What exactly is a stretch mark? A stretch mark is a type of scar that develops when our skin stretches or shrinks quickly. This abrupt change causes the collagen and elastin, which support our skin, to rupture, and as the skin heals, stretch marks may appear.
Not everyone develops these narrow bands on their skin, however, as fluctuating hormone levels seem to play a role. You may also have a higher risk if members of your family get stretch marks. If you develop stretch marks, you’re most likely to do so during these times:
- Growth spurts that happen in puberty
- Rapid weight loss or gain
- Weight training when you have rapid muscle growth
There’s a multitude of reasons why stretch marks may appear, in addition to the above. Applying a corticosteroid to your skin for a long time can cause stretch marks. Also, if you have Cushing’s disease or Marfan syndrome, you may see stretch marks at some point in your life.
When stretch marks first appear, they tend to be red, purple, pink, reddish-brown, or dark brown, depending on your skin color. Early stretch marks may feel slightly raised and can be itchy. However, in time, the color fades and the narrow bands sink beneath your skin. Try running your finger over a mature stretch mark, and you’ll often feel a slight depression.
The causes and risk factors of stretch marks
Stretch marks happen when your body grows quickly for any reason, and your skin can’t stretch enough to keep up. Collagen is a protein that makes your skin more elastic. If your skin doesn’t have enough, the marks may show up as it stretches.
More detailed reason for stretch marks are the following:
- Quick weight gain - this affects both men and women.
- Childhood growth spurts during puberty- make sure kids know this is normal and that childhood marks may fade as they get older.
- Pregnancy as a result of stretched skin and a surge in hormones that weakens skin fibers - they might fade as you shed pounds after the baby is born.
- Breast implant surgery
- Bodybuilding - even those who have little fat can get them where their muscles bulge
- High amounts of steroids - either from steroid medications or illnesses like Cushing's syndrome.
- Marfan syndrome - a genetic disease that weakens your skin fibers and causes unusual growth.
- Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) - a group of conditions that result from genetic changes to collagen, a protein in your body.
- Genetics - stretch marks also run in families.
What can get rid of stretch marks?
Like any scar, stretch marks are permanent, but treatment may make them less noticeable. Treatment can also help alleviate the itch. It’s important to understand that no single treatment works for everyone — and many products don’t seem to work at all.
Here are the many treatments for stretch marks:
- Stretch mark creams, lotions, and gels - While no one product seems to help all of the time — and some don’t seem to help at all — there are some helpful hacks, such as using the product on early stretch marks, massaging the product into your stretch marks, and applying the product every day for weeks. If you want to see results, they take weeks to appear.
- Home remedies - Natural DIY remedies can be found when massaging almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, or vitamin E into the site of the stretch marks. They’re not foolproof though, as fading the marks takes time, consistency, and effort.
- Self-tanner - While tanning can make stretch marks more noticeable, a self-tanner can camouflage stretch marks — both early and mature ones. Therefore, a self-tanner doesn’t necessarily get rid of stretch marks, but it does hide them easily.
- Prescription medicine - Ingredients that seem to offer relief when applied topically are hyaluronic acid and tretinoin. Applying hyaluronic acid to early stretch marks made the stretch marks less noticeable, whereas tretinoin is a retinoid, which may also make early stretch marks less noticeable. Use this prescription cream every night for 24 weeks and you’ll have less noticeable stretch marks.
- Retinol - Another type of retinoid that may also help fade early stretch marks.
- Dermatological procedures - Dermatologists use chemical peels, laser therapy, microdermabrasion, radiofrequency, and ultrasound to make stretch marks less noticeable, but none of these can get rid of stretch marks. A dermatologist can tell you if any of these treatments would be suitable for you, given your health, age, and how long you’ve had the stretch marks.
The symptoms of stretch marks
You’ll know when you have stretch marks as the skin may feel slightly raised and itchy. These rippled, streaky lines in your skin come in different colors. They fade from red or pink to purplish-blue to thinner, pale, more scar-like streaks over time, and you may not notice them as much.
Stretch marks can show up on many parts of your body:
- Stomach or torso
There may be many effective ways to prevent stretch marks, and the possibility of minimizing the outcome outweighs the chances of allowing them to persist. What makes sense is to keep the skin hydrated and moisturized to allow top layers to stretch and respond to sudden growth and stretching and eating well to give the skin cells immediate access to nutrients and healing at the first sign of stretching trauma. If there is no risk to a popular remedy for preventing stretch marks, such as using sunscreen, extra moisturizing topical creams, essential oils, and professional medical treatments, it’s worth the effort to try.