Almost every woman has them, and yet many of us spend significant amounts of time and money trying to get rid of them – not to mention all the effort that goes into worrying about how we’re going to disguise them in our bikinis. If you haven’t already guessed, we’re talking about stretch marks. Most commonly found on our breasts, thighs and stomachs, stretch marks often occur as a result of rapid weight gain, loss or growth. And while no amount of treatment will ever totally eliminate the signs of stretch marks, you’ll be happy to know there are things you can do to lessen their appearance.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are caused by changes in the shape and size of our body, and are most commonly brought on by puberty and pregnancy, as these are times during which our bodies naturally undergo dramatic changes. Stretch marks are distinguished by their red or purplish color tones, which eventually change to a silvery white.
But what exactly causes stretch marks to appear? There are three layers to our skin: the epidermis, or outer layer; the dermis, the middle layer; and the subcutaneous stratum, the inner layer. The dermis is what allows our skin to stretch; and while it is elastic in nature, it can only be stretched so far. If it is stretched too much or for too long, it will break down, resulting in the appearance of stretch marks.
Will Everyone Get Stretch Marks?
Although stretch marks are brought on by changes most women will experience, not everyone is equally susceptible to getting stretch marks. Aside from physical changes, genetics also play a role. So looking to your own parents is a good indicator of whether or not you will have stretch marks.
Ethnicity is another determining factor, not only in whether or not you will acquire stretch marks, but also how noticeable they will be. People with darker skin, for example, are less likely to have stretch marks than those with fairer skin. Also, the color of your skin will influence the appearance of the stretch marks, which can range from a reddish brown to a pink color to a dark purple.
Can Stretch Marks Be Prevented?
Although a small minority of people are lucky enough not to get stretch marks, or to get them very sparingly, for most women, they’re a fact of life – especially during pregnancy. Statistically speaking, between 75% and 90% of pregnant women will develop stretch marks. Some women claim that using a moisturizer or other lotion (especially those containing cocoa butter or vitamin E) on their growing pregnant belly limits the growth of stretch marks, or at least lessens their appearance by improving the skin’s flexibility. There is no evidence these creams are dangerous, however neither is their proof that they’re effective. For more information on how to treat stretch marks during pregnancy, check out this comprehensive article provided by pregnancy-info.net.
Probably the most effective way of preventing stretch marks is by drinking lots of water – 8 glasses a day or more. This is good for your skin in general, as it maintains moisture, which helps to keep the skin looking, and feeling soft – which in turn also helps to prevent stretch marks from forming. Also, avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffees, teas and sodas, as these can actually cause stretch marks. Also, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly are also great ways of reducing your risk of stretch marks - as well as a number of other health conditions.
Stretch Marks Treatment
While it may not be possible to totally get rid of stretch marks, there are a variety of treatment options available that – depending on how much of an effort and expense you’re willing to invest – can reduce their appearance. Some of the more popular methods used to reduce the appearance of stretch marks:
- Tretinoin cream (a.k. Retin-A): Studies have shown that creams containing Retin-A may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks. However, these creams should not be used if you are breastfeeding, as their effects on nursing babies has not yet been determined.
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): These plant-derived extracts (sometimes called fruit acids) enhance cell regeneration by removing the top layer of skin cells, allowing new, healthier cells to come to the surface, thereby improving skin color and texture and promoting better absorption of moisture. AHAs also claim to increase the skin’s flexibility, which helps stretch marks to disappear.
- Endermologie: This method involves the use of a specialized machine developed in France. Using rollers and gentle suction, the endermologie machine deeply massages the stretch marked areas, with the objective of increasing circulation. It also gets rid of excess water and toxins in the connective tissue. This procedure usually requires a series of treatments to be effective, each lasting about half an hour. This procedure also helps with cellulite.
- Laser Surgery: Although laser surgery won’t remove stretch marks, it will cause them to fade; however, it is most effective in the early stages of the development of stretch marks – or when the color is darkest, as the laser will only respond to dark colors. Laser removal will require a series of treatments for visible results.
- Micro-Dermabrasion: Like AHAs, this method removes the outer layer of the skin, however micro-dermabrasion uses jets of zinc, aluminum oxide crystals, or a rough surface, to remove dead skin. A small vacuum attached to a wand is typically used to suction off the dead skin. This process is painless and does not require anesthetic.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks at-home, you’ll be relieved to know there are many ways of doing so. One good way is by using a self-tanner or tinted moisturizer, as these will darken all the skin, making the stretch marks less visible. Keep in mind however, that sun or tanning bed exposure will not have the same effect – not only do these methods expose your skin to harmful UV rays, but they actually highlight the affected areas, since stretch marks cannot be darkened by the sun.