If you're among the 90 percent of women who suffer from stretch marks, you're well aware that they are 1. beyond annoying and 2. tough to overcome. And while a healthy balance of pre-wedding diet and exercise is a surefire way to help you achieve your body goals for the big day — and look great in that white bikini for your destination bachelorette — there's a certain level of genetics at play that makes stretch marks (and cellulite, for that matter) tough to beat on your own.
Stretch marks, or striae, are indented streaks that often appear on the stomach, hips, butt, breasts, and thighs. They vary in thickness and color (usually pink or reddish-purple to start, fading to silvery-white overtime), and are caused by a stretching of the skin due to rapid weight gain, pregnancy, fluctuating hormone levels, and sometimes, pure genetics, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While losing weight when stretch marks first arise can help diminish their appearance, consistent aerobic exercise and strength training — to replace body fat with muscle — won't make them vanish (unlike cellulite, in certain cases). Think of stretch marks like scars in the middle layer of your skin. Sounds impossible to get at, right?
Not so — if you have a good doctor. We sought out Jennifer Chwalek, M.D., a board certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology who specializes in cosmetic and laser surgery. Dr. Chwalek recommended microneedling, which "is often used to smooth out acne scars and fine wrinkles on the face, but can also treat stretch marks on the body." Dr. Chwalek explained that microneedling requires less downtime compared to popular laser treatments. "Fraxel or vbeam lasers can combat redness caused by stretch marks, but the results often fall short of expectations and treatments on the body may take longer to heal," she says.
We decided to try a round of treatment with EndyMed's Intensif RF Microneedle. The device — essentially a thin wand hooked up to a standing machine — is outfitted with super fine needles, which, when placed flush on the skin, penetrate down into its deepest layer (the dermis) to essentially "traumatize" the skin and, as a result, kick-start the production of collagen and elastin (those forever-young factors) through the body's natural healing process. This particular device also uses radiofrequency to heat the deeper dermis, which can increase the effects.
After I was properly numbed-up with topical cream, Dr. Chwalek began working the wand over the individual stretch marks. Each poke was painless, but felt like it was pinching my skin from the inside out (weird). We treated my right side and then the left, over a 20 to 30 minute period, chatting all the while (she's a super chill, easy to talk to doc, by the way).
My skin was fairly red immediately following the treatment, gradually becoming less so over the next few days, and also slightly itchy — which I took as a sign that something was working. Each spot where the microneedle went into my skin remained visible for about two weeks, so Dr. Chwalek recommends planning your treatments at least that far in advance of any event (or any vacation that involves being in a bikini), and also advises three to five treatments total. So if you decide to go for it in preparation for your big day, plan to start at least six months out.