Stretch Marks

Stretch marks, also known as striae, are the streaks or lines on the skin that appear when the skin stretches and shrinks rapidly. It is a common skin concern and usually appears on the abdomen, hips, buttocks, breasts, and thighs. Stretch marks are common among pregnant women, especially after the onset of the third-trimester stretch marks become much more conspicuous. They can be pink, red, brown, black, silver, or purple. They usually start darker and fade over time but may never disappear completely. Stretch marks are not harmful, but they may feel itchy or sore, and people usually do not like how they appear.

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What is Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are a common skin concern that affects many people of different ages, genders, and ethnicities. They are a type of scarring or indentations that occurs when the skin stretches or shrinks rapidly for various reasons, such as pregnancy, puberty, weight gain or loss, and genetic factors. 

Stretch marks typically appear as long, narrow streaks or lines that are slightly raised and discolored, ranging from pink to purple to white. Stretch marks do not pose any threat to health, but can cause emotional distress, especially for those conscious about their appearance. While many products on the market claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, they fade over time but may never disappear entirely. 

Stretch marks are a common and harmless skin concern that can be managed with proper care and attention. Prevention is the key regarding stretch marks, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce their likelihood of developing. Some treatments, such as topical creams and ointments, laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels, can make them look less evident.

Symptoms of stretch marks may include:

  • Sunken lines in your skin

  • Discoloration (red, pink, black, blue, purple, or brown)

  • Skin slowly becomes glossy and appears streaked in silver or white

  • Itching

  • Soreness

Common Types of Stretch Marks

Stretch marks occur when the skin is stretched beyond its limits, causing the collagen and elastin fibers to tear. Stretch marks are commonly associated with pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, puberty, and bodybuilding. There are different types of stretch marks, including red, white, and silver, each with its characteristics and treatment options:

  • Striae rubra (red)

    Striae rubra, or red stretch marks, appear as reddish or purplish streaks on the skin. They typically develop during rapid weight gain or growth, such as puberty, pregnancy, or bodybuilding. Striae rubra are caused by the stretching of the skin, which causes tiny blood vessels to burst, leading to inflammation and redness. Over time, the redness fades, and the stretch marks become lighter in color, eventually turning into white or silver striae. 

    Treatment options for striae rubra include topical creams, such as retinoids and glycolic acid, laser therapy, and microdermabrasion. These treatments may improve striae rubra's appearance but may not eliminate them.

  • Striae alba (white)

    Striae alba appears as pale, white, or silver streaks on the skin. They result from skin stretching and tearing, causing damage to the underlying collagen and elastin fibers. Striae alba typically develop after the initial inflammatory phase of red stretch marks has resolved, as the blood vessels in the affected area have healed and the inflammation has subsided. Striae alba are often less noticeable than red stretch marks but can still be a cosmetic concern for some individuals. Treatment options for striae alba include topical creams and oils, such as vitamin E and hyaluronic acid, laser therapy, and microdermabrasion. With these treatments, striae alba's appearance may be reduced but not completely eliminated.

  • Striae gravidarum (pregnancy)

    Striae gravidarum (SG) are linear scars representing one of the most common connective tissue changes during pregnancy due to the baby's and uterus's growth. Striae gravidarum can cause emotional and psychological distress for many women. 

    Younger age, maternal and family history of SG, increased pre-pregnancy and pre-delivery weight and increased birth weight is the most significant risk factors identified for SG. 

    Research on risk factors, prevention, and management of SG has often been inconclusive. A few preventive measures may help minimize their appearance. These include:

    1. Maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy

    2. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water

    3. Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals

    4. Using moisturizers to keep the skin supple

    5. Avoid excessive sun exposure, as it can weaken the skin

What Causes Stretch Marks

Striae are a form of dermal scarring associated with the stretching of the skin. Knowing the exact causes of stretch marks helps in their proper management.
They often result from a rapid weight change (gain and loss). Proposed mechanisms relate to hormones, physical stretch, dermal collagen, and elastic tissue structural alterations. Pregnancy-related hormones or genetic factors may also contribute to the development of stretch marks. Explained below are their common causes:

  • Rapid weight changes

    When the skin is stretched beyond its limit due to rapid weight gain or loss, it can cause damage to the collagen and elastin fibers that support the skin's structure, forming stretch marks. Stretch marks are common in individuals who experience rapid weight gain or loss, such as during pregnancy, puberty, or weightlifting. Rapid weight gain can cause stretch marks to develop on the thighs, hips, and breasts, while rapid weight loss can cause stretch marks on the abdomen, arms, and thighs.

