really want to know is how do you get rid of them?
According to dermatologist Dr Natasha Cooke, stretch marks are actually a scar that develops in the deeper layers of the skin. What happens with the collagen fibres in the skin is that if there's lots of stress, stretch and strain, the fibres then start fraying.
After repetitive stress and tension they actually break, causing an abnormal surface texture which is crinkled and has lost all its support. So when the skin fibres in the deeper layers or dermis break, they create marks on the surface stretch marks.
But what kinds of strain cause the skin fibres to break?
"Any form of activity that produces excessive stress and strain on the skin can produce stretch marks," says Dr Cooke.
So pregnant women are the most obvious candidates for stretch marks, but the next groups at risk are teenagers undergoing growth spurts during adolescence and women who have put on a lot of weight rapidly.
Men, too, aren't immune to them, but "women predominantly so, because they have a lot more bodily functions that happen to them that are more likely to stretch the skin," Dr Cooke says.
So that's how we get stretch marks. But is there anything we can do to get rid of them?
Three brave women are stepping up to the plate to each try a different approach to ridding themselves of stretch marks.
Thirty-two-year-old mother-of-four, Genevieve Winter, first noticed her stretch marks after carrying twins.
"I have my stretch marks basically around my back, my bottom and definitely on my stomach. All over basically."
Genevieve is going to try and get rid of her stretch marks using a very popular remedy cocoa butter.
Twenty-six-year-old mother-of-two, Renae Andrew, is dead keen to see the end of her stretch marks as well.
"They first appeared with my first child. I've mainly got them down the inside and the outside of my thighs … I got them all around my stomach."
Renae will be trialling an oil-based product that markets itself as a stretch mark cure.
Twenty-four-year-old Emily Prouse developed her stretch marks after weight gain from surgery.
"I put on a little bit of weight not being able to do anything for quite a few months and noticed them coming up. My stretch marks are actually on both sides of my hips."
Emily is taking a more hi-tech and far more expensive approach. She's spending $1100 at the Instant Laser Clinic.
Matthew Jafarzadeh, director of the clinic is optimistic about her chances: "We always tell our patients that there is an improvement after doing the package that we designed for treatment of stretch marks, sometimes 90 percent improvement can be seen."
Matthew's treatment for Emily consists of micro-dermabrasion once a week, laser therapy twice a week plus infrared collagen stimulation.
"After she's gone through all this treatment she should definitely be able to see some improvement," says Matthew.
As well as stimulating collagen re-growth, this device is meant to create new elastin that's the protein that helps our skin spring back into shape.
So which treatment will work the best?
After eight weeks of applying one of the most popular treatments, cocoa butter, to the stretch marks on her sides and thighs, has Genevieve seen any difference?
"I don't think it's made much difference to my stretch marks. I actually like the cream I probably will keep using it, but I don't really think it's made any difference."
She's right there's not much difference. But Genevieve doesn't seem too dismayed: "I'm happy within myself. So it doesn't really have a big effect on myself. I've really given up. I'll just deal with it."
So, the cocoa butter gets the thumbs down.
What about Renae? Who has been smearing herself with an oil marketed as a stretch mark remover.
"I applied it twice a day, I applied it for weeks on end," she says.
The result of all that rubbing?
"I didn't see any major change. I think it took the shine away from the stretch marks. But they're still visible," she says.
Yes, our before and after shots confirm it. As Renae says, less shiny but they're still visible so the stretch mark oil doesn't make the grade either.
On to our next stretch-mark test bunny, 24-year-old Emily. While the other ladies were smearing and rubbing, Emily opted for an $1100 course of hi-tech skin treatments, spearheaded by laser therapy.
What was her result like?
"The texture and depth of the stretch marks has changed and they're not as wide as before," says Matthew.
And when you look at Emily's before and afters, the stretch marks seem to have faded a fair bit.
"All the redness has pretty much disappeared, which I'm really happy with, because it was the appearance I didn't like," says Emily.
"A lot of laser therapies can definitely expedite the removal of that redness and then the stretch mark immediately looks better. The tricky bit comes down to has the laser or the therapy improved the thickness in the tissue and replaced the collagen that's been broken? And that's very, very hard to prove," says Dr Cooke.
>b>So the verdict on laser treatment?
If you've got the money and appearances are important to you they can make a difference, but they won't solve the underlying problem.
"Unfortunately there is no way you can prevent the stretch mark. But you can control it with what you're eating and what weight you're putting on. So if you look after yourself and you're not undergoing rapid weight gain, you're certainly less likely to get them," says Dr Cooke.
The bad news is that you can't help getting them in the first place: stretch marks are hereditary.
"Certainly depending on what type of collagen, elastin, and skin you have can pre-determine whether you're more likely to get the stretch marks or not. So if your mother in pregnancy didn't get stretch marks, the chances are you're unlikely to develop them as well," Dr Cooke says.
If you do happen to be one of the 70 percent who get them, don't worry; according to Dr Cooke, they'll eventually become less visible: "The stretch mark will fade back to a natural coloured skin, which that process itself makes them look a lot better."
So they'll fade but they're still going be there?
"Yes. The colour will naturally fade but the textural change in the skin won't improve naturally. And that's pretty much permanent," she says.
Well ladies there are some things you just can't change. Maybe one day there'll be a wonder cure. But until then we'll have to accept that they're just a part of life.