When our skin quickly stretches and retracts over a short period of time, the main collagen and elastin structure of the skin can start to tear. When the skin heals, the tear lines often become visible: these are the skin streaks known as stretch marks.
Stretch marks never get better on their own. This is why specialists say that “prevention is better than cure”. If you have stretch marks and want to make them less noticeable, you need to treat them.
What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are defined as long linear streaks that appear on the skin. How are they formed? Quite simply because the skin subjected to an extension beyond its elasticity limits “cracks” and the deep fibers of collagen break. Thus, stretch marks are therefore areas of skin where the deep dermis, located between the epidermis and the hypodermis, has torn violently.
When they appear, they have the shape of streaks resembling scars in length, red to purplish in color and are sometimes inflammatory. They lighten over time to become white and pearly, almost the same color as the skin. Stretch marks are mostly found on the stomach, breasts, arms, buttocks, and thighs.
Two types of stretch marks:
Stretch marks indicative of a health problem
There is a disease called Cushing’s syndrome which causes severe stretch marks. These stretch marks are typically large, red, vertical and are found on the abdomen, on the thighs, the arms, and the breasts.
Other clinical signs can be associated with Cushing’s syndrome such as very thin, very fragile skin that is easily prone to bruising, as well as muscle wasting and/or weakness or even weight gain in the stomach and face. These signs should alert and prompt a medical consultation. Cushing’s syndrome is a disease caused by an excess of corticosteroids in the body and this excess results from an abnormal synthesis of hormones like cortisol, which is the stress hormone normally regulated by the adrenal glands.
A dysfunction of these adrenal glands can cause a very significant increase in cortisol and then promote the appearance of these stretch marks. The other reason for Cushing’s syndrome is most often related to excessive and/or long and prolonged use of oral corticosteroid-type drugs.
Classic stretch marks
They are generally linked to weight gain, weight loss or pregnancy. They are partly of hormonal origin. Also, they are generally thinner and more discreet than those revealing a disease and they are not accompanied by any particular health problem and have no impact on health except for a major aesthetic inconvenience.
Classic stretch marks generally have a hormonal origin and can therefore appear during puberty or pregnancy, which are times of intense hormonal changes.
During pregnancy and especially in the second trimester, the amount of a hormone, cortisol, increases and changes the suppleness and elasticity of the skin. Also, the higher the cortisol level, the less collagen is produced. Collagen being responsible with the elastic fibers for the suppleness of the skin, the latter becomes less elastic and if it is stretched by weight gain or pregnancy then stretch marks can form.
Likewise, rapid weight loss causes distension of the skin which, after being stretched, retains traces in the form of stretch marks during weight loss. Athletes are also often prone to stretch marks, because of the high level of cortisol present in their bodies.
The following situations can also cause stretch marks:
- The application of creams containing corticosteroids or prolonged use of oral corticosteroids can cause and promote the appearance of stretch marks.
- Taking anabolic steroids in athletes with the aim of increasing muscle mass also promotes the occurrence of stretch marks.
- Very thin skin will also be more prone to these unsightly marbling.
You should know that stretch marks are very common since nearly 80% of women have this type of scarring on their body and during the first pregnancy between 50 and 70% of women see stretch marks appear at the end of pregnancy. Stretch marks also occur in 25% of girls and 15% of boys in adolescence.
There is also a genetic predisposition to the appearance of stretch marks. If your mom has stretch marks, you are more likely to have them a well.
Among the main risk factors for stretch marks we find:
- Being overweight or obese,
- Rapid weight gain or loss
- Treatment with oral or local corticosteroids
How to get rid of stretch marks?
Let’s be honest: no treatment can completely remove stretch marks. However, when taken shortly after their onset, that is to say at the inflammatory stage, they are easiest to deal with.
Among the treatments considered and offered by dermatologists:
- Prescription tretinoin (vitamin A) creams appear to be effective.
- The combination of these creams with glycolic acid in order to promote the production of collagen to reduce stretch marks. (These treatments are prescription only and should NEVER be used during pregnancy.)
- For fair skin, laser treatment can help limit cosmetic damage by stimulating the production of new collagen fibers. Talk to your dermatologist.
- For mature white scars and stretch marks some vitamin A acid treatments seem to work.
