Pink, red, brown, purple – don’t you just love these colors and how much it brings vibrancy to your everyday life?
No matter how much you love them, did you know that these bright hues can show in your skin too?
Yes, you read that right. At some point in your life, the colours you love will stay in your skin for quite some time in the form of stretch marks.
Although stretch marks are often associated with pregnancy, the truth is they affect millions of men and women around the world. The good news is these stripes are harmless and do not affect your health in a bad way.
If you currently have stretch marks, there is still hope. If you are scared of developing stretch marks, there are many ways to prevent them from happening. So stick around, get your pen and paper ready and read everything you should know about stretch marks.
Understanding Stretch Marks: What Should You Know about Them?
Human skin is made up of many components, the most important of which is collagen and elastin. These two proteins are the foundation of your skin and primarily responsible for making it supple. When there is a lack of these two proteins, combined with excessive stretching due to certain conditions, the elastic fibres under the surface of your skin – or dermis – tend to tear and break, causing the blood vessels to become more apparent, and result in stretch marks.
In short, stretch marks, medically known as striae distensae, are scarring of the skin.
They appear as linear streaks, indentions or stripes and run perpendicular to maximum lines of tension in your skin. They start out as flat red or pink lines, also known as striae rubra, and transform into fainter colour or depressed white streaks over time, also referred to as striae alba. People with lighter complexion will develop pinkish stretch marks while those with darker skin tone get stretch marks that are lighter than their skin colour.
Stretch marks can appear anywhere in the body. However, they are more common on:
- Near the armpits
- Upper chest
- Lower back
Stretch marks after pregnancy are common, however, women and men of all ages can be at risk of having them too. The good thing is they are not painful, itchy and are generally harmless. In fact, they do not require medical attention, unless you feel embarrassed about them and want to get rid of them.
Are You at Risk?
Stretch marks are an enemy of most women. In fact, no one finds them attractive and will do whatever it takes to either prevent or get rid of them.
However, if you developed them especially during pregnancy, then don’t feel that bad. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 90% of women will get them during sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Many of them will get more stretch marks with each subsequent baby.
Aside from pregnant women, if you are on the heavier side or went through rapid weight gain or weight fluctuation, you can get stretch marks too.
What Causes Stretch Marks in Your Body?
Stretch marks are caused by different reasons. Although there are many factors attributed to them, experts believe that stretch marks are a result of hormonal changes in the body. At the same time, the indented marks occur when your body produces too much cortisone.
Keep in mind that stretch marks are related to growth and changes in your body. Hence, pregnant women are more at risk especially when you are carrying multiples or have a big baby. Also, teenagers who experience growth spurt often develop them due to hormonal imbalances. There are also instances when teenage girls develop marks on their growing breasts.
Aside from this, stretch marks can also be caused by:
- Genes. If your mother had stretch marks, then you’re more likely to have them too.
- Rapid weight gain or weight loss.
- Prolonged use of oral corticosteroids. Again, too much cortisone can give result to stretch marks. If you have been on corticosteroids or taking medicines related to cortisone, you are at higher risk because the fibroblasts are prevented from creating collagen and elastin.
- Large increase in muscle mass, which is more evident on arms and legs.
- Prolonged use of topical steroids.
- Rapid muscle mass gain.
- Ethnicity. Women with lesser amounts of melanin are more prone to stretch marks than those with darker complexion.
Again, stretch marks are generally harmless and do not require special medical attention. However, there are instances where stretch marks can indicate that there’s something wrong. It can be due to adrenal gland disease, Cushing’s disease or a rare genetic disorder.
If you noticed that there are stretch marks on your body even if you are not pregnant, did not lose or gain weight or not a bodybuilder, have yourself checked for possible diagnosis.
The Ultimate Question: Can You Still Get Rid of Stretch Marks?
The hard truth is stretch marks on thighs, hips or breasts are meant to last forever. They may fade over time but the traces will always be there.
If you recently gave birth, the marks will be less noticeable by six to twelve months after childbirth. The good news is there is still something you can do to at least lighten them.
