In a world where the race for the perfect body and flawless skin is endless, stretch marks can easily turn into the bane of your existence. There’s nothing wrong with you because you have stretch marks, and doctors don’t treat the marks as a medical condition. In fact, 40 percent of men and 70 percent of women develop these marks, and 90 percent of women have stretch marks during pregnancy.
What Are Stretch Marks?
You might not think much about it, but your skin is constantly changing. During childhood and adolescence, your skin has to expand rapidly to accommodate new growth. In adulthood, as you gain and lose weight, your skin cells change so that your skin fits your new body. With a new body, though, comes changes in your skin. When your skin has to rapidly expand, stretch marks can be the unpleasant side effect.
Stretch marks are a form of scarring that occurs on the skin and tend to start out as pink or purplish marks on the surface of the skin. Over time, they fade into white or gray marks that may be slightly raised or indented and that often resemble scars.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Our skin is made up of a variety of proteins. Two proteins, collagen and elastin, play key roles in stretch mark formation. These proteins give our skin its elasticity, enabling it to stretch and shrink back down to accommodate a perpetually changing body.
When our skin expands rapidly, our body often can’t produce enough collagen and elastin for the skin to rapidly stretch. This leads to unsightly marks on the skin where you likely know these as stretch marks.
Everyone has collagen and elastin in their skin, but the amounts vary from person to person, and as you age the quantities tend to decrease. There’s more to stretch marks than simple proteins, though. Doctors now know that cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, weakens the fibers that bind skin. Some people naturally have more cortisol circulating in their bodies, and adrenal disorders can also increase cortisol. Because the hormone is strongly associated with stress, though, chronic stress can increase your likelihood of developing stretch marks. Unfortunately, the times during which you are most prone to stress – pregnancy, adolescence, and during a period of rapid weight-gain – are also the times that your skin has to stretch the most, predisposing you to stretch marks.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Stretch Marks?
Anyone can develop stretch marks, but certain factors increase your risk. These risk factors include:
- Adolescence. You are more likely to develop stretch marks during the rapid growth spurt of adolescence than any other time.
- Being female. Women are more likely to develop stretch marks than men. This is partially due to the fact that women, on average, have more body fat than men, forcing their skin to stretch more. The massive stretching that coincides with pregnancy also increases the risk. However, women are more susceptible to stretch marks even when they don’t rapidly gain weight, and doctors aren’t yet sure of why. It may be that hormonal differences between men and women alter their relative vulnerability to stretch marks.
- Weight gain. Any time you gain weight, you are more likely to develop stretch marks. It’s not just fat gain that’s the problem, though. Bulking up through weight training can also cause you to develop stretch marks.
- Medications. Using medications that contain cortisone, such as corticosteroid medications.
- A family history of stretch marks. Research indicates that stretch marks are partially determined by genetics, and a person who has a genetic history of stretch marks will develop stretch marks more easily.
- Adrenal system disorders such as Cushing’s disease. Note that having stretch marks does not necessarily mean you have a disease. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of people with stretch marks are perfectly healthy. But rapid development of stretch marks could indicate a hormonal imbalance caused by an adrenal gland problem.
- Aging. As you age, your skin loses elasticity. This increases your risk of developing stretch marks, particularly if you gain weight as you age.
Stretch marks can occur anywhere, but they tend to appear in places of high concentrations of fat storage. That means they’re most common along the upper arm area, hips, thighs, buttocks, breasts, and abdomen.
How To Get Rid Of Stretch Marks And Prevention
The effectiveness of stretch mark treatments is partially dependent on the age of the stretch marks. Newer stretch marks that are still purple or pink are easier to treat, so talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. Some treatments that may help reduce or eliminate the appearance of stretch marks include:
- Creams containing collagen and elastin. The effectiveness of these creams is an ongoing subject of scientific debate, but some studies have shown that these creams can reduce the appearance of stretch marks, particularly if you use them when stretch marks are still pink or purple.
- Tretinoin creams. These creams, which include well-known drugs such as Retin-A, are derived from Vitamin A. Commonly used to treat acne, they can also treat stretch marks by helping to boost the turnover rate of the cells and increasing the production of collagen by way of natural Vitamin A. Non-prescription retinoid creams are available, but will be far less powerful than those that can be prescribed by your doctor.
- Hyaluronic Acid. This is a naturally occurring acid which is responsible for an infant’s plump and perfect skin. Applying a cream that contains hyaluronic acid to an area where you have stretch marks can help to plump and moisturize the area. While this will not remove existing stretch marks, it can help minimize their appearance, as hyaluronic acid plumps the skin and appears to “fill in” your stretch marks.
