Stretch marks appear as long, thin stripes, streaks, or lines. They often occur as a result of rapid skin stretching.
They can appear on various body areas, including:
- lower back
- upper arms
This kind of scarring develops when the skin cannot return to its usual shape following a period of rapid development, which frequently results from pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, or puberty. Stretch marks are a common occurrence in pregnancy for more than 50% of women.
What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, scientifically known as striae, appear when your skin rapidly changes shape due to weight gain or growth. They generally don't mean that your health is compromised in any way. Stretch marks can affect individuals of both genders, including both men and women.
A stretch mark will initially appear as a thin, reddish, or purple line with a texture distinct from the surrounding skin. Most stretch marks fade on their own with time.
After fading, they could become less visible. Stretch marks that have faded typically resemble scars in appearance and are lighter in the color of skin than the surrounding area.
Symptoms of stretch marks may include sunken lines, color change (pink, red, purple, blue, brown, or black), skin slowly turning shiny with white or silver streaks, irritation, and itchiness.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
- Puberty: Puberty is characterized by rapid growth in young people. This can cause stretch marks.
- Pregnancy: Stretchmarks occur in between 50 and 90 percent of pregnant women and occur during or after birth.
- Rapid weight gain/loss: Gaining or lossing a lot of fat in a short period can result in stretch marks.
- Corticosteroid use: Long-term use of corticosteroid lotions and creams can reduce collagen levels in the skin. Collagen helps to tighten and support the skin, and a lack of it might raise the risk of stretch marks.
- Medical conditions: Stretch marks can be caused by a variety of medical diseases, including Cushing's syndrome and Marfan syndrome. Cushing's disease can cause the body to create too much of a hormone, causing quick weight gain and skin vulnerability, while Marfan syndrome can cause skin tissue to lose elasticity.
Our skin consists of 3 layers. When the skin's connective tissue is stretched beyond its natural elasticity limits, stretch marks develop within the dermis, which is the primary layer of the skin. The rapid expansion or contraction of the skin is typically the underlying cause of this occurrence of stretch marks.
As our body grows or gains weight, the connective fibers in the dermis gradually stretch to support slow growth. Rapid growth, on the other hand, causes abrupt stretching. This tears the dermis, causing underlying layers of skin to show through. As the pale fat beneath the skin becomes more visible instead of the blood vessels, stretch marks undergo a gradual fading process, resulting in a white, silvery, or glossy appearance.
They are more likely to form and worsen in areas with high levels of circulating cortisol or when cortisone is administered to the skin. Cortisol, the adrenal gland's stress hormone, is transformed into cortisone. This weakens the skin's elastic fibers.
Types of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks can be divided into two major classification stages depending on their creation and appearance:
- Striae rubrae: Pink or reddish stretch marks
- Striae albae: White marks
Other types of stretch marks are classified as follows:
- Striae gravidarum: Stretch marks caused by pregnancy.
- Striae nigrae: Black or dark grey stretch marks. Typically found on people with darker skin tones.
- Striae caerulea: Purple or dark blue stretch marks. Also associated with persons with darker complexions.
- Striae atrophicans: Skin thinning with stretch marks; can develop in persons with Cushing's syndrome, as a result of long-term corticosteroid treatment or following surgery.
How to Prevent Stretch Marks?
While it may not be possible to prevent stretch marks, adopting certain practices can minimize your risk of getting stretch marks.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Gradual weight gain or loss can be beneficial in reducing the strain on the skin and minimizing the risk of developing stretch marks. To manage a healthy weight, eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly. If you experience sudden weight gain or loss, you should consult your doctor to determine the cause.
For pregnant women who are already at a healthy weight, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a total weight gain of 25-35 pounds (lb). Women who are overweight before pregnancy should gain 15-25 lbs, whereas underweight women should gain up to 40 lbs.
Pregnant women should see their doctor about how much weight should gain during pregnancy, as underlying health concerns can also influence the range.
Keep Your Body Hydrated
Drinking plenty of water may aid in keeping your skin hydrated and supple. Stretch marks appear less commonly on hydrated and soft skin than on dry skin. Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, can increase your risk of stretch marks. If you drink coffee regularly, make sure to balance it out with herbal tea, plenty of water, and other caffeine-free drinks.
Consume a Nutrient-dense Diet
Stretch marks can appear if you are lacking in certain nutrients. Eating foods that promote skin health can be beneficial. Make sure your diet contains items high in vitamins C, D, E, zinc, and protein. Choosing a variety of unprocessed foods is one method to ensure you're getting a diversity of nutrients. A breakfast of whole wheat toast, eggs, and mixed berries, for example, brings colors to your plate while also providing a range of nutrients.
Get Some Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise can help a person shed weight and avoid future weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight helps lessen the likelihood of severe skin stretching. Exercise also boosts blood flow to the skin, which can aid in skin regeneration.