You don’t have to pay for hundreds of dollars and stretch your wallet just to get rid of your stretched skin. The good news is there are home remedies for stretch marks which you can try to help you get rid of them or at least significantly reduce the problem.
Here is a list of what might work and what will not.
Let’s Go Natural: Natural Home Remedies
- Water. This is perhaps the simplest solution for stretch marks. Drinking water keeps your skin hydrated which can result to regular detoxification. Also, it restores your skin’s elasticity – which can help a lot in getting rid of stretch marks – while keeping your skin soft and supple.
- Vitamin E. Your mother will say that vitamin E alone can reduce stretch marks. Apparently, this does NOT work. According to the University of Miami, Department of Dermatology, topically applied vitamin E does not help in improving scars (remember: stretch marks are scars) and can even lead to contact dermatitis. However, there is a study that showed pregnant women who used a cream with a form of vitamin E, developed lesser stretch marks than those given a placebo.
- Cocoa butter. When it comes to stretch marks, cocoa butter is often at the top list. Unfortunately, cocoa butter in whatever form is proven ineffective in getting rid of stretch marks. Stretch marks appear in the dermis and rubbing cocoa butter or even shea butter can only penetrate the top layer of the skin so don’t expect significant changes.
- Lemon juice. When it comes to treating skin conditions, lemon juice will always have a place on the list. It is naturally acidic that can help heal and reduce stretch marks and other skin conditions such as acne and other scars. Simply rub onto the marks in circular motion and leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing it with warm water.
- Olive oil. Did you know that olive oil has a lot of nutrients and antioxidants that can help improve various skin conditions such as stretch marks? Just massage it into the affected area to improve the blood circulation and leave it for 30 minutes. You can also mix it with vinegar and water and use it as a night cream to keep your skin properly moisturized.
- Alfalfa leaves. It may sound foreign but alfalfa leaves are rich in protein and vitamins E and K, which are good for your skin. At the same time, the antifungal agent found in this plant alkalizes and detoxifies your skin, which can minimize scars including stretch marks. To use this, mix alfalfa with few drops of chamomile oil and massage it in the affected area three times a day.
- Bio oil. Bio oil is a topical skin care oil that is said to prevent and improve the appearance of stretch marks. In fact, famous celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Mel B and Kim Marsh are said to use bio oil to prevent marks and stripes on their belly. While celebrities can attest to its effectiveness, there are a lot of people who say that bio oil didn’t work for them at all.
There are a few studies that can back up the effectiveness of natural home remedies for stretch marks. However, there’s nothing wrong with giving it a try, right? But if you really want faster results or your problem is quite severe, then read on to find out the different medical treatments and procedures available for you.
Medical Treatments Available
You will never run out of options when it comes to treating stretch marks, especially when natural methods fail. With the help of medicine and technology, different procedures are now offered to help reduce the appearance of marks. However, these procedures come with a hefty price tag and costs and are not covered by health insurance.
If you are willing to spend more than a hundred dollars, then here are the procedures you can choose from.
- Tretinoin cream. One of the simplest ways to reduce the appearance of stretch marks is by applying vitamin A in the form of tretinoin cream (Retin-A, Renova or Avitaca). This type of cream can help increase the production of collagen and speed up cell turnover, thereby reducing the stretch marks on your skin. For best results, combine it with glycolic acid. However, tretinoin creams are more effective when used during the early stages or when the marks are still pink or purple.
- Stretch mark creams. Another easy, safe and practical way to improve the look of your stretch marks is by applying creams that are specifically manufactured for it. Thanks to advances in science and technology, stretch mark creams can now reduce the appearance of marks and reduce discoloration. However, not all stretch mark creams available on the market can effectively reduce them so make it a point to read customer reviews first before buying anything.
- Microdermabrasion. Another option available for stretch marks is microdermabrasion. This type of cosmetic treatment uses fine crystals as an exfoliant. These crystals are blasted into your skin’s surface to remove the epidermis. Once removed, the production of collagen is stimulated, thereby promoting healing in the dermis to smooth out your skin.
