Stretch Marks Removal, Treatment and Prevention
Understanding stretch marks – what are the causes and treatments, as well as creams for stretch mark removal and prevention.
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, also known as striae or striae gravidarum (during pregnancy), are a type of scar tissue that form in the middle layer of the skin. The scars present themselves when the skin is stretched rapidly causing the dermal layer of the skin to tear.
These marks may vary in sizes, but are usually between 1mm to 10mm wide and can extend up to a few centimeters in length. Stretch marks first appear as small reddish or purple stripes in the skin however, over time, these vessels contract or shrink, leaving the lower layers of skin and fat showing, which then turns to a pale white or silvery look where the stretch marks are.
What Are The Causes For Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are caused by tearing of the dermis layer of skin. This middle layer provides the skin with structure and support. This structure and support comes from the collagen fibers in the skin, which can tear if they are stretched in a short space of time. This is why stretch marks during pregnancy are so common.
The other major cause of stretch marks is changes in hormone levels, such as those associated during puberty and again during pregnancy. One of the most significant causes of stretch marks is the over production of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone changes can affect our skin and lead to a weakening in the collagen, which then tears more easily.
Who Are Most At Risk Of Getting Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are a common occurrence among pregnant women (especially during the third trimester of their pregnancy) due to the rapid weight gain and the skin being in stretched for such a prolonged period of time. During pregnancy, stretch marks will most likely appear on their stomach, breasts, thighs, buttocks, and upper arms.
However stretch marks are not just limited to pregnancy. Genetics and heredity also play a role. If your mother has them, there’s a chance you will have the genetic predisposition to have stretch marks.
Individuals who are using steroid creams or oral steroids to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis may also get stretch marks.
Young boys and girls who are going through puberty can also get stretch marks, since hormone changes during adolescent growth spurts causes the skin to stretch.
Also at risk of developing stretch marks are individuals who experience rapid weight gain or weight loss due to overeating, diet or excessive exercising (especially weight-lifting).
What Can Be Done To Treat Stretch Marks?
- Laser Treatment – Going for laser surgery for the removal of stretch marks is considered to be one of the more effective options for reducing the severity of depressed skin, whiteness and redness associated with stretch marks by as much 75%. Essentially, laser treatment such as fractional laser works by creating a series of small wounds where stretch marks exist, which prompts the skin to generate new collagen and epithelium to heal and replace the scarred tissue where the stretch marks are present.
- Prescriptive Retinoids – Widely used in anti-aging cremes, prescription retinoids are chemically related to vitamin A and have been shown to reduce the severity of stretch marks through regulating epithelial cell growth. (However, women who are pregnant should not use them.)
- Microdermabrasion – A new treatment where fine sand crystals are blown over the stretch marks to abrade and exfoliat the old, dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This helps to stimulate collagen production to promote the rejuvenation of new skin cells, thus reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
- Stretch Mark Creams – Using lotions, creams and gels containing a combination of Vitamin A, E and D, aloe vera, shea butter or cocoa butter are believed to help treat stretch marks. By moisturizing the skin with stretch mark cream and lotion, it help keeps the skin supple, enhance collagen production and promote the rejuvenation of new skin cells, thus reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
- Cosmetic Surgery – A tummy tuck, also referred to as abdominoplasty is an invasive medical procedure for stretch marks removal. Typically, the excess fat and skin in the area where the stretch marks are (usually around the abdomen) is surgically removed. This form of stretch mark removal option should only be a last resort when all else treatment fails.
How To Prevent Stretch Marks?
Prevention of stretch marks and the avoidance of scarring where the stretch marks occur is best done by avoiding rapid weight gain or by gaining weight slowly where possible.
For those going through pregnancy or a growth spurt, prevention of stretch marks can be done by using creams and lotions that are specifically designed to help moisturize the skin to stimulate collagen production, improve the skin suppleness to aid in the prevention of stretch marks.
Pregnant women are also advised not to scratch their tummy especially during the third trimester of their pregnancy when the skin becomes itchy. Instead use stretch mark creams to rub and moisturize the skin and keep the skin hydrated to prevent the itchiness.
One can also reduce the likelihood of developing stretch marks by eating a healthy diet. Eat plenty of fruits, veggies and lean meat to get plenty nutrients such as zinc, vitamins A, E, D and antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight free radicals that cause skin damage while zinc and vitamins will boost collagen production and enhance skin elasticity.
Drinking water can also help prevent stretch marks by keeping your skin well hydrated, supple and less prone to the dryness and tears associated with stretch marks.