Stretch marks are indented streaks on your skin that result from a rapid weight gain or loss. They usually appear pink, red or purple in the early stages and fade to white or gray over time. There are treatments that can reduce the appearance of stretch marks, however, there is no way to remove them completely.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks occur when your skin stretches rapidly. They are most common in women, especially during the later stages of pregnancy, however, weight lifters can also have stretch marks. They seem to occur more frequently when cortisone levels in the body are higher as this hormone weakens elastic fibers in your skin. Some medications, such as corticosteroids and systemic steroids (lotions or oral medications) can contribute to developing stretch marks, especially when used long-term.
Stretch marks form within the dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin. When the dermis is stretched, it can break down. If it cannot bounce back to it’s original shape, it forms a mark. Stretch marks are frequently found on the belly, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms and lower back.
Treatment for Stretch Marks
There is no treatment that will completely erase stretch marks, however, there are some treatments that can help reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Even without treatment, stretch marks fade over time and are less noticeable.
Topical treatments - Retin A or Tazorac gels can help stimulate collagen growth which will give the skin more elasticity and reduce the appearance of stretch marks. This type of treatment only helps if used when the stretch marks are fairly new and are still pink or purple colored.
Surgical treatments - Your dermatologist can perform laser surgery, dermabrasion or chemical peels which will reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Treatment for stretch marks is considered cosmetic. Most insurance companies won’t pay for these treatments. You should check with your insurance company before considering any treatment.
If you are considering one of these treatments, talk with your doctor about the different options. Some questions you might want to ask include:
- What are the different options for treatment?
- What are the benefits and disadvantages of each type of treatment?
- What results can I expect?
- What course of treatment do you recommend? Why?
There are a number of companies that advertise products to "eliminate" stretch marks. These products usually contain moisturizers, such as cocoa butter or vitamin E, which can hydrate your skin and help to slightly reduce the appearance of stretch marks, however, these products usually don’t offer any long-term solutions. Once you stop using the product, the appearance of the stretch marks will probably return to how they looked before using the product.
Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?
Some people suggest using cocoa butter or other lotions on your skin to help prevent stretch marks. This doesn’t usually work as stretch marks don’t occur because of a dryness of the skin and these types of lotions don’t increase the elasticity of your skin. Because of this there isn’t any way to prevent stretch marks.
However, you can reduce your risk of developing stretch marks during pregnancy by trying to avoid an excessive weight gain. Eating right and exercising can help you maintain a healthy weight, and keep you healthy. But keep in mind stretch marks are common in pregnancy not only because your skin is stretching but also because of your increased hormones.
"Are Pregnancy Stretch Marks Different?" Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Pregnancy Association
"Stretch Marks," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Cleveland Clinic
"Striae," Updated 2013, April 14, Updated by Linda J. Vorvick, M.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.