Stretch Marks: What are they? | Causes of Stretch Marks and How to Get Rid of Them
Stretch marks are an aesthetic problem that commands a lot of money in the beauty industry, with creams and treatments claiming to be able to get rid of them, but: what are stretch marks? How to get rid of them? Do they go away?
This article explores them and looks at the most common questions asked about them.
What are stretch marks?
They are skin scars caused by the skin either expanding or shrinking too quickly for its collagen and elastin to adapt, therefore rupturing; once this happens, the skin needs to heal and that is when stretch marks appear.
What do stretch marks look like?
Stretch marks are also called stria and they normally appear in parallel lines on the skin, most commonly on the arms, breasts, thighs, and belly; when they first appear, their color is normally darker, such as red, purple, pink, or brown, mainly depending on the skin color, and they can also feel slightly raised on the skin, as well as itchy.
As the stria starts to heal, the color lightens up and fades and from being raised from the skin, they start sinking beneath it, making them feel like a slight depression on the skin.
What causes stretch marks? Why do I have stretch marks?
While, like cellulite, stretch marks are very much attributed to weight gain, this is not the only reason for stretch marks; there are multiple reasons, often out of control, that these marks appear on one’s body.
The most common reasons for these are:
- Quick weight loss or weight gain: this can affect both men and women
- Pregnancy, especially when one is young: these may fade post-partum
- Being a female
- Having a family history of stretch marks
- Rapid growth in adolescence and puberty: these marks may fade with time and are normal and common
- Having surgery for breast enlargement
- Gaining a lot of muscles through exercise in a short amount of time: this happens also to those with low body fat
- Having a genetic disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos, Marfan, or Cushing’s syndromes
- Using corticosteroids: these may decrease the ability of the skin to stretch
These are some of the most common reasons stretch marks appear, however, they are not harmful to the health, and most of the times do not need further investigation; in any case, should you be in doubt, consult a specialist.
~~ How does the body grow? Learn more about the Growth Hormone.
How to get rid of stretch marks?
Multiple treatments are claiming to be able to get rid of stria, but it is important to note that no treatment can work for everyone, as everyone’s reason for having stretchmarks is different, as well as some treatments do not work at all; furthermore, they may fade, but do not go away completely.
Different studies have been conducted to more understand how these different treatments work, and here are some of the findings for the most common remedies used; there is a range of medical and home remedies available, however, no treatment can eliminate stretch marks.
Home remedies for reducing their appearance:
Multiple studies examining gels, creams, lotions, and other ointments that claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, have found that, as mentioned before, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution as everyone’s body works differently, and there were some of these that made no difference at all; by analyzing more in detail the products that did provide some improvement on the appearance, the researchers put together some tips to try and achieve the best results.
To achieve the best results, should a selected product work, it is important to:
- Use the product on early, new stria, as treatments seem to be unsuccessful on mature and old ones
- Take time to massage the product into the stretch marks gently
- Be constant in ensuring the product is applied as per its instructions; results may take weeks to appear so it is important to follow the instructions.
Furthermore, some studies have shown how popular home remedies do not work; researchers studied how applying almond oil, olive oil, Vitamin E, or cocoa butter into the stria did not help them fade.
Self-tanners and body make-up: while self-tanners can’t eliminate stretch marks, they can help camouflage them and make them look less visible. On the other hand, tanning increases their visibility.
Tretinoin Creams: these creams contain retinoid, which is a compound that is related to Vitamin A, which increases the production of collagen. By increasing and restoring the production of collagen, which is what helps give the skin elasticity, new stria that are red or pink, may fade. It is important to notice how these creams may cause skin irritation and they should not be used during pregnancy.
Collagen boosters: multiple products claim to be able to increase the production of collagen and therefore reduce the appearance of stretch marks, however, it is hard to determine whether these will be prevented or will fade at all. A vast selection of such products is available to be purchased over the counter, however, there are very few studies that have proved their efficacy in reducing the appearance of these.
Moisturizers: while these creams and lotions may make the skin feel and appear softer, it is not clear whether products, such as cocoa and shea butter, Vitamin E, and olive or almond oil, may prevent or reduce their appearance.
Other treatments for stretch marks
There are no procedures that can get rid of stria, only some that may reduce their appearance.
