I don’t think it’s a stretch (pun intended) to say that stretch marks are on most people’s list of “most annoying/frustrating skincare problems”.
Especially since almost all of us, women and men, will deal with them at some point in our lives. Look, don’t shoot the messenger, ok?
So let’s get into it! Below we’ve compiled everything you need to know about stretch-marks -
and then some!
What they are, what causes them, how they’re treated, how they’re prevented, and what you should do (or not do) about them…
1. STRETCH MARKS: WHAT ARE THEY?
So basically, stretch marks are scars - in this case though, they have formed from the inside out. Unfortunately for us, stretch marks are one of the hardest skincare problems to treat.
They can make us feel super uncomfortable and self conscious, and on top of that, there are no cosmetic products or methods that make a huge difference in the way they look.
There are methods, however, to try and prevent them, as well as reduce their appearance slightly - but, there’s no sure-fire way to get ride of them completely…
Our skin is made up of 3 layers:
The Epidermis (outer layer)
The Dermis (middle layer)
The Subcutaneous or Hypodermic (deepest layer)
Stretch marks form in the middle layer, (aka the Dermis) when the connecting tissue gets stretched beyond it’s power of flexibility caused by a rapid contraction or expansion of the skin.
OK, SO WHAT CAUSES THEM?…:
As most of us may already know, the #1 cause of stretch marks is pregnancy.
Some other causes could be: rapid or sudden weight loss/gain, rapid growth during puberty, hereditary genes/genetic tendency, various changes in physical conditions, and stress of the skin. All of these will have varying levels of severity as well.
They have even been found to form as a result of having an increased level of cortisone in your body. Cortisone is a naturally produced hormone that forms in your adrenal glands, but having a high level of it in your system can cause your skin to lose some of its’ elasticity.
This means that corticosteroid creams, pills and lotions, could potentially cause stretch marks as they decrease your skins’ ability to stretch.
Any abnormal stretching will cause the skin’s collagen and elastin support system to break down/diminish, and the skin’s normal cell production cycle becomes damaged and interrupted.
Ultimately, this results in some fine scars in your dermis (bonus points if you remembered that’s your middle layer of skin…).
The bad news is stretch marks are known to be hereditary, so odds are that if your Mom or Dad have stretch marks - you probably will too.
WHO IS AT RISK?:
Really, Anyone can be at risk for stretch marks, but there are some factors that can increase the likelihood that you’ll get them in your lifetime. Those are:
- - Being female
- - Having a personal or family history of stretch marks
- - Being pregnant, especially for younger women
- - Being overweight or obese
- - Rapidly gaining or losing weight
- - Using corticosteroid medication
- - Undergoing breast enlargement surgery
- - Having Cushing's syndrome, Marfan syndrome or certain other genetic disorders
The group with the highest risk of developing stretch marks, is obviously pregnant women.
Then as mentioned, anyone who is rapidly losing or gaining weight, followed by teens who experience rapid growth during puberty (this can be height, or for girls it could be rapid breast development/body changes).
People with conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Dalos syndrome - and any other conditions or disorders affecting the adrenal gland - may see heightened cortisone levels in their body, and this could increase their risk of stretch marks.
2. WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE:
You can have stretch marks almost anywhere on your body, but they’re most commonly found on your stomach, breasts, upper arms, thighs and buttocks.
When stretch marks first start to form, they typically appear as little parallel lines on your skin.
These lines can range in color from purple, to bright pink, to red and even light grey.
As time passes, thin, silver-ish lines appear on your skins’ surface and hence, a stretch mark is born. Here are the 3 phases you can expect:
Phase #1: New stretch marks appear pink in color, they might also feel itchy. The skin directly around the stretch marks can also appear thinned and flattened.
Phase #2: Gradually the stretch marks will grow in width and length and change from pink to a red or sometimes purple color.
Phase #3: When your stretch marks have matured, they will lose their color and begin to fade to silver or pale white. They can also look slightly depressed and have irregular shapes and lengths. When you run your finger over them they may feel like a different texture from your ‘normal’ skin, and can even feel indented or grooved.
You might notice that the ends of your stretch marks actually look visibly ‘curled’, this is actually election bands that have been broken. Elastin can be compared to the equivalent of rubber bands under your skin that helps give it that ‘spring’ it need to snap back into place.