  • Hormonal changes

    Hormones such as cortisone can weaken the skin's elastic fibers, making it more prone to stretching and the formation of stretch marks. During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant hormonal changes that can affect the skin's elasticity and make it more susceptible to developing stretch marks. Hormonal changes can also occur during puberty, which can cause rapid growth spurts and lead to the development of stretch marks.

    Additionally, some medical conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome and Marfan syndrome, can cause hormonal imbalances that can contribute to forming stretch marks.

  • Genetics

    Genetics can raise the odds of developing stretch marks. Research has found that mutations in or near four specific genes, ELN, SRPX, HMCN1, and TMEM18, increase the chance of stretch marks by 40 percent. Out of these genes, ELN (also known as elastin) is the most actively tied to stretch marks, especially those formed during pregnancy. Elastin is the primary component of elastic fibers, helping tissues stretch and retract.

  • Certain medications

    Certain medications can cause stretch marks. Medications such as birth control pills and corticosteroids (that ease inflamed areas of the body), used to treat conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and lupus, can weaken the skin's elastic fibers and make it more prone to stretching and the formation of stretch marks. These medications can affect the body's hormone levels and make the skin more susceptible to stretching and the formation of stretch marks.

Procedures That Remedy Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are usually harmless indentations on the skin due to rapid stretching and retraction of the skin. The stretch treatment aims to reduce the redness, swelling, and irritation in striae rubra, increase collagen and elastic fiber production, improve hydration, and reduce inflammation in striae alba. Home remedies are also advocated for treating stretch marks but have little evidence to support their use. The best time for the stretch marks’ treatment is once they have stabilized. A few cosmetic procedures that help reduce their appearance are:

  • Microdermabrasion

    Microdermabrasion procedure uses a hand-held device to blow abrasive crystals onto the skin, gently removing the skin’s topmost layer and trigger the growth of new, more elastic skin. Research has found that it only takes five microdermabrasion treatments to significantly reduce the appearance of stretch marks in more than half of patients. This therapy is one of the few effective ones at erasing older marks.

    Side effects may include milia, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, swelling, and enlarged pores.

    Find doctors who offer Microdermabrasion
  • Laser therapy

    Laser therapies involving intense light stimulate collagen, elastin, and melanin production. One of the most effective options is intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, which is effective at treating older stretch marks. Fractional photothermolysis, a resurfacing laser technique that increases the number of collagen and elastin fibers, pulsated dye, and 1,450 nm diode lasers, also reduce the appearance of stretch marks effectively.

    Find doctors who offer Laser Resurfacing
  • Topical creams and oils

    Many topical creams, oils, ointments, and over-the-counter cosmeceuticals are marketed and used by pregnant women to prevent stretch marks or reduce their severity. 

    Tretinoin creams have been reported to be helpful in striae rubra. They may result in irritation, redness, and peeling. These creams may require at least six months of regular use before you see discernible results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Like any scar, stretch marks are permanent. Many treatment options are available that may make them less conspicuous, but they only go away partially. Treatment can also help alleviate the itch and soreness. If pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor before treating stretch marks. Some products contain ingredients like retinol that can harm your baby. The best is to treat stretch marks after the delivery once they have stabilized.

It's not always possible to prevent stretch marks entirely; there are steps individuals can take to reduce the risk of developing them:

Maintain a healthy weight: Rapid weight gain or loss can contribute to stretch marks. Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent the skin from stretching too quickly.

Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help keep the skin hydrated and supple.

Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help improve skin elasticity and promote overall skin health.

Eat a healthy diet: A d... Show more.

Some home remedies may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks with little evidence of efficacy. Here are some home remedies that may help:

Aloe vera: Applying aloe vera gel to the affected area may help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Coconut oil: Massaging coconut oil into the skin can help improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Vitamin E oil: Applying vitamin E oil to the affected area may help improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Sugar scrub:... Show more.

Yes, men can get stretch marks. While they are more common in women, men can develop stretch marks due to various factors, including rapid weight gain or loss, puberty, and bodybuilding. Men may be more likely to develop stretch marks on the arms, chest, and back, while women are more likely to develop them on the abdomen, hips, and thighs.

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