What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are lines that appear on the skin in parallel to each other and look different than the surrounding skin. Usually they can be purple to pink or a light gray. The texture is different and you might feel a ridge or indentation. They can be itchy or sore.
These lines appear after a sudden change in weight like during pregnancy or during growth spurts in adolescence. They are not dangerous and frequently disappear over time. They can be anywhere but usually on the stomach, thighs and buttocks. Sometimes on breasts and upper arms.
Like their name suggests, they are the skin stretching and are generally accompanied by an increase in cortisone. Too much cortisone will cause the skin to lose elasticity. They can be caused when a pregnant woman's skin is stretching to accommodate a growing baby. Rapid weight gain or loss can cause the skin to change. Sudden growth spurts can result in marks. Overuse of corticosteriod creams, lotions and pills. Medically there are some disorders like Cushing's syndrome, Marfan's syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome that can result in stretch marks. Stretch marks are most prevalent in Caucasian (especially pale skinned) women, or a family history of stretch marks.
How to Treat Stretch Marks
Stretch marks generally fade over time. However, if you want to improve your appearance sooner you can try some of these remedies. Just realize they will never disappear completely.
• Collagen restoring cream like Retin-A or Renova. This is a fibrous protein that helps with skin elasticity and works best on recent marks that are red or pink. Pregnant women should not use this product.
• Pulsed dye laser treatments will encourage the production of collagen and elastin and it works best on newer marks. People with darker skin color may notice a discoloration.
• Fractional photothermolysis is very much like dye laser. The laser is used to target smaller areas of skin and will result in less damage.
• Microdermabrasion polishes the skin with tiny crystals. This exposes skin that under the marks. This is used for older stretch marks.
• Excimer laser stimulates melanin production, which is the element that produces skin color. This process will make the marks look more like the surrounding skin.
These can be quite expensive and there is no guarantee of a cure. Most procedures are considered cosmetic and not covered by insurance. Check with a dermatologist to see if they would be beneficial for you. There are some less expensive options.
• Vitamin A found in many over-the-counter cosmetics especially creams
• Sugar scrubs
• Aloe Vera as a skin softener applied after a shower. Use pure aloe vera from a plant.
• Coconut oil has been shown to reduce the healing time in wounds. Unless you have an allergy to coconuts, use virgin oil to remove the red appearance.
As in so many other situations, prevention is the best treatment. Keep your skin hydrated to prevent loss of elastin. Use topical creams to keep your skin moisturized. Over time most stretch marks fade and will be less prominent.