- In the same way for fair skin, a fractional laser (called Fractionated CO2 Laser) allows, thanks to a heating action, to smooth the skin and to boost the production of the fibers of the dermis in depth.
These treatments are partial treatments but are very effective in reducing the visibility of stretch marks, so don’t hesitate to talk to your dermatologist.
How to prevent or treat stretch marks?
Since it is not possible to completely remove stretch marks, the best way to avoid them is prevention!
Prevention goes, of course, by reducing risk factors (rapid weight gain or loss). Make sure to regularly moisturize her skin during periods conducive to the appearance of stretch marks (during pregnancy for example). A daily or twice daily massage of the affected areas would have an important preventive effect.
- Perform a rolling palpate type massage that stimulates the production of collagen fibers.
- Do not use cortisone-based products without medical advice.
- Do not wear tight clothing as friction can contribute to the appearance of stretch marks.
- Avoid hot and prolonged baths which promote sagging skin
Anti-stretch mark treatments
To prevent stretch marks, two categories of anti-stretch mark care exist: products that stimulate the metabolism of fibroblasts with an activation of the synthesis of new skin, these products then contain:
- Plant extracts: Aloe vera, Lady’s mantle, Arnica, Ivy, Horsetail, Centella asiatica, Sophora japonica.
- Nutritional and hydrating active ingredients: vegetable oils and butter, safflower, sweet almond, jojoba oil, wheat germ extract, olive oil, glycerin, avocado peptides.
Applied at the start of pregnancy, these anti-stretch mark treatments promote the prevention and reduction of stretch marks by improving the elasticity and tone of the skin. These local treatments are to be applied once or twice a day. It is advisable to preheat the product well in your hands before application to fluidize its texture and promote its application and penetration. It is also advisable to practice the technique of palpating and rolling lightly by working the skin with your fingers in strategic places (thighs, hips, breasts, stomach), followed by circular massages for at least 5 minutes.
Prevention of stretch marks with food supplements
To prevent stretch marks, it is possible to increase your daily intake of essential fatty acids and group vitamins B, C and E to boost collagen production and make the dermis more elastic. These fatty acids and vitamins are mainly found in:
- Borage oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Wheat germ
- Royal jelly
Prevention of stretch marks by homeopathy
In prevention of the appearance of stretch marks,you can also use a combination of homeopathic granules of Calcarea fluor + Graphites + Silicea, at the rate of 3 granules of each, 2 times a day in addition to a twice-daily hydration of the affected areas.
Prevention of stretch marks by herbal medicine
Herbal medicine care will only be local care, especially in the event of pregnancy. Macadamia oil is to be used as a spray on the areas to be treated morning and evening and by performing circular massages. Tiger grass or Centella asiatica is extremely renowned for its healing powers by stimulating the production of collagen and fibronectin to thus regenerate the connective tissue of the affected area, so products containing it are shown to be very effective.
Finally, mixtures of plants contained in vegetable massage oils based on Sweet Almond, Jojoba and Wheat Germ (vitamin E) and Arnica are available. They promote the prevention and reduction of stretch marks from the start of pregnancy.
Prevention of stretch marks by aromatherapy
Many essential oils are contraindicated during pregnancy and before the age of 12. Do not use these essential oils during pregnancy.
The essential oil of Lavender Aspic is healing, the essential oil of Niaouli regenerates the skin and the essential oil of clary sage has firming properties on the tissues (be careful, however, many contraindications exist for this oil).
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist
Stretch marks are not a health problem in and of themselves, but they can be indicative of an underlying health problem related to increased cortisol production. It is for this reason that in the event of an onset outside the context of pregnancy or weight gain and loss, it is important to consult your doctor. For all “classic” stretch marks, it is above all their unsightly appearance that is a concern. But there is no need to worry; a healthy lifestyle, adapted moisturizing and healing care and a consultation, if necessary, with your dermatologist will be your best allies to fight them off. They may even fade until they become almost invisible!
Born in London, England and raised in Orlando, FL, Elena graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelors’ degree in Health Sciences. She later received her masters’ in Creative Writing from Drexel University. She writes part-time for the Scientific Origin and focuses mostly on health related issues.