What do stretch marks mean?

Home remedies and doctor prescribed treatments may help diminish the appearance of stretch marks.
Home remedies and doctor prescribed treatments may help diminish the appearance of stretch marks.

A stretch mark (striae or striae distensae) is a form of scarring on the skin with a pinkish or whitish hue that appears when your skin stretches or shrinks quickly.

Collagen is a protein underneath your skin that makes it more elastic and supports your skin. Your skin tries to heal any abrupt change or tear in your skin collagen, and in that process, stretch marks may appear on your skin.

They often appear on your belly, arms, breasts, back, shoulders, torso, hips, buttocks or thighs. These grooves or lines aren’t painful or harmful. However, some people may feel awkward about their appearance. Over time, they become less noticeable.

What do stretch marks look like?

A stretch mark varies depending on when they form, the cause, the location and the type and color of your skin. They may appear as follows

  • Slightly depressed, parallel lines or long, thin, rippled streaks on your skin
  • With pink, red, black, blue, silver or purple hue
  • Bright dark streaks that may fade to a lighter shade over time
  • Whitish and scar-like appearance over time
  • Several centimeters long and one to 10 mm wide, usually
  • Different texture than your normal skin and may look wrinkled
  • Stripes covering large parts of your body, especially the tummy, torso, breast, hips, buttocks or thighs
  • Slightly raised and can be itchy, especially early new marks

Why do they appear?

Anyone can develop stretch marks, but you may get stretch marks due to the following reasons

  • Being a woman 
  • Pregnancy (especially last trimester)
  • Sudden rapid excessive weight gain
  • Rapid loss of weight
  • Puberty (sexual maturity)
  • Hormonal treatment (steroids)
  • After breast enhancement surgery
  • Bodybuilding
  • Family history 
  • Certain diseases or conditions such as 
    • Cushing syndrome (a disorder due to a high level of the hormone cortisol)
    • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a disorder with very stretchy skin that bruises easily)
    • Marfan’s syndrome (a disorder that weakens your skin fibers and causes unusual growth)

How do I permanently get rid of stretch marks?

Stretch marks are usually considered a cosmetic issue. Rarely, they can be extensive where they may tear easily in an accident. Like any scar, stretch marks are permanent and may fade with time. Because stretch marks are caused due to a tear deep inside your skin, there is no absolute cure for it. However, some treatments may make them less noticeable. Some treatments can help you with the itch. There is no single treatment that works for everyone and some treatments don’t work at all. 

Stretch marks may diminish with the help of certain over-the-counter products or procedures, but will never disappear completely. If you are concerned about the look of the skin, then some treatments may be effective.

  • Moisturizers: Hyaluronic acid-based cream is most often prescribed. If applied in the early stage of stretch marks, it may make the stretch marks less noticeable.
  • Topical retinoid therapy: Tretinoin (retinoid) or retinol works best for some people. If applied in the early stage every night for 24 weeks, it may make them less noticeable. However, it may be associated with side effects if not used as directed. It should be avoided in pregnancy because it can be harmful.

To help your skin to produce more collagen, a skin doctor (dermatologist) or plastic surgeon may suggest or perform one or more of the following procedures to give you the best results.

  • Pulsed dye laser therapy: This is a painless blast of light used to relax blood vessels under your skin that cause stretch marks.
  • Fractional CO2 laser therapy: Old white marks may smooth out with this therapy. It may be more effective than topical creams such as glycolic acid and tretinoin.
  • Excimer laser therapy: Stretch marks are targeted by a safe ultraviolet-B light. It may take more than one to four months to correct the pigmentation of your stretch marks.
  • Microdermabrasion: Tiny crystals or microneedles are used to rub off the upper layer of your skin to help fade new stretch marks. If combined with skin-peeling treatment, it may give better results.
  • Chemical peels: Burning of the top layer of your skin with glycolic acid (an acidic solution) may boost new skin growth. This may provide a slight improvement in appearance, but it may not permanently get rid of stretch marks.
  • Radiofrequency: Radio wave energy creates heat and triggers your body to produce more collagen. It is found to be safe and can improve the appearance of stretch marks.
  • Ultrasound treatment: This works similar to radiofrequency treatment. In this procedure, sound waves are sent deep into your skin to create heat and tighten and trigger your skin to produce collagen.
  • Cosmetic surgery: Surgeries such as a tummy tuck may help to remove the skin with stretch marks. However, the surgery itself could leave a new, painful scar and surgery is expensive.

Can I prevent stretch marks?

You may try to prevent stretch marks, but there is no guarantee. The best way to prevent stretch marks is to maintain a healthy weight, even during pregnancy. You can ask for an exercise and a healthy diet plan from your doctor. This is the best way to reduce your chances of getting stretch marks.

Researchers say many remedies such as almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil and vitamin E do not help to prevent stretch marks. Using products containing Centella asiatica herb and hyaluronic acid may help you prevent stretch marks, but only to a certain extent.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

NHS


American Academy of Dermatology Association


Mayo Clinic


British Journal of Dermatology


Journal of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology


Journal of American Academy of Dermatology