What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are set-in streaks that show up on your stomach, breasts, hips, butt, and thighs. These long, thin, rippled marks are also called stria. If you have stretch marks, you probably wish they’d go away. These grooves or lines in your skin aren’t harmful to your health, but they aren’t great to look at, either.
And even though they’ll never really go away, they might fade over time or with help from certain products and procedures.
Stretch Marks Causes and Risk Factors
Stretch marks happen when your body grows quickly for any reason. Your skin can’t stretch enough to keep up.
Collagen is a protein that makes your skin more elastic. If your skin doesn’t have enough, the marks may show up as it stretches.
You may get stretch marks because of:
Quick weight gain (this affects both men and women)
Childhood growth spurts during puberty. Make sure kids know this is normal and that childhood marks may fade as they get older.
Breast implant surgery
Bodybuilding, even those who have little fat can get them where their muscles bulge
Marfan syndrome, a genetic disease that weakens your skin fibers and causes unusual growth
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a group of conditions that result from genetic changes to collagen, a protein in your body
They also run in families.
Stretch Mark Symptoms
New stretch marks may feel slightly raised and itchy. These rippled, streaky lines in your skin come in different colors. They fade from red or pink to purplish-blue to thinner, pale, more scar-like streaks over time. You may not notice them as much.
They can show up on many parts of your body:
Stretch Mark Diagnosis
The doctor only has to look at your skin to diagnose them. But they’ll probably ask about your medical history. If you’ve taken either oral or topical steroids for a long time, high cortisol levels in your body might be to blame.
Stretch Mark Treatments and Home Remedies
A range of medical treatments and home remedies is available to treat your stretch marks. Some work better than others.
Medical treatment for stretch marks
A skin doctor or plastic surgeon can use lasers or other treatments to help fade the marks. It may help your skin make more collagen:
Pulsed dye laser therapyis a painless blast of light used on new, red stretch marks. The light’s energy calms blood vessels under your skin that could cause the marks.
Fractional CO2 laser therapy is a new treatment that may smooth out old, white stretch marks. One study showed that women’s stretch marks faded after five sessions compared to others who used topical creams with glycolic acid and tretinoin.
Excimer laser therapyexposes stretch marks to targeted ultraviolet B (UVB) light. A small study shows that it’s safe and treatments over 1 to 4 months can correct pigment problems from stretch marks.
Microdermabrasion uses tiny crystals to rub off the top layer of your skin. One new study showed that this treatment helped fade new, reddish stretch marks when combined with skin peels.
Chemical peelis an acidic solution that burns off the top layers of your skin to remove dead and damaged cells and boost new skin growth. This treatment may improve your stretch marks a little, but won’t completely get rid of them.
Radiofrequency uses radio wave energy to create heat and trigger your body to make collagen. One small study found this treatment is safe and can improve stretch marks, but scientists need to do more research.
Ultrasound works a lot like radiofrequency treatments. The procedure sends sound waves deep into your skin to heat and tighten and jumpstart collagen production.
Home remedies for stretch marks
You’ll find many creams, salves, oils, and other skin ointments that claim to either prevent or treat them. But there’s little proof that any of these products really work. Some treatments and home remedies can fade or hide stretch marks:
Body makeup and self-tanner: These products can help hide stretch marks. Note that tanning won’t get rid of stretch marks. It actually makes them easier to see.
Tretinoin: Creams with tretinoin (Retin-A) contain retinoid, a compound related to Vitamin A. Retinoids increase collagen production. They’re often used to treat wrinkles. They may help fade newer stretch marks, but they can also make your skin red, irritated, or scaly.
Collagen boosters: StriVectin-SD and lupin seed extracts are both supposed to increase collagen in your skin, but it’s hard to say if they’ll fade or prevent stretch marks.
Centella asiatica:This herbal oil boosts cells in your body that make collagen and build up skin tissue. Some people use it to help heal wounds. Centella asiatica is in a number of over-the-counter skin creams for stretch marks, but there’s little proof it helps to fade them.
Bitter almond oil: One study showed that women who massaged bitter almond oil into the skin on their bellies during pregnancy had fewer stretch marks than others who just used oil without massage.
Cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, vitamin E oil, and other moisturizers: These natural creams can make your skin feel softer, but it isn’t clear if they help or prevent stretch marks.
If you decide to try a cream, lotion, or gel to fade your stretch marks, be sure to use it every day for several weeks. Take the time to massage it into your skin. These products may work best on newer stretch marks.
Stretch Mark Prevention
It’s possible to prevent stretch marks, but there’s no guarantee. The best way to lower your chances is to stay at a healthy weight, even during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan and how to eat well.
Products with the ingredients centella and hyaluronic acid may work to prevent stretch marks.