One of the things I hate the most about my body are my stretch marks. I have a lot around the sides of my bum from when I had my growth spurt in puberty. Every summer I'm paranoid about going to the beach in a bikini (yay swimming skirts!). So what can you do?
Although it's not clear how exactly skin gets stretch marks, they generally appear during periods of growth, such as during puberty, pregnancy, sudden weight gain or steroid therapy. About 90% of pregnant women get stretch marks! They can shrink and fade after the weight is lost, but don't go away completely. Several conditions can also lead to stretch marks, incuding anorexia, tuberculosis and Cushing's disease.
Whether or not you're prone to stretch marks is often determined by genetics. The most common places for them to appear are on the thighs, upper arms, butt and boobs.
Developing stretch marks
A new stretch mark usually looks pink, and sometimes can be itchy and slightly raised ("striae rubra"). They then usually turn darker and grow longer. After some time, they turn white, flat and look sunken into the skin, and appear a bit like a scar ("striae alba"). Stretch marked areas tend to have less collagen, fibronectin, fibrillin and elastin, all of which are important skin components.
Successfully treating stretch marks is challenging, and there's no cure discovered yet that works for everyone, so whoever invents one is going to get very rich!
Generally, stretch marks are easiest to get rid of when they're fresh and still pink - they're hard to treat when they're white. Bad news for me!
Tretinoin (vitamin A) cream rubbed into fresh stretch marks is one of the most reliable treatments. It seems to work by stimulating skin growth. However, it does next to nothing on old stretch marks.
Trofolastin cream (active ingredient: centella asiatica) also seems to stimulate skin growth.
There is some evidence that glycolic acid, an AHA, may stimulate collagen production and improve the appearance of old stretch marks.
Monthly dilute (15-20%) trichloroacetic acid peels has been found to improve the texture and colour of stretch marks in one study.
More research is needed, but some initial studies have shown that cosmetic treatments such as microdermabrasion, RF, IPL and laser treatments (especially fractional photothermolysis using Fraxel lasers) could be effective in treating striae.
Since stretch marks are so hard to get rid of, prevention is definitely better than cure! Stretch marks result from trauma deep down in the skin, so topical treatments aren't likely to penetrate deep enough to quell them completely.
Although common sense would tell us that keeping skin well-moisturised will prevent tearing, not enough studies have been done to convincingly confirm or deny this. Oil and cream massages are often recommended for preventing stretch marks, but it's not clear whether it's the physical massage that helps, or the moisturising action of the oils, or both, or neither. Camellia oil in particular can help boost collagen in the skin.
Hyaluronic acid creams (e.g. Verum, Alphastria) can help prevent stretch marks by increasing skin strength.
The easiest way to deal with stretch marks seems to be to hide them!
Fake tan is a double-edged sword - the right one can do wonders, but the wrong one can show them up more since stretch marks are different in texture to undamaged skin! Sun tanning makes them more obvious, since the scar tissue doesn't brown. Concealer is also useful for temporary cover.
Keeping your skin moisturised and toned (with dreaded exercise!) can smooth out the skin and make the affected areas less lumpy and obvious.
Most.importantly, we need to learn to embrace them! Most women (and many men) have stretch marks, including famous beauties such as Scarlett Johanssen, Kate Beckinsale and Angelina Jolie.
Are you self-conscious about your stretch marks? Or are you genetically blessed and have none? What stretch mark disguises work for you?
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M L Elsaie, L S Baumann and L T Elsaaiee. Striae distensae (stretch marks) and different modalities of therapy: An update. Dermatol Surg 2009, 35, 563.
G Young and D Jewell. Creams for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1996, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000066. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000066.
E Junga, J Leea, J Baekb, K Junga, J Leea, S Huha, S Kima, J Kohb and D Park. Effect of Camellia japonica oil on human type I procollagen production and skin barrier function. J Ethnopharmacol 2007, 112, 127.