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What Causes Stretch Marks?

Pregnant woman applying cream on her stretch marks

Stretch marks are scars that are caused by the overstretching of skin as well as the increase of cortisone in the body. One of the main hormones released by the adrenal gland during times of stress, excessive cortisone can cause your skin to lose its elasticity.

Also known as striae, stretch marks appear as parallel lines on the skin. These marks are a different color and texture than your normal skin, and range in color from purple and red to bright pink and light gray. Some stretch marks have slight ridges or indentations and could be itchy.

Stretch marks develop when the middle layer of the skin, known as the dermis, stretches and tears. The dermis contains an elaborate mesh-like network of collagen and elastin fibers. Aside from supporting the upper layers of skin, this mesh also helps the skin maintain its firmness and elasticity. Intense skin stretching can tear this mesh and cause stretch marks to form.

Where Do Stretch Marks Normally Develop?

Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body, but are more likely to appear in places where large amounts of fat are stored.

The most common body parts where stretch marks can be found include the following:

  • Abdomen
  • Breasts
  • Upper arms
  • Underarms
  • Back
  • Thighs
  • Hips
  • Buttocks
  • Calves

What Causes Stretch Marks to Develop?

Rapid shrinkage and rapid growth of the skin both lead to the development of stretch marks. Puberty, pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, and other conditions that require the skin to stretch faster than it normally grows could cause striae to form. Certain medical conditions and the use of corticosteroid creams and lotions could also lead to the development of these unsightly lesions.

Pregnancy

Due to the intense swelling of the belly (particularly during the last trimester) and accelerated weight gain, it’s no surprise that stretch marks plague 50% to 90% of pregnant women. The skin on other parts of the body will also stretch to accommodate the developing baby, leading to the formation of stretch marks known as striae gravidarum.

Puberty

Young people go through rapid growth spurts and physical changes in their bodies during puberty. Girls develop curves around their hips and breasts, while boys develop broader shoulders and backs. These rapid changes cause the skin to overstretch and leave stretch marks.

Rapid Weight Gain or Loss

Stretch marks sometimes appear when people rapidly gain or lose weight. People who’re undergoing competitive weight training and are bulking up very quickly could also develop stretch marks.

Medical Disorders

Certain medical disorders, like Marfan syndrome and Cushing syndrome, could also lead to the development of stretch marks. Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. Aside from distorting certain body parts, this disease can also reduce the elasticity in skin tissue, causing stretch marks to form.

Cushing syndrome, on the other hand, develops due to abnormally high levels of cortisol. The condition can cause rapid weight gain and skin fragility, which in turn encourages the formation of stretch marks.

Corticosteroid Use

Those suffering from eczema, dermatitis, and allergic skin reactions may be prescribed topical corticosteroid creams and ointments to reduce inflammation. Prolonged use of these types of creams could decrease the skin’s collagen levels, leading to the formation of stretch marks.

How to Prevent Stretch Marks

Young woman exercising to prevent weight gain and stretch marks

Anyone can get stretch marks at any phase in life, though some groups are more likely to develop them than others. Women are more likely to get stretch marks than men, and those with pale skin are also more susceptible to the condition. What’s more, those with a family history of stretch marks are more likely to develop the condition.

Fortunately, the following healthy habits will help you reduce the likelihood of developing stretch marks.

Weight Control

To prevent weight fluctuations, it’s best to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Eating well-balanced, portion-controlled meals, as well as performing fat-burning cardio exercises, can help you maintain your weight and keep stretch marks at bay.

A Nutrient-Rich Diet

In line with maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, consider eating more foods that boost skin health. Your meals should include foods that are rich in vitamins C, D, and E, as well as zinc and protein. One way to ensure that you’re getting a variety of nutrients is to eat unprocessed food in various colors. Breakfast could be eggs, whole wheat toast, and a generous portion of strawberries and grapes.

Hydration

Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and soft. Soft, hydrated skin is less likely to develop stretch marks. The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) current recommendations for daily water intake are 104 ounces for men and 72 ounces for women.

The consumption of dehydrating fluids, such as coffee and soda, can also increase your risk of developing stretch marks. If you consume these beverages in large quantities, you should balance this by drinking plenty of water, herbal tea, and other caffeine-free drinks.

How to Remove Stretch Marks

While stretch marks aren’t dangerous and may fade over time, they will not disappear completely. Temporary solutions that can mask their appearance include tanning lotions and body makeup. There are also many creams, oils, salves, and other skincare products that claim to either prevent or treat stretch marks, though there is little proof that any of these products actually work.

If you’re interested in a procedure that will more effectively fade your stretch marks, a dermatologist or plastic surgeon could administer a stretch mark removal procedure using advanced laser technology.

Pulsed Dye Laser Therapy

This type of laser treatment uses a painless wave of light to treat new red- or pink-colored stretch marks. The laser energy is absorbed by the blood vessels and helps resolve the redness.

For the first three to four days, the coloring of the stretch marks will become more intense, though they will gradually begin to fade.

Fractional CO2 Laser Therapy

The FRAXIS DUO Fractional CO2 Laser is the first cosmetic laser system to combine the carbon dioxide fractional laser with micro-needle RF fractional technology. The dual technology system improves skin quality and texture through intense superficial stimulation, increased volumetric heating, and deeper heat diffusion.

Aside from treating skin issues like acne scars and wrinkles, this laser system can also be used to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, particularly old, white stretch marks.

Whichever stretch mark removal procedure you decide to undergo, it’s best to consult a reputable and highly experienced board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist to ensure satisfactory results.

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