Stretch marks are line-shaped skin defects, which emerge when the subcutaneous connective tissue is pulled apart by rapid growth of the body part in question. It is a quite common and not serious condition. However, it frequently causes a cosmetic problem. Stretch marks occur particularly in pregnant women and people who grow rapidly (adolescents) or gain weight.
Stretch marks are little breaks in the skin. The top layer remains intact but the deeper layer, made up of particularly supportive tissue, weakens and tears. Stretch marks occur at times when the skin is stretched. The younger the skin, the higher the risk of stretch marks. The chance that a person will get stretch marks is greater when family members are also affected. During pregnancy, the condition is stimulated by hormones that weaken the supporting tissue.
Risk factors are:
- Pregnancy: on abdomen and breasts.
- Puberty: on thighs, buttocks and breasts.
- (Serious) overweight: on abdomen, thighs, inner side of the upper legs and upper arms.
- Using corticosteroids (including prednisone and cortisone): all over the body.
- Bodybuilding & strength sports: on arms, upper legs and breasts.
- Breast augmentation: on breasts.
Certain diseases can also stimulate stretch marks. Think of pituitary and adrenal disorders, Cushing’s syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and cherubism.
At an early stage, stretch marks are red lines in the skin that run parallel. The lines often have vague characteristics of sunken scars and may vary in length from a few centimeters up to twenty centimeters. Stretch marks that have just emerged are red to purple. In the lines, the skin is slightly wrinkled. The red color of stretch marks in an early stage, can sometimes remain for a very long time. In the course of time, most stretch marks discolor gradually over beige to skin or ivory color. This process may take years. Older stretch marks are less noticeable and have a pearly color, but the wrinkling remains. Stretch marks don’t hurt.
The diagnosis of stretch marks is made on the basis of the medical history, the story of the patient and the symptoms. Physical examination is also done. Sometimes, a tissue sample is taken by means of skin biopsy, which is examined under the microscope. This is done to exclude other conditions. Additional tests may be needed to exclude Cushing’s syndrome.
Stretch marks cause no symptoms. Treatment is therefore not necessary. If stretch marks are treated, it’s mostly for cosmetic reasons. The red or purplish lines in the early stages can be made less visible with laser treatment.
Beauty salons and dermatologists have several treatments. For example, there is the Skin Peeler, a dermabrasion device for removing the outer skin layers. Micro crystals polish the skin at the desired locations. This is done layer by layer. Simultaneously, the used crystals and the loose skin cells are sucked out.
Several creams are available at pharmacies, drugstores and beauty salons, that reduce stretch marks and ensure that the lines are less purple.
Over time, stretch marks will fade out on their own and thus be less noticeable. By means of creams which reduce scarring, the patient can slightly accelerate this process by himself.
- Keep the skin elastic during pregnancy or rapid weight gain. Lubricate the skin every day with a fatty cream or almond oil.
- Don’t wash the skin too often and expose to dry air. This dries out the skin.
- Healthy food also keeps the skin supple: people should drink enough water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Drinking water ensures that the skin will not dry out and remains elastic. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants. They destroy waste and counter the aging process.
- Stretch marks are less visible if a person is brown. So get into the sun or visit the solarium. But make sure to have a good protection from the sun: the skin is stretched after all and thinner than at places where no stretch marks are. Burning goes more rapidly than people think.