- Glycolic Acid. Glycolic acid is a type of natural fruit acid, or alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is commonly used in chemical skin peels. It works by gradually removing the top layers of skin, to reveal healthier skin underneath. Lotions and creams which contain this natural ingredient can be purchased in drug stores. Repeat treatments will likely be required in order to improve the appearance of stretch marks, but over time a difference should be noted.
- Derma Roller. A simple cosmetic tool that when used, causes small amounts of damage to the top layer of skin. This light damage promotes the body’s own natural, healing response, increasing cell regeneration and ultimately reducing the appearance of stretch marks and scarring on the skin.
- Laser treatments. These treatments work by stimulating the development of collagen and elastin in your skin. Cosmetic laser treatment for stretch mark removal such as the Fraxel laser therapy have produced the best results with the reduction in the appearance of stretch marks in terms of tone and texture among patients.
- Microdermabrasion. This deep exfoliating treatment sloughs off the top layer of your skin, leaving newer, healthier-looking skin in its wake. The effectiveness of microdermabrasion depends on how deep the stretch marks are, and the treatment is most effective with new stretch marks that have not yet become indented and that are still purple or pink.
The most effective way to prevent stretch marks is to avoid rapidly gaining or losing weight. Focus on eating a healthy diet rich in dark, leafy greens, whole grains, lean meats and fruits which will boost collagen production and enhance skin elasticity. Avoid starvation strategies, since unhealthy diets can lead to hormonal imbalances, which can increase your risks of developing stretch marks.
Research on the effectiveness of other methods to prevent stretch marks is mixed. However, if you’re pregnant, gaining weight or going through a growth spurt, and you are concerned about developing stretch marks, try some of the following strategies:
- Apply shea butter to your belly, breasts, butt and thighs to moisturize the skin to stimulate collagen production and improve skin elasticity.
- For women who are pregnant, take a multivitamin. This ensures that you get the right nutrients, and this can help your skin maintain its elasticity, reducing your risk of stretch marks. During the second and third trimester where your skin will become dry and itchy, do not scratch the tummy. Instead, use stretch mark creams to moisturize the skin and keep the skin hydrated to prevent the itchiness.
- Drink plenty of water, and steer clear of sugary drinks such as soda and alcohol. Proper hydration keeps your skin healthy, hydrated, supple and less prone to the dryness and tears associated with stretch marks.
Because stretch marks are such a common source of frustration, researchers are constantly looking into new, more effective ways to eliminate them altogether. In a few years, stretch marks may be a thing of the past. For now, though, you may be stuck trying several methods until you find something that works. The marks can be embarrassing, but a little concealer can often cover them up if you need to show some skin or plan to hit the beach.
Stretch Mark FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
- I’m a new mom and I have very noticeable stretch marks around my breast, belly, outer thighs and butt. How do I get rid of them completely?
- Does Vitamin E help with stretch marks?
- What remedies work to remove stretch marks naturally?
- Besides remedies, what other natural ways can I use?
- How can I cover up those unsightly stretch marks in a hurry?
- Will tattooing hide stretch marks?
- What changes can I do to minimize or prevent more stretch marks?
1. I’m a new mom and I have very noticeable stretch marks around my breast, belly, outer thighs, and butt. How do I get rid of them completely?
Vitamin E and Shea butter creams can help minimize their appearance and prevent them from leaving behind unsightly gray marks. Some women have luck with topical creams containing collagen and elastin. A balanced, healthy diet can also improve skin elasticity, reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
2. Does Vitamin E help with stretch marks?
Yes, and no. Vitamin E is one of the most popular methods for both preventing and reducing the appearance of stretch marks. Vitamin E works by protecting cell membranes and improving skin’s elasticity, and since stretch marks are caused by under layers of skin tearing due to extreme stretching (from weight gain, pregnancy or aging), it cannot really erase existing stretch marks completely. However, it can keep them from worsening though, by improving the elasticity in the area and some people report that, with regular use of Vitamin E oil or creams, their stretch marks seem to lighten in color, which obviously makes them less visible. However, all things considered, Vitamin E creams are more commonly used as preventatives, rather than as treatment. When using it as a preventative, it is often advised to combine it with other products, such as shea butter, as the additional moisturizing benefits of complimentary ingredients can boost the effects of Vitamin E.
When applying Vitamin E, it should be done twice a day (once in the morning and once at night) and applied by massaging it into the skin with gentle, circular motions. The combination of the oil and massaging motion will help improve skin elasticity, thereby preventing or reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
3. What remedies work to naturally remove stretch marks?
Stretch marks are the result of breakdown in collagen and elastin fibers in your skin. The aging process can speed up this breakdown, and a healthy lifestyle can help slow down aging. Stay hydrated and eat balanced, healthy meals, steering clear of processed foods and empty calories.