HOW ARE THEY DIAGNOSED?:
Usually, stretch marks are diagnosed after a doctor does an examination of your skin and reviews your medical history. If your doctor sees an increase of cortisol production they may suggest further testing.
Given that stretch marks are pretty common, a lot of people immediately would recognize them by appearance. They are visually identifiable on inspection by doctors as well as patients.
Not all stretch marks look the same, they can vary depending on several things; what caused them, how long they’ve been there, where they are on your body, and what your skin type is. Some common variations are:
Streak or lines in the skin that feel indented
Red, pink, blue or purple streaks
Dark streaks that eventually fade to a lighter color
Lines on the stomach, breasts, hips, thighs or buttocks
Streaks covering large areas on your body
3. CAN THEY BE ITCHY/UNCOMFORTABLE?:
The answer is - YES! Stretch marks can cause their ‘hosts’ pain since the skin is actually being pulled. It’s like if someone were to pinch your skin, you would feel pain in that specific area.
The itching sensation can also be a side effect of the skin simply trying to heal and repair itself. For example, have you ever cut yourself and as it’s starting to heal it becomes itchy all around the scab? This is no different.
Typically, scar tissue that develops from a wound or cut is harder and more dense than your ‘normal’ healthy skin, resulting in your skin feeling uncomfortable and even painful when your clothes rub against your stretch marks.
Pregnant women who experience painful or itchy stretch marks should immediately consult their doctor, as this could also be the symptoms of a skin rash commonly developed during pregnancy, called “PUPPS”. This stands for “Pruritic Urticarial Papules/Plaques of Pregnancy” - it’s quite the mouthful, hence the short-form. PUPPS starts off as an unobtrusive rash of little bumps on the stretch marks on your abdomen, then becomes itchy and painful.
4. WHAT TO DO IF THEY BECOME UNCOMFORTABLE:
It isn’t uncommon for people to experience a burning or itching sensation along with your stretch marks, especially when they are first developing. This is when your home remedies or prescribed/over-the-counter lotions and creams may REALLY come in handy.
Stretched skin is usually very dry and this is why it itches and burns, so your best bet would be to get yourself a moisturizer that works well (absorbs well!) for your skin and use it constantly. For the natural route, cocoa and shea butter are your top contenders as they have deep moisturizing qualities.
To get the most out of a moisturizer, natural or not, try to avoid hot baths or showers, and apply your moisturizer when your skin is still damp! You might even want to keep your moisturizer in your fridge. Studies have shown that cooling your lotion can give you even better results.
Always double check the ingredients of the products you are using on your skin, and try to avoid anything with alcohol. You should avoid swimming in chlorinated water, especially public pools where high levels of chlorine are added to kill any potential germs and bacteria.
If you live in a dry area, or it is generally dry in your home; you may want to consider getting an air humidifier.
Most importantly though, is try not to scratch them! This will only irritate your skin. Consider trimming your nails short and take good care of your hands, sensitive skin is less likely to be damaged/break if your nails are short.
5. HOW CAN I PREVENT THEM?:
There is no “sure-fire” way to prevent stretch marks, even if you stay hydrated and moisturized regularly. That being said, there are pre-emptive measures you can take, like keeping your weight in a healthy range.
Eat well, exercise regularly and practice healthy living, as this can help avoid stretch marks cause by rapid weight gain or loss.
Even though it is healthy and normal for you to gain weight while pregnant, you should still ask your doctor exactly how much weight gain would be ‘normal’ for you.
The best way to prevent yourself from ever getting stretch marks is to maintain a healthy and stable weight, and to keep yourself and your skin moisturized.
Drink the recommended amount of water every day (8 glasses), and moisturize several times daily - this way you can minimize the pain even if you do get them.
Keep in mind that some people are predisposed to getting them, so if your family members (male or female) have them, you have more of a chance of developing them yourself.
Since stretch marks are most common in women that are (or were) pregnant, here are some more specific prevention methods to implement during and after pregnancy. But you should also note that any/all of these preventative measures are beneficial for anyone who is at risk of getting stretch marks:
Prevention During Pregnancy
Stretch marks development during pregnancy is a totally normal and common reaction from your skin around your abdomen being stretched out to accommodate your baby belly. The god news is, it IS possible to reduce and prevent them if you start early-on in your pregnancy. The most important things are lifestyle changes, skin care routine, and maintaining these once your baby is born.
