The thought of bikini season can make some women shudder. It’s the one time of year when those tiger-like skin marks – or stretch marks – aren’t as well disguised. But what are stretch marks, anyway?
As it turns out, these marks are incredibly common. In fact, roughly 80% of Americans have them – women and men. So, you’re actually part of the majority if you have them.1
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks (or striae distensae) are actually scar tissue that has accumulated in the middle layer of skin (the dermis). This occurs when connective tissue stretches or shrinks, causing the dermis to tear.
Now, this connective tissue contains elastin and collagen fibers. And while they’re naturally stretchy, they can overstretch with rapid growth and break. The skin then tries to heal these collagen and elastin breakages, and scar tissue forms.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
You can develop stretch-type marks from:
- Rapid weight gain
- Rapid weight loss
- Growth spurts
- Rapid muscle growth (common in men)
- Hormonal changes
- Long-term topical steroid use for skin conditions.
They are definitely more common on some skin types, or if you have a family history of them. Fluctuating hormones may make them worse.
Don’t be alarmed if these striae distensae first show up as purple, pink, brown, or red. Tears in the dermis allow blood vessels to show through, which is why they may have this initial color. They may also feel raised and itchy. But this color and sensation will fade.2
Can You Get Rid of Striae Distensae?
While you can’t completely get rid of stretch marks, you can treat them in ways that may make them less noticeable. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you can do this in three ways:
Dermatologists agree that most creams and oils on the skin care market aren’t miracle-workers alone. It’s a great start if they promote collagen and elastin formation. But, how you use them is what really might help make stretch marks less noticeable.
- Use these creams really early – right at the first appearance of stretch-type marks.
- Always massage the cream into your skin
- Do this daily for several weeks.
Then there’s fake tan! It doesn’t just help give you a summer glow. As it turns out, self-tanners may help cover stretch-type marks. Stretch marks won’t tan under the sun (and you should never deliberately expose your skin to harmful UV rays to begin with!) But they can be covered up by a self-tanner.
2. Prescription Products
Two topical ingredients may help if they’re applied early enough to stretch marks. Hyaluronic acid and tretinoin (a retinoid) may both help reduce their appearance.
*Note that you cannot use a retinoid if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
3. Dermatologist Procedures
Your dermatologist may suggest certain procedures to help make stretch marks less noticeable. They include:
- Chemical peels
- Laser therapy
You may need to have several of these procedures over time, and it can become quite expensive. Also, these procedures won’t get rid of the marks altogether.3
Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?
As with most things in life, prevention may be better than a cure. You can’t always prevent stretch marks, but these things might help.
If you’re at risk of scarring marks (as in pregnancy), you’ll want to keep your skin cells well hydrated and supple. This can help improve skin elasticity, particularly when you’re experiencing weight gain.
But don’t forget to really massage these creams into the skin, as the success of this massage method seems to warrant trying.4,5
Aside from wonderful collagen and elastin-promoting ingredients like Niacinamide, researchers have also found some success with skin care creams containing extract of Centella asiatica and hyaluronic acid.6
Stretch Marks – A Fact of Life
Stretch marks are a fact of life for many people, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t always prevent them, but you can try some of these strategies and see how they work for you.
Choose a high-quality cream and regularly massage it into your skin to help promote collagen and elastin. This may be one of the most effective pieces of advice available.
Some people also believe that following a healthy, balanced diet (with plenty of vitamins and minerals) and staying well hydrated may also help. And, being that good skin care begins on the inside, they may well be onto something.