Stretch marks, also referred to as striae, are a common condition in people who have gained a lot of weight over a short period of time and during pregnancy. In fact, up to 90% of pregnant women develop them. They’re also common among bodybuilders and can be influenced by hormonal fluctuations. Stretch marks aren’t just a problem among older people. Teenagers are susceptible to them because of their rapid growth rate and the hormone fluctuations they experience as they go through puberty.
When stretch marks first appear, they’re usually red, pink or purple in color, but over time the color fades to a white or silver coloration. They’re usually easier to treat during the early stages when the stretch mark is still red or pink in color. Once the color fades, treatment can be more challenging.
What Causes Them?
Striae can form any time the skin is pulled or stretched. This most commonly happens with weight gain or an increase in muscle mass through bodybuilding. The dermis, the layer of skin that lies beneath the outermost layer called the epidermis, contains collagen and elastin fibers that give skin its strength and support. In people who have stretch marks, the type and organization of these fibers is altered. These changes in collagen and elastin cause the dermis to weaken and to tear, leading to the appearance of a stretch mark. It’s likely that genetics play a role since striae occur more commonly in certain families. During pregnancy, hormonal influences also play an important role.
The best way to avoid stretch marks is to limit weight gain and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Women who gain more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy are more susceptible to stretch marks so avoiding excess weight gain reduces the chances.
Are there creams and lotions that help prevent stria? One double-blind study carried out on pregnant women showed that those who used a cream containing gotu kola extract, vitamin E, collagen and elastin hydrolysates on their skin during pregnancy were less likely to develop striae. Plus, the severity of the striae that did form was less. Belli Elasticity Belly Oil contains all three of these ingredients. It also has plant extracts to help sooth stretched and irritated skin. It can be massaged into the skin twice a day throughout pregnancy.
Once stretch marks have formed, a combination of two botanical ingredients called darutoside and registril may help. These ingredients have been tested and found to reduce the appearance of stretch marks in independent clinical studies. They are effective for pregnancy-related stretch marks as well as those due to other causes such as rapid weight gain. Darutoside and registril are the active ingredients in Belli Stretchmark Minimizing Cream, a cream that can be used up to twice daily.
Mederma, a skin cream used to treat scars, can also improve the appearance of stretch marks that are still red or pink in color, although it may not be as effective for treating more mature striae that have lost their color.
Other Treatments for Stretch Marks
Retinoids such as Renova available from dermatologists is modestly effective when used after stretch marks first appear. It works by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, which help to “fill in” striae. Microdermabrasion can also improve the appearance of older, more mature stretch marks. A more expensive option for treating stretch marks that don’t respond to other treatments is laser treatment. It works by stimulating cells within the dermis called fibroblasts to increase the production of collagen.
The Bottom Line?
Striae are a common problem, especially during pregnancy. Fortunately, there are treatments that help to prevent them and improve their appearance once they’ve formed.