1. A skin-nourishing diet
You’re probably already eating well to make sure that your baby is getting all the proper vitamins and nutrients, but try to incorporate more foods that benefit your skin health - and can improve your skins’ elasticity. Here is a helpful list of the best foods for your skin:
fresh fruits and vegetables
HIGH VITAMIN E:
HIGH VITAMIN A:
red bell peppers
HIGH OMEGA 3 CONTENT:
2. Keep hydrated
Water detoxify’s your body! It keeps those skin cells healthy, and more likely to be able to ‘bounce back’ from any stretching during pregnancy.
SKIN CARE DURING PREGNANCY:
Dry-brushing can help improve your skins’ circulation and keep it fresh and healthy. It is highly recommended as a method of reducing the severity of stretch marks that have already formed - it could also be done as a preventative technique.
Make sure your dry-brush is made with natural fibres; and the bristles should be stiff, but not so tough that they could cut you.
Begin at the bottom of your legs and brush the skin in upward motions towards the heart. Make sure to focus on areas where stretch marks are more likely to appear, like your buttocks and abdomen.
When finished, take a lukewarm shower to wash off any dead skin cells. Avoid dry-brushing your breasts, your skin is more likely to be damaged in that area as it is more sensitive.
2. No harsh chemicals!
So many commercial body washes and moisturizers contain harmful sulphates, these can dry out your skin and reduce its elasticity. Make sure you go for the cleansers/moisturizers with natural oils and ingredients that will actually hydrate your skin!
Coconut oil is a good all-natural option. Use it all over your skin, rinse gently with warm water, and pat yourself dry with a soft towel. It might not even be necessary for you to use cleansers on your skin, especially if it is prone to being very dry - you can simply wash with warm water.
I will repeat this one over, and over again.. because it is so very important. Moisturize your skin! Again, try to use all-natural products with natural oils that won’t strip your skin of its moisture. Moisturize all areas prone to stretch marks:
- Lower back
Basic moisturizers won’t penetrate your skin deep enough to keep it moisturized, so use naturals oils and lotions, specifically ones designed for pregnant women. Some good ideas are:
- Cocoa butter
- Kokum butter
- Almond oil
- Egg oil
- Shea butter
- Pure lanolin
Moisturize morning and night, and after anytime you bathe. If you are itchy in an area where stretch marks are prone to form, that’s a good sign to use more lotion there.
Read more: Younger Skin with the Best Moisturizer
If you plan on going swimming or spending time in the sun, make sure you’re applying ample amounts of sunscreen! On your abdomen, sides, chest, buttocks, and any other areas at risk. Sun's rays are extremely harsh on your skin (Sun's rays after 10 AM), not to mention they dry you out - especially if you burn easily.
Prevention Stretch Marks During Puberty
Stretch marks are most commonly associated with pregnancy and pregnant women, but in reality, anyone can get them - especially anyone going through puberty.
During puberty, your hormones are going crazy… they can cause a variety of changes to you physically.
They can change your skin, and make you gain weight, which could result in stretch marks on your breasts, stomach, hips, thighs, and arms.
Lifestyle habits to prevent stretch marks during puberty.
1. Again, I will say it… moisturize!
Keep your skin moisturized and keep drinking that water!
Stretch marks usually happen when your skins’ collagen breaks down, which means the connective tissues are weak.
Staying hydrated and moisturized helps to rebuild your skin’s collagen and make you skin less likely to stretch.
2. Try using richer moisturizers such as cocoa or shea butter - natural oils are good too.
Other options could be products with collagen and elastin that boost their moisturizing effects.
Consider using stretch mark creams. These creams have higher amounts of moisture-rich ingredients such as cocoa butter, vitamin E, and glycol acid.
Some products also contain things like retinol or caffeine which can be very effective, even just temporarily.
3. Stay out of the sun.
A lot of teens seem to think that tanning can make stretch marks less visible - but this simply isn’t the case.
Tanning beds actually stretch marks more visible as they usually don’t tan. They will appear lighter than the rest of your skin.
Not to mention that tanning is just not good for you in general, and can cause even bigger problems like skin cancer.
If anything, use a self-tanning lotion instead.
4. Maintaining your weight is also key. As mentioned, rapid weight loss or gain is the leading cause of stretch marks.
Exercise and a healthy diet are very important, and there are plenty of tools available to you online to help you figure out your target body weight.
