What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are a type of skin scar that occur when the skin is overstretched over a short period of time. The medical name for this type of mark is striae, striae atrophica, or striae distensae. Stretch marks are skin defects that look like bands, stripes, or lines. Stretch marks start as red lines on the skin that are slightly raised. Depending on the color of your skin, they may also look pink, reddish brown, or dark brown. The lines then change to purple, before slowly flattening out.
As the lines get flatter, they also fade, and usually end up a few shades lighter than your natural skin tone. Stretch marks usually appear in parallel lines. The skin is thin and silvery and often looks scar-like. They usually fade and become less noticeable over time, but this can take years. Stretch marks can end up slightly depressed and have a different texture than normal skin
Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body where the skin has been stretched. They usually occur on parts of the body where fat is stored, such as the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, thighs and buttocks. People who put on a lot of weight over a short period of time often notice stretch marks in these places.
Causes of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks occur in the dermis when the skin is overstretched during a short period of time. The dermis is the skin layer that gives skin its firmness and helps maintain its shape. The dermis also contains blood vessels that supply skin cells with nutrients, and nerve cells that give us feeling.
Stretch marks are formed when underlying tissue grows faster than the skin layers covering it, causing small tears in the epidermal surface. Scar tissue then proceeds to grow in these tears, creating stretch marks.
Stretch marks appear most often in the following cases:
- Pregnancy: Greater than 75% of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy. As you put on weight, the abdomen (stomach) is gradually stretched further and further, usually causing stretch marks to appear in the sixth or seventh month. Stretch marks can also appear on the thighs, and on the breasts as they get bigger and heavier.
You can help prevent pregnancy stretch marks by taking preventive measures such as rubbing your belly several times a day with specialized creams and oils that contain cocoa butter, vitamin E, vitamin A, and other all natural ingredients. Rubbing your belly in a circular motion with these products helps improve the elasticity of your skin and therefore helps prevents stretch marks appearing.
- Weight Gain or Loss: Putting on a lot of weight over a short period of time can cause stretch marks to form. If you are constantly on and off diets, stretch marks can also form, as your weight goes up and down rapidly. If you are dieting, it is important to lose weight slowly so that strain isn’t put on the skin.
- Puberty: The rapid growth associated with puberty often triggers stretch marks. Boys often get stretch marks on the shoulders, and girls get them on the hips, thighs, and breasts.
- Muscle Growth: Athletes who train their muscles to get bigger and stronger over a short period of time sometimes get stretch marks. This is particularly common in bodybuilders.
Not everyone gets stretch marks. Doctors think some people get stretch marks because their bodies produce more of the hormone, corticosteroid, than normal. This hormone decreases the amount of collagen in the skin. Collagen is a type of protein
Get Rid of Stretch Marks
There are a variety of treatments available to help diminish and get rid of your stretch marks.
Moisturizers and creams: Moisturizing creams containing vitamin E, vitamin A, or Squalene Oil are often effective at diminishing stretch marks. Other effective treatments include creams that contain powerful alpha hydroxyl acid (plant extracts) that can stimulate collagen growth. TriLASTIN-SR® and Stretta are popular choices among over-the-counter stretch mark creams.
Microdermabrasion: Microdermabrasion is a topical skin treatment where microscopic particles are used to abrade the skin. It safely improves the epidermal structure and the condition of the deeper dermis, and helps stimulate the formation of new collagen and elastin.
Retin-A (Tretinoin): These types of cream are derived from vitamin A and are available on prescription. They make the outer layer of skin thinner, so that the cream can get to the dermis, where it increases the amount of collagen produced. These creams shouldn’t be used without advice from your doctor because they can cause side effects. Strong doses can cause the skin to sting, swell and become red, and may also make it more sensitive to sunlight. The skin may also get thicker because of the increase in the amount of collagen produced. Tretinoin is not recommended for use in pregnancy or while breastfeeding. People taking Retin-A should avoid taking vitamin A supplements at the same time.
Laser surgery: Several new laser techniques are available to treat a wide variety of scars and stretch marks. Laser surgery does not remove stretch marks, but it can help them to fade. The laser's energy stimulates the skin under the scar and causes the fibroblasts in the skin to begin to divide again. It also stimulates the production of collagen. This thickens the skin under the scar until it closely resembles the surrounding normal skin.
Preventing Stretch Marks: While there are a variety of treatments available to help diminish and get rid of your stretch marks, the best way to get rid of stretch marks is to prevent them in the first place! In addition to controlling the rate at which you gain/lose weight, it’s also helpful to massage your skin everyday with moisturizer or a massage glove can help to improve circulation, which encourages new tissue to grow. Revitol™ is currently the most popular stretch mark preven product on the market. It's all natural ingredients increase the elasticity of your skin and stimulate the production and regeneration of new skin cells.
Stretch Mark Buying Tips
If you decide to use over the counter topical agents, it’s best to start early as soon as possible since treatment effectiveness tends to diminish with the age of the stretch mark. Doctors also agree that it’s best to attack the scar tissues in stretch marks through a combination of different treatment products and active ingredients. Differences in individual biochemistry can render the peptides and various other active ingredients as more or less effective for some people.
A typical combination regimen would start with the use of an over-the-counter products such as TriLASTIN-SR or Stretta, and then proceed to phase in use of Livadone (nutritional supplement) to help heal the scar tissue internally, and then finally laser surgery (if needed). If your stretch marks are new, many doctors also recommend using
. Mederma is a general purpose scar cream that can help to soften and smooth new stretch marks.