Managing Stretch Marks: Easy Steps for Smooth Skin

Stretch marks are a common occurrence when the skin abruptly stretches or shrinks, leaving discolored and indented lines as they heal. While some stretch marks could fade over time, others may not completely disappear. Learn about both the causes and available treatments to better understand and manage these skin changes.

How do stretch marks form?

Stretch marks are a type of scars that develop when the skin undergoes sudden changes, which can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, proteins that support skin structure. It's important to note that this is a natural occurrence, and anyone can develop stretch marks.

The exact genetic factors contributing to stretch marks are not yet fully understood. However, one is more likely to get stretch marks from the following factors:

  • Growth spurts. Adolescents experience growth spurts during puberty as the body develops because of hormone changes.
  • Pregnancy. The skin stretches during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.
  • Rapid weight loss or gain. Weight changes can also affect the skin layer, as the skin either stretches or shrinks to accommodate the body.
  • Steroid use. Long-term use of topical steroids leads to skin thinning and decreasing collagen, which could lead to stretch marks from a weak skin barrier.
  • Cushing's syndrome. Cushing's syndrome occurs when the body produces too much cortisol, the stress hormone. One of the main signs is weight gain. As the skin stretches, it could form stretch marks.

What do stretch marks look like?

Striae rubrae is the acute stage in which the mark is red, flat, or slightly raised and may feel itchy. Depending on skin tone, stretch marks may be pink, reddish, brown, or dark brown. Over time, the marks fade to their chronic stage, striae albae, in which the marks appear thin, wrinkled, and light in color.

Striae albae and striae rubrae

Stretch marks often affect areas that store more fat, although they can appear anywhere on the body.

Woman stretch marks

3 home remedies to manage stretch marks

In general, treating a stretch mark is difficult. Some home remedies may aid in prevention and minimize the appearance of a stretch mark, but they do not completely remove it. Research suggests a few ingredients, such as almond oil or products that include hyaluronic acid and centella asiatica, might help.

1. Almond oil

Almond oil may be beneficial because of its moisturizing properties, in combination with massaging the skin to increase blood flow. This oil may be especially useful for pregnant individuals, as studies suggest it does not pose a risk to the expectant or fetus during pregnancy.

One study showed that pregnant women who applied almond oil and massaged their abdomen reduced their stretch marks, while those using bitter almond oil alone were ineffective. Additional research is needed to determine if the massage or oil is more effective than the other.

2. Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid may counteract skin thinning by stimulating collagen production and improving tensile resistance to mechanical forces. However, the effect of hyaluronic acid in preventing stretch marks remains unclear.

A double-blind study on pregnant women using alphastria cream containing hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and fatty acids showed a reduction in stretch marks compared to the placebo group. However, due to other ingredients in the cream, further research is required to determine the real effects of hyaluronic acid alone.

3. Centella asiatica

Centella asiatica is a medicinal herb. Although its mechanism of action in treating stretch marks is unclear, its properties suggest that its application accelerates wound healing and improves the tensile strength of scars.

In a double-blind, randomized trial, researchers found that Centella cream stabilized stretch marks from worsening in pregnant women who used it twice daily. Much like hyaluronic acid, Centella is an ingredient often combined with other components in creams. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the true effectiveness of Centella on stretch marks.

Overall, limited evidence proves the effectiveness of home remedies to prevent stretch marks and reduce these lesions, but they are options to try at home.

Medical treatment for stretch marks

If you wish to explore treatment options, consult a dermatologist who can guide you on which method may best manage your stretch marks. You should consider seeking professional help if stretch marks cover a large area of the skin, you've tried and failed with over-the-counter treatments, or stretch marks appear without apparent cause, such as any recent weight change or pregnancy.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy involves using beams of light on scars. Pulse dye lasers typically treat stretch marks in their acute stage (striae rubra) to reduce swelling and redness. On the other hand, fractional lasers are used for stretch marks in their chronic stage (striae albae) as they stimulate collagen and elastin fibers, leading to repigmentation.

Side effects of laser therapy may include redness, swelling, and small white bumps (milia). Furthermore, there may be a risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and persistent hypopigmentation.

Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion is a skin-surfacing procedure that uses a rotating device to scrape away stretch marks. The method improves skin texture and creates a smooth finish. Healing may take two weeks, and results may take weeks to months.

Side effects may include acne, redness, swelling, enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, and scarring if the procedure penetrates too deeply into the skin.

Microneedling

Microneedling involves a hand-held device that pokes the skin with tiny needles. The small punctures stimulate the formation of new collagen and elastin fibers to create firm skin. Typically, this procedure requires more than one treatment, and results can take 4–6 months or longer.

Side effects may include irritation, discoloration, swelling, and flaky skin.

Tretinoin

Tretinoin is a vitamin A derivative. This cream could help reduce wrinkles, improve skin texture and hydration, and may be useful for early-stage stretch marks. Results may take up to 6 months of regular use.

Tretinoin can cause redness, irritation, peeling, discoloration, and sun sensitivity. Additionally, pregnant individuals cannot use this product due to its contraindication.

Hyaluronic acid injections

As mentioned previously, hyaluronic acid may be a good choice for home treatment, but it is also available by dermal injection. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, tretinoin and hyaluronic acid together offer some relief. In a 16-week randomized, controlled trial, the group that received twice-daily dermal injections and topical agent applications had superior results in their stretch marks compared to the topical agent group.

Yet, the study was not specific about which type of stretch mark the treatment was effective for. Side effects of hyaluronic acid injections may include pain on site, bruising, redness, itching, and swelling.

Common myths about stretch marks

While stretch marks are common, there are still several myths surrounding their appearance. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about stretch marks that need to be clarified.

Only pregnant individuals get stretch marks

Anyone can develop stretch marks, regardless of gender and age. Hormone changes during puberty or weight gain can cause them to appear. Muscle weight gain from strength training can also result in a stretch mark appearance.

Tanning can remove stretch marks

Tanning cannot get rid of stretch marks. On the contrary, the stretch marks are more noticeable because they do not tan with the rest of the skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, a self-tanner can camouflage stretch marks — both early and mature ones. However, it cannot get rid of them.

If I have dark skin, I can't treat my stretch marks

Individuals with darker skin tones can also treat their stretch marks. However, specific procedures, like laser therapy, may not be suitable due to the possibility of further discoloration, so they may need to consider alternative treatments.

The best treatment option will depend on your skin type, the length of your stretch marks, the underlying causes, and more. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the most suitable treatment option.

Prevention for stretch marks

Preventing stretch marks is not certain, but making lifestyle changes could help. The prevention methods include but are not limited to:

  • Eating healthy foods rich in vitamins, protein, and zinc.
  • Exercising regularly to control weight and promote blood flow to encourage collagen production.
  • Staying hydrated by drinking 6–8 cups of water a day to maintain a moisturized skin barrier.

Ultimately, it's important to emphasize that stretch marks are a common skin condition that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or body type. Various treatments are available to help reduce their appearance. Most importantly, stretch marks are a natural part of the body's growth and development.

FAQ

Key takeaways:


Leave a reply

Your email will not be published. All fields are required.