Make sure you’re getting exercise daily, this will help your skin retain its elasticity by improving your circulation. Teenagers should aim to do about an hour of physical activity a day.
As long as you’re keeping your body moving, this will aid in maintaining your weight. A good time do this, would obviously be; gym class! Try your best to participate as much as you can during this time.
5. Eating a balanced diet and exercise regularly to prevent stretch marks.
This will help improve your skin’s overall quality and appearance.
Stay away from junk food! High fat or sugary diets slow down cell turnover which can cause you to gain weight, and can cause your skin’s quality to worsen.
Don’t eat too many friend foods or sweets at the cafeteria! Some foods for though:
-> Raspberries & Carrots: these foods are high in vitamin A as well as beta-carotene.
-> Yellow & Orange fruits and vegetables: these foods along with lots of water help increase cell reproduction and help to keep your skin hydrated and less prone to strict marks!
I already have stretch marks, so how do I get rid of them?:
You must first come to terms with the fact that there is no sure-fire “cure” for stretch marks - but that they do tend to fade with time.
Besides implementing proactive lifestyle changes to reduce them, know that time is also key.
All of these preventative measures/treatments are recommended to anyone who has acquired stretch marks due to: pregnancy, puberty, weight loss, or any other circumstance!
Don’t get yourself too worked up about their appearance - hopefully this fact can put you a bit more at ease.
It should be noted as well that all of these preventative measures and treatments, can also be used and implemented by men! Stretch marks know no gender… don’t shoot the messenger.
6. CAN STRETCH MARKS BE REMOVED?
As previously stated, there is no “cure” for stretch marks as they are basically scars.
However, every person and every person’s skin is different. Depending on your skin and how receptive you are to treatments, you may or may not be able to remove them completely.
For some people, they might fade away to nothing over the years, while others might try every method under the sun to remove them - with no luck.
It all depends on your skin, how well you’re following your regime, and how receptive your body is.
We’ve already talked about some medicated and prescribed stretch mark removal creams, so let’s now get into some cheap and natural home remedies that have also proven to be effective:
…WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS:
If absolutely nothing is working for you, and you’re really self-conscious about your marks - go the makeup route. Find a body makeup (with the help of a beauty consultant or aesthetician) that matches your skin tone and apply it to the affected area. Body makeup is usually quite thick and offers great coverage as it is often used for covering tattoos for film and television; it should easily cover up your marks.
(*Medical procedures as well as prescription medications are not guaranteed to “cure” stretch marks, and they can also be quite expensive.)
Remember, the is no “cure”…
No one can make stretch marks completely go away without the help of a plastic surgeon and/or dermatologist.
They may use one, or even several types of treatments; from plastic surgery to microdermabrasion to laser therapy - to try and help you reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
These methods, however, are quite expensive, not guaranteed to work, and generally aren’t covered by insurance.
Doctors also don’t usually recommend these types of therapies for teens as they are still growing and run the risk of developing new marks, and the marks they have will probably fade over time.
7. EXERCISES FOR STRETCH MARKS!
When you exercise it helps your skin to keep its elasticity as it up’s your body’s circulation. Also, exercising will help prevent you from gaining too much weight at once - therefore causing stretch marks to appear.
Exercise is recommended to anyone and everyone who has, or may be at risk for stretch marks.
Unfortunately, exercise is not acknowledged by doctors and medical experts as a treatment for stretch marks.
However, it can help you control your body’s weight, and slow down the effects of stretch marks - some might notice less distinguished marks from exercise, and for others it won’t be affect them at all. As previously stated, it all depends on your body.
Here are some general exercises you can do to help in the prevention of stretch marks:
1. T-Pushups (for chest and core)
This will strengthen your core and chest muscles while also tightening up the skin on your chest for firm cleavage and less noticeable marks:
Start off slow in a normal pushup position where your hands are under your shoulders, and hold for a few seconds in plank. While you’re up, you can slowly twist your torso towards the ceiling and then raise one hand to the sky. Naturally, your ankles might come together. Hold this for a couple seconds, then roll back down to a normal push-up position and do 2 sets with 15 reps on each side.