Some natural health practitioners argue that applying eggs, citrus, or oil directly to the stretch marks can help, although these claims haven’t been tested by scientists. There’s no harm in trying them, though, particularly if you want to avoid going under the knife or investing in expensive creams.
- Egg Whites – Egg whites contain amino acids and proteins which can nourish and heal the skin. A simple home treatment can be prepared by applying egg whites to the affected area with a clean brush, such as a makeup brush, allowing it to dry and then rinsing with cold water. Follow the procedure by moisturizing with a heavy natural moisturizer such as olive oil or coconut oil.
- Essential Oils – Though no official studies have been done on the effects of essential oils on stretch marks. Anecdotal reports indicate that some essential oils may be particularly helpful in reducing the appearance of the scars. Essential oils thought to be most effective are: lavender, sandalwood, rose and most effective – frankincense. Frankincense, in particular, is thought to be an effective healer of tissue and, especially mixed with a moisturizing carrier oil such as almond oil, could be effective in reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
- Lemon Juice – The acidic nature of lemon juice can prove an effective helper in fading and diminishing the appearance of stretch marks by helping to mask their color. This method can be as simple as slicing a lemon and rubbing it all around, in circular motions, any areas where you have stretch marks. Allow it to dry, rinse and then, like with the egg white method, apply a hydrating oil for a boost of moisture.
- Potato Juice – This may sound strange, but the juice of a potato is very high in vitamins and minerals and is able to boost cell regeneration. Slice a potato into thick rounds and then rub all over your stretch marks. Let dry, rinse and moisturize with a natural oil.
- Aloe Vera – Aloe vera is well known for its ability to hasten the healing of a sunburn. It’s effective on sun burns because it speeds up the regeneration of your cells, speeding up the healing process at the cellular level. This same quality makes it very useful on new stretch marks. Since new stretch marks may still be in the healing process, aloe vera gel can boost collagen and cell regeneration in order to minimize the resulting scarring.
4. Besides remedies, what other natural ways can I use?
Research is mixed on the effectiveness of other remedies, but this doesn’t mean that other stretch mark remedies don’t work for some people. Massage can help increase circulation to the area, potentially reducing the appearance of stretch marks. Regular exercise can also help because it tones up your muscles. This, in turn, can help conceal stretch marks, though it won’t make them go away.
Using moisturizers such as Bio-oil can be effective, and many people notice a reduction in the appearance of stretch marks. Keeping your skin moisturized when you are pregnant or gaining weight can reduce your risk of developing stretch marks in the first place.
5. How can I cover up those unsightly stretch marks in a hurry?
Using a concealer is one way to cover up those marks. Yellow balances out purple, while green can help reduce pink and red tones. Start with a colored concealer, then apply a thick cream concealer on top. Use a brush to seamlessly blend the concealer. Applying a makeup primer underneath your concealer can help it last longer, preventing the concealer from wearing off and revealing your stretch marks.
6. Will tattooing hide stretch marks?
The short answer to this question is – Yes. However, much research should be done on the tattoo artist and their particular experience, before choosing someone to create and apply a piece to cover an area with stretch marks.
Tattoos are often used for cosmetic reasons in covering scars, and the same techniques applied in those instances can be used to cover stretch marks. This type of tattoo requires a very particular skill set that not all tattoo artists have, and in fact, most do not. Using standard tattooing techniques can actually risk enhancing your stretch marks, since tattoo ink and application sometimes have difficulty with, and an unpredictable nature towards, being done over scarred areas of the body. When choosing an artist for this job, it is best to find someone who has had success covering stretch marks with tattoos in the past, and ask to see examples of such work. Most artists will work with you to design a piece that has some form of texture in the design, which will work with the texture of the stretch marks, effectively hiding them. For many adventurous types who wish to avoid the cost and hassle of creams and surgical procedures, tattooing over stretch marks can be a liberating way to reclaim part of your body that you have been self-conscious about. Just be sure to do your homework first!
7. What changes can I make to minimize or prevent stretch marks?
- Avoid excessive weight gain. Act before the weight gain becomes very obvious and unmanageable. Commit to a weight management plan.
- If you are prone to having dry skin, use gentle soaps and bath gels with moisturizing agents.
- Keep your skin well hydrated by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. Similarly, eat 3 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
- For pregnant women, have a skin care routine such as applying Shea butter or Vitamin E oil on the butt, breasts, arms, abdomen, hips and thighs to prevent itchy skin as well as loss of collagen.
- To minimize stretch marks, use a combination of stretch mark creams, Retin-A and glycolic acid to boost collagen production, improve skin elasticity as well as to reduce the appearance of the “scars.”
(Note: Retinoic acid is not recommend if you are pregnant or nursing. Individuals with sensitive skin should moderate or avoid Glycolic acid as it can cause some unfavorable side effects to the skin such as redness, burning and crusting.)