Stretch marks take the fun out of wearing a bathing suit. These marks that look like thick lines on the skin are usually red or dark pink in color when they first appear, but as they mature they lose their red hue and become white. Once these marks, also known as striae, mature, they become more challenging to treat. Striae are most common in the abdominal area, although they’re also not uncommon on breasts, buttocks, thighs and on the upper arms.
Striae are really a form of scarring that happens when skin is stretched too far. This commonly happens with extreme changes in weight. Rapid weight changes cause the skin to stretch too quickly. This puts stress on the collagen and elastin fibers that lie in the dermis layer of the skin. When they’re stretched too far, these fibers tear, causing striae to form.
Stretch marks are common in women during pregnancy as their abdominal girth expands. Adolescents can experience the issues too as their bodies grow and develop at a rapid rate, putting stress on collagen and elastin fibers underneath the skin. Increases in a hormone called cortisol contribute to stretch marks. Cortisol levels are rise during pregnancy, during periods of stress, with some diseases and medications, and with obesity.
Once stretch marks appear, it’s important to treat them as quickly as possible. They’re easiest to remedy while they’re still pink or red in color. Once they lose their color, treatment becomes more challenging.
One treatment that may reduce the appearance of stretch marks is a cream containing onion extract which is available in over the counter products. Onion extract contains natural chemicals called flavonoids that reduce inflammation. When skin is stretched and torn, it causes an inflammatory response that contributes to scarring. Onion extract helps to calm the inflammatory response. Several small studies show it has benefits for improving the appearance of early stretch marks.
Treatments with products containing glycolic acid may help during the early stages by stimulating collagen production. Prescription-strength retinoids in products like Retin-A also boost production of collagen and elastin and help to improve striae that are still pink or red in color.
A combination of botanical ingredients called registril and darutoside have shown promise for treating stretch marks in some small studies. These ingredients are available in some products formulated to treat stretch marks. A dermatologist can also do a series of chemical peels using glycolic acid to stimulate collagen production and help “repair” stretch marks.
A more advanced treatment for stubborn striae is laser surgery. This type of surgery requires several treatments and may not completely remove stretch marks. What it can do is lighten the color and improve the texture around the mark. This makes them less noticeable. Unfortunately, cost is a factor with this type of procedure. The FDA recently approved the Lux1540 Fractional non-ablative laser for treating striae. Research shows it can improve the appearance of stretch marks by 51% to 75%.
The best way to treat stretch marks is to prevent them in the first place. Avoid yo-yo dieting and rapid changes in weight. Eat a healthy diet that contains adequate amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for collagen production and maintaining healthy skin that’s resistant to tearing. Wear a sunscreen on any areas that are exposed to the sun.
Stretch marks are a frustrating problem that affects people of all ages. Treat them as early as possible for best results.