The appearance of stretch marks, known medically as striae rubrae or striae distensae, often come with fluctuations in weight. These are particularly predominant in women during and post pregnancy. For many people that get stretch marks on their skin, it can be bothersome and often prevents them from wearing summer swimwear, shorts, or otherwise more revealing attire.
What Are Stretch Marks?
Collagen and elastin provide the support structure for your skin. When your skin shrinks or stretches suddenly, the support system can rupture, leaving linear marks on the skin. A stretch mark is a scar that remains as your skin heals from the sudden fluctuations of your skin.
Who Gets Stretch Marks?
If you have stretch marks and wonder why your best friend, who was also recently pregnant doesn’t have them, you may wonder why. There are several risk factors and causes for why stretch marks develop:
- Genetics: There appears to be a genetic role for some people. If your family has a history of these skin blemishes, you may be at a higher risk. There are also hereditary health conditions, like Cushing’s disease, that can cause these marks.
- Pregnancy: Weight gain in pregnancy is usually more sudden than usual and can result in stretch marks. Stretch marks during pregnancy are a common and normal part of the process.
- Puberty: Sudden growth spurts often accompany puberty. It is not unusual to find arm or belly stretch marks on young people.
- Bodybuilders: Bodybuilders push their muscles extremely hard. These men and women often take in vast numbers of calories and work out daily to quickly increase muscle mass. Often, bodybuilders develop stretch marks due to this quick muscle expansion.
- Steroids: Using corticosteroid creams for a long time or taking oral steroids for an extended period breaks down the skin and can cause stretch marks.
Appearance of Stretch Mark Scars
The signs of early stretch marks may not be evident to the naked eye. Your skin begins to feel taut as it stretches. Then, as the collagen and elastin rupture, colored streaks start to appear. A stretch mark may be slightly superficial or have noticeable indentions.
In the beginning, these streaks can be purple, pink, red, or blue. As your skin heals, the color fades slightly, leaving behind the stretch mark. Red lines indicate that the blood vessels are visible. People with dark skin have marks that are lighter than their skin tone.
Stretch marks can appear anywhere that skin stretches but are predominantly found on the thighs, buttocks, upper arms, and stomach. There can be just a few marks or large, widespread areas. There is no way of predicting how many or where the stretch marks will appear.
Stretch Mark Therapy
“Are stretch marks permanent?” is a common question asked of health and wellness professionals. Unfortunately, the management of striae distensae, is much like any other scar. There are various treatment options that you can use to help lessen their appearance but it is not likely you will be able to entirely get rid of stretch marks.
There are an abundance of topical creams claiming to be cures or treatment for stretch marks. However, before you spend the money, you should understand that these topicals are only reaching the outer layer of skin and will not remove them.
Stretch marks fade over time but your dermatologists with the American Academy of Dermatology can offer you some options to make them less visible.
- Radiofrequency: This treatment strengthens and improves your skin’s elasticity.
- Ultrasound: Topic creams are used in conjunction with ultrasound therapy to deliver the healing agents deeper into your skin.
- Light and laser therapy: Laser and pulsating lights are focused on the stretch marks; this may help lighten the appearance of the marks. With multiple treatments, you may achieve as close to stretch marks removal as is medically possible.
- Microdermabrasion: This office procedure removes the uppermost layer of skin. As new skin is uncovered and heals, the stretch marks may be less evident.
While therapy of striae rubrae is challenging, your dermatologist will determine the best course of action and may even use multiple procedures to treat stretch marks. It often takes many sessions to see results from any of these procedures. Discuss your options with your doctor and let them help you plan the best course of treatment. Home remedies are not going to provide much in the way of results for these types of scars.
Stretch Mark Prevention
Stretch marks prevention and therapy starts with preventing stretch marks in the first place because a stretch mark is difficult to get rid of. Since skin’s elasticity is reliant on an ample amount of collagen production, collagen supplements are believed to provide some additional support as it goes through the healing process. Vitamin C is also an essential nutrient and supports the production of collagen. These supplements are most effective prior to or during development of early stretch marks. Use these tips to prevent stretch marks and reduce the need for treatment.
Your mother may have told you about using cocoa butter to prevent scarring. But, does it work? In reality, topical management of striae is difficult. Researchers have mixed responses. Studies have not had conclusive evidence that creams like cocoa butter, vitamin E, or oils like olive and almond oil work to prevent them. However, there have been studies showing that using hyaluronic acid or the herb Centella can provide a degree of prevention.
But, when do you use prevention? Do you know you are going to have a sudden weight gain? Not always, unless you have a planned pregnancy or are a bodybuilder, you may not have a clue that you are going to have a rapid weight gain.
In the cases where you do anticipate weight gain, you could begin taking Vitamin C supplements, collagen supplements, and using a hyaluronic acid lotion. However, make sure you talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or have other conditions that could contraindicate using these suggestions.
Do You Need a Dermatologist?
If your stretch marks are not causing body image problems, you probably don’t need to see a dermatologist. However, if you do have body image issues or your scars are extensive, covering large areas, you may want to have a consultation. Also, if your scars itch or hurt, contact your dermatologist. Some treatments can provide relief.
Dermatologists do not have a cure for stretch marks and no one does. However, they do have suggestions that can help reduce their appearance. If you live with these scars and would like to minimize them, contact your dermatologist and discuss your options.