Microdermabrasion is ideal for older stretch marks, or marks that turned white. Some say this type of treatment is effective while others say it’s not. Should you decide to go for this treatment, make sure to prepare yourself with the costs since this will require more than one session, depending on the severity of your marks.
- Chemical peel. Another method available for stretch marks is chemical peel. In this procedure, the doctor peels off a few layers of your skin to create a layer where new skin can be developed. Chemical peel with glycolic acid stimulates collagen production, the skin’s connective tissue and main healing agent.
Just like microdermabrasion, the effectiveness of chemical peels will depend on how mild or severe your stretch marks are. It will also take more than one session before you can see the results. You can feel pain or swelling, or experience redness a week after the procedure (due to the scraping of the top layer of the skin) but this will only be temporary.
- Laser treatment. If you are looking for an effective way to reduce stretch marks, especially when the marks are widespread, then laser procedure can be your best option. Among the treatments mentioned, laser treatment offers more promising results. It reduces redness and diminishes the appearance of white marks as it improves the texture of your skin to make them less noticeable.
This type of treatment uses different wavelengths of light to help grow collagen, elastin or melanin in your skin. Keep in mind that there are different types of laser treatments available depending on your stretch marks. These are:
- Pixel Wavelength Laser – this helps promote new growth of elastin and collagen.
- Fractional Photothermolysis Laser – it causes small fractional damage to targeted areas of your skin tissue to produce more collagen and elastin.
- Pulsed Laser Therapy – this also promotes collagen and elastin and at the same time, re-textures stretch marks when they are still relatively new.
- Excimer Laser – this type of laser treatment promotes the development of melanin and helps even out your skin colour.
- Harmony XL or V Beam – these laser treatments help re-pigment the skin by stimulating the production of melanin. As a result, stretch marks will almost be the same color as your skin.
Therefore, laser treatment is the best solution for unwanted marks, especially when you are willing to go the extra mile. However, it is important to ask your dermatologist first to determine which laser treatment is ideal for you. This way, you will be able to address your stretch marks more appropriately.
Some of these treatments may work while some are just a waste of time. Before you proceed with any of the remedies for stretch marks, it is important to properly determine the cause to find out the appropriate solution for you. At the same time, make sure to treat it during the early phase or rubra phase where the marks are still brightly colored. Once the marks become faint, it will be harder for you to get rid of them.
Tips on How to Prevent Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are unattractive and embarrassing, period. Unfortunately, stretch marks can be inevitable. According to Mary Lupo, clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University, there is no way to prevent stretch marks.
However, there are still ways you can at least minimize your risk of developing these unwanted marks. Here are some tips on how to prevent stretch marks from developing.
- Keep your skin well-hydrated. Drinking water can do the trick to keep your skin hydrated and increase elasticity of your skin. Also, applying lotion or cream can also help a lot in making your skin smoother and reduce itchiness, especially when you are pregnant.
- Do not scratch your tummy. This tip particularly refers to pregnant women. As your skin expands, it is normal for it to become itchy, which causes you to scratch it. DON’T. This can contribute to stretch marks so rub a quality lotion instead.
- Watch your weight. Sweets and processed foods are tempting but definitely fattening. Whether you are pregnant or not, eating proper nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables are advisable to prevent weight gain. At the same time, having a balanced diet supplies your body with necessary vitamins such as A, C and E to keep your skin supple.
- Exercise regularly. Did you know that exercising regularly can keep your skin supple and free from toxins? So don’t say no to sweating by jogging or walking around the park. It helps you maintain your weight too.
Call it a curse but stretch marks are very common. Therefore, the best way to minimize their appearance is to treat them early. Otherwise, it will take some time before they becomes less noticeable. Still, don’t dwell too much on how unattractive they are and instead, focus on your strengths and assets. Stretch marks are simply stretch marks and do not define who you are as a person.