Who is more likely to get stretch marks?
People who are more likely to develop stretch marks are:
- Having a family history of stretch marks
- Pregnant women
- People with Marfan syndrome
- Women with a history of having large infants or twins
- People with higher body weight
- Experiencing significant weight gain or loss
- Use corticosteroid medicines
Stretch marks vary in appearance and color depending on the tone of your skin, but they are usually more visible in people with darker skin.
How to Remove Stretch Marks?
It is generally tough to treat stretch marks. However, they can be improved with treatment, although they may not disappear completely. The best outcomes are obtained by treating stretch marks as soon as they occur. Treating older and deeper stretch marks may pose greater challenges.
Some studies suggest that some natural remedies can help treat stretch marks. These remedies include:
Aloe vera Gel
Aloe vera has been utilized for its natural skincare properties for a long time. To soothe and hydrate the skin, the gel found inside the leaves of the aloe vera plant can be applied directly. Aloe vera promotes skin healing after burns and wounds. As stretch marks are a type of scarring caused by damaged skin, aloe's skin-repairing abilities can aid in stretch mark prevention or reduction. After showering, use pure aloe vera from a plant or an over-the-counter product on your stretch marks.
Sugar is a well-known exfoliant. The tiny crystals gently exfoliate dead skin, leaving you feeling smoother. As a result, this natural remedy for exfoliation can aid in the treatment of stretch marks.
To make a sugar scrub mix half a cup of sugar with a softening agent, such as coconut and almond oil. Gradually incorporate the oil into the sugar. When your scrub resembles wet beach sand, it is done. Rub the mixture gently over the stretch marks and wash with warm water. Repeat twice a week in the shower or bath.
Over The Counter Treatments
Hyaluronic acid is renowned for its exceptional moisturizing properties and its ability to promote skin healing. It's frequently found in lotions, creams, and serums. Hyaluronic acid can influence skin elasticity. Some study suggests that hyaluronic acid may help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, however, additional research is needed to confirm this. To test it out, apply a hyaluronic acid product to the affected area daily.
Vitamin A is known as a retinoid in skin care products. Retinoids can help skin appear smoother and younger. They're found in a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) topical creams. According to some studies, tretinoin can make stretch marks look smaller and less severe.
Vitamin A products can occasionally irritate the skin, so if you try this ingredient, make sure to follow the directions carefully. Because there are scientifically proven dangers associated with using retinoids while pregnant, you should avoid using them if you are pregnant, lactating, or trying to conceive.
Centella asiatica is a herb that is commonly used in Korean cosmetics (K-beauty) products. Centella creams, often known as cica creams, are occasionally used as scar treatments or to repair and soothe sensitive skin. Centella aids in the reduction of inflammation and the stimulation of collagen production. According to studies, lotions containing centella may help prevent and improve the appearance of stretch marks during pregnancy.
- Laser Treatment
Laser treatment uses concentrated light to treat the skin. Depending on the type of laser utilized. It can boost collagen production to help stretch marks fade. Some laser treatments necessitate numerous sessions before you see results.
Laser treatment is also used to improve the redness and texture of the skin produced by rosacea and scars. So laser treatment can perhaps improve the appearance of stretch marks.
Microdermabrasion exfoliates the skin in ways that home treatments cannot. A professional applies a rough substance to your skin utilizing a handheld wand to gently remove dead skin cells. Although research on microdermabrasion as a stretch marks treatment is limited, some studies indicate that treatment may minimize the severity of the marks.
- Radio Frequency Treatment
Radio Frequency treatments promote collagen formation by sending energy waves into your skin. The final result could be tighter skin. Radio frequency treatments have recently been combined with microneedling treatments to transmit energy waves deeper into the skin. The needle penetrates the skin and sends radio frequency energy into the channels, triggering deeper layers of collagen.
- Ultrasound Treatment
Ultrasound Treatment works similarly to radio frequency therapies. The therapy uses sound waves to heat and tighten your skin and stimulate collagen production deep within your skin.
- Chemical Peels
Chemical peel procedures involve the application of an acid to the skin's surface, such as glycolic acid. Professional chemical peels are stronger than at-home peels and are performed in the office. Peels provide a deep exfoliation of the skin and promote the production of collagen. This can potentially reduce the visibility of stretch marks.
Because not all solutions are suitable for all skin types, it is essential to visit a dermatologist to determine which one is best for you.
Stretch marks frequently fade and become less visible over time. It can be difficult to prevent them, and no miraculous solutions have been scientifically verified to help. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying hydrated, eating a nutritious diet, and getting treatment as soon as the marks appear can help. If you observe more stretch marks or if they cover a significant area of your body, contact your doctor. Your doctor will identify the reason for your symptoms and recommend suitable treatment.