A dermatologist may use some procedures to reduce their appearance, such as:
- Chemical peel
- Laser therapy
Some dermatologists may also use a combination of the above techniques to achieve the best result possible, however, that still only offers the possibility of the stretch marks being less visible.
Like with all other procedures, there may be side effects also with such treatments; it is important when choosing a dermatologist that a qualified one is selected to ensure good practices are followed.
The most common side effects of the above techniques are redness and swelling, which should fade not too long after the procedures, within hours or a few days.
A qualified dermatologist will be able to advise which, if any, of the treatments are suitable based on different factors, such as age, health condition, and how long the stretch marks have been visible.
Here is what some of these treatments are:
- Pulsed dye laser therapy: this method aims to calm the blood vessels under the skin that may be causing the red marks; it is painless and it is normally conducted on new, red marks.
- Fractional photothrmolysis: this method is very similar to the pulsed dye laser therapy, but it targets smaller areas of the skin.
- Fractional CO2 laser therapy: this relatively new technique aims to smooth out old stretch marks that have gone white.
- Excimer laser therapy: this technique exposes the stria to targeted ultraviolet B light and stimulates melanin production (skin color) to try and match the area surrounding the stretch marks more closely.
- Microdermabrasion: This technique uses tiny crystals to remove and rub off the top layer of the skin.
- Microneedling: this method involves penetrating the skin with tiny needles, promoting healing of the area, which in turn stimulates the production of collagen.
- Chemical peel: this method burns off the top layers of the skin and removes the dead and damaged skin cells, promoting the growth of new skin.
- Radiofrequency: This method uses radio wave energy to stimulate the skin to produce more collagen.
- Ultrasound: this technique is very similar to the radiofrequency treatment; this sends sound waves into the skin to heat it and tighten it while promoting the production of collagen.
All of the above methods may reduce the appearance of stria, however, none will completely remove them.
Some people go to the extreme method of cosmetic surgery, such as tummy tuck, to remove areas of skin that are affected by stretch marks, however, this method can have much more severe side effects, is very painful and costly, and may leave scars, which can be more visible than the stretch marks.
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How to prevent stretch marks?
There is no way one can prevent stretch marks 100% but there are some practices that may help reduce the chance of getting them. Following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as exercising, may help reduce the chances of getting stria by not avoiding sudden weight gain or loss.
A healthy diet includes:
- Proper hydration: soft hydrated skin may develop fewer stretch marks than dry skin.
- A nutrient-rich diet: eat foods that contain all the necessary nutrients to maintain a healthy body, as well as those that promote skin health, such as proteins, Vitamins C, D, and A as well as Zinc.
- Vitamin C: This vitamin not only helps the immune system but is also an important nutrient for the development of collagen.
Some ingredients, such as Centella or hyaluronic acid, may help prevent stretch marks, researchers have found; while Centella is a herb, hyaluronic acid is naturally found in our skin.
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An incredible 50 to 90% of women develop stretch marks before delivery and these tend to start appearing the most during the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy.
Although there are multiple famous products that pregnant women use during pregnancy to try to avoid stretch marks, such as Bio-Oil, more than half of these women still get them.
Doctors recommend, for multiple factors, a slow and steady weight gain during pregnancy. Should stretch marks still be developed, most of them fade and become less visible with time.
Other common questions
Do stretch marks go away?
Stretch marks do not go away, however, their appearance may reduce with time; red stretch marks and purple stretch marks, for example, may start becoming lighter, until they become white stretch marks.
How do I get rid of stretch marks on breasts and thighs?
As for all of the above information, stretch marks may fade with time, but will not completely disappear.
Are there other methods to reduce the appearance of stretch marks?
A new trend is to tattoo over stretch marks, so to camouflage them with a drawing.
Stretch Marks: In Brief
While stretch marks are not harmful to the health, they are often not pleasant for one to have and while they do not go away, their appearance may reduce with time.
Multiple solutions claim to reduce their appearance, however, stretch marks most of the time naturally reduce in appearance over time, without ever going completely away.
Stretch marks start raised and darker in color, then sink in the skin and fade.
While many solutions claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, some have very little effect and some do not work at all; not all solutions work for everyone and each should find the one that best suits their needs.
It is always recommended a specialist, such as a dermatologist, is consulted regarding treatments for stretch marks.
Pregnant women should always consult a doctor before deciding to use any treatment to prevent or improve the appearance of stria.
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