shutterstock_239196340Frank Wang, MD, assistant professor and dermatologist at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, has spent more than 8 years studying what causes stretch marks to form, and his latest findings show us just why none of the current treatments are effective.

Wang and colleagues studied skin samples from 27 pregnant women who had recently formed stretch marks, comparing the stretch mark skin to both nearby stretched skin on the abdomen and to less-stretched skin on the hip. They found that the elastic fiber network in the dermis gets disrupted in a stretch mark. After giving birth, this network remains disrupted. The skin tries to repair the disrupted elastic network but it does not appear to be effective, which in turn promotes mature stretch marks.

Unfortunately, no topical treatments repair these disrupted elastic fibers. “It may, therefore, make more sense to focus on preserving the elastic fibers you have rather than repairing damaged ones within stretch marks,” Wang says in a news release.

The findings appear online in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Another study by Wang’s group is examining changes in collagen in stretch marks. They are also studying changes in more established stretch marks that have become less visible, and are finishing a survey study of about 200 pregnant women to learn more about the effect that stretch marks have on quality of life.

This research was funded in part by a Dermatology Foundation Research Fellowship to Dr Wang.