People tend to associate stretch marks (striae) solely with pregnancy. And while these spindly scars are commonplace for pregnant folks, you don’t have to have a bun in the oven to end up with stretch marks. Indeed, these marks occur when one’s skin becomes overstretched, altering the skin’s texture. This strain on the skin is usually caused by a rapid shift in the body’s weight or structure, which is why those experiencing a growth spurt and/or significant weight gain/loss might end up with stretch marks (in addition to those who are pregnant, of course). Stretch marks are also more likely to show up when the skin has been weakened or thinned due to hormonal changes (primarily changes that reduce collagen fibers' strength).
While stretch marks don’t pose a health hazard or cause physical pain, they can reduce one’s self-confidence and become a major source of stress. As such, stretch mark removal is commonly sought out by those who wind up with them. While it’s not yet possible to completely eradicate stretch marks (especially the most stubborn ones), there are a number of ways to reduce their prominence. Ultimately, the best way to limit this type of scarring is to prevent it from showing up or getting worse when it arrives. Here’s how to be proactive with your stretch marks so they’re barely noticeable.
Because accelerated changes in weight are the leading causes of stretch marks, the most effective way to prevent them is by maintaining a steady weight. Of course, doing so isn’t always easy or possible. For instance, during pregnancy, the body simply does what it does -- skin stretching varies from one person to the next, but some will occur as the process develops. Likewise, hormonal and bodily changes that occur during puberty occur naturally, and weight and skin changes are inevitable. Beyond these uncontrollable factors, though, you can mitigate skin stretching to some degree by controlling your diet and exercise regimen. If you wish to lose or gain weight on your own accord, just note that this process might result in stretch marks, especially if these changes occur quickly rather than gradually.
Simply taking good care of your skin is one of the best ways to lessen those unwanted lines. Regularly exfoliating your skin (especially the areas where stretch marks are located) will help remove dead skin cells and speed up your skin’s cell turnover process, which improves your skin’s overall appearance and fades scarring. Additionally, maintaining a moisturizing routine can increase your skin’s elasticity and prevent new stretch marks from forming. While the jury is still out on whether certain oils or creams can definitively treat stretch marks, experts often recommend products such as coconut oil, aloe vera, shea butter, castor oil, and collagen enhancers to provide powerful hydration and repair the skin.
Retinoids (vitamin A, essentially) can operate as both a proactive measure and treatment for stretch marks. These products, such as Tretinoin cream, can boost the body’s production of collagen and help to fade lighter, recent stretch marks before they get worse. Speak to your dermatologist about retinoids before taking anything, as they can cause irritation for those with certain skin types.
The proactive measures outlined above can certainly curb stretch mark formation and lighten existing scars. That said, no amount of preventative effort can guarantee that you won’t develop stretch marks at certain points in your life. Knowing this, it’s a good idea to stay current on various skin treatments for stretch marks so you can more easily receive the help you need when the time comes. As of now, the most common and effective methods for stretch mark removal/reduction include:
Pulsed-Dye Laser Therapy
Fractional Laser Therapy
Surgical Procedures (i.e. tummy tucks)
These more aggressive methods aim to greatly reduce stretch marks by stimulating skin cell growth, removing layers of skin, and/or affecting blood vessels. As always, these cosmetic dermatology procedures may not be right for everyone, as certain side effects and complications are possible. Your dermatologist can tell you more about the risks and benefits of these stretch mark treatments.
Stretch marks are a harmless albeit annoying part of life -- this doesn’t mean that you have to live with your unwanted scars forever. By taking a proactive approach and understanding your treatment options, you can watch your stretch marks fade into the past while you move on with your life. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners are happy to give you more information and advice on everything related to stretch marks and other skin-related concerns. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.