2. Lateral Leg Circles (for hips and thighs)
This workout will help you tone and strengthen your leg muscles which can smooth out your skin while also smoothing out those stretch marks:
Start by kneeling on a mat with one knee on a balance ball. Raise your right leg straight out while slowly making small circular movements with the lifted leg. Do about 10 circles in a clockwise motion, and 10 circles counter-clockwise. After you’ve done 20 reps on one leg, switch over to the other. It’s imperative to try and not move your hips as your aim is to make your hip muscles stronger and firm up the muscle underneath the stretch marks.
3. Single-Leg Pelvic Thrusts (for buttocks and glutes)
These are great for any stretch marks on your butt:
Simply lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Extend your right leg out 3-4 inches off the floor with your foot flexed; lift your hips up and keep your upper back flat on the floor - hold for 3 seconds, then lower your hips back down. Repeat this for 10 reps twice on each side, then switch legs and repeat.
** Some exercises (like weight lifting), can often times cause stretch marks as the skin gets stretched to accommodate muscle growth.
EXERCISE WHILE PREGNANT:
You know how hard it is to move around and do daily tasks while pregnant, let alone exercising consistently. So here are some tips; choose a few exercises that you enjoy, and ones aimed at making pregnancy easier for you - and incorporate them into your daily routine! This could include:
- Kegel exercises
These are all low-impact exercises that are easy on your body, and will also make pregnancy easier on you.
Increase your exercise! After pregnancy, there are many more exercises available to you that aren’t as limiting. Try to exercise 4-5 times a week, and focus primarily on these areas:
- Strength training
- Building strong muscles to tighten up skin
- Hire a trainer to help you decide what exercises are best for you
Here is a video that may help!:
WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING:
QUESTION & ANSWER:
Q: “Can tattoos cover up stretch marks?”
A: The answer is, yes and no. A tattoo may be able to hide the stretch mark by covering it up, but the ink might appear slightly different in color on the mark than on the rest of your skin. However, a pro tattoo artist might be able to work their magic around this though, so the differentiation is color is not as noticeable. Remember though, if you are a pregnant woman and get a tattoo on your belly - if you have another baby, odds are you might get stretched out again.
Q: “I’m 13 and have stretch marks. How is this possible?!”
A: Stretch marks are a very common side-effect of puberty for a lot of girls and boys. When the body grows or gains weight rapidly (ie. during puberty), you may notice some fine line begin to appear - the begging of stretch marks forming. When our skin is pulled rapidly or is overstretched, the collagen in our skin gets disrupted. Because of this disruption, stretch marks may begin to form. If you notice stretch marks appearing on your body during puberty - you’re not alone. But keep in mind that you’re young, and your skin is a lot more resilient. Odds are your stretch marks will turn lighter and maybe even disappear over time.
Q: “How do I cover up my stretch marks?”
A: In terms of “covering up” stretch marks or hiding/blending them, a lot of people use Revitol. It is a natural product that many claim works well in reducing the appearance of stretch marks, it can be used for prevention too. It contains aloe vera, squalene oil, vitamin A, vitamin D3, and grape seed extract. Another product that is most commonly used by moms or moms-to-be, is called Trilastin. It helps to rejuvenate your skin at a cellular level by reproducing collagen and elastin while also aiding in prevention of further marks. For the best results however, your options are more expensive medical procedures such as laser surgery, microdermabrasion, or even plastic surgery - but these methods are extreme and not necessary in most cases. Consult your doctor before trying any of these stated methods!
Q: “Can tanning cover up my stretch marks?”
A: Technically speaking, stretch marks are scars - and scars by nature are resistant to changing color. Tanning lotion may diminish stretch marks by evening out your skin's color, but it won’t get rid of them or completely cover them up. Tanning beds, however, just aren’t the way to go - you might even run the risk of making them even more noticeable as your surrounding skin gets darker and your stretch marks stay the same.
Q: “Does having stretch marks mean I’ll have loose skin?”
A: Having stretch marks in certain areas means that the elasticity of the skin in that area is broken - unfortunately you can’t fix that. But the rest of your skin won’t be loose because of this, unless you acquire another stretch mark - then you know that area has lost elasticity as well. Your best bet is to keep your skin hydrated and moisturized to keep it tight and reduce your risk. Stretch marks are also genetic, so you might be able to try and prevent them by using oils, but if they’re in your genes your chances become more slim. It’s still worth a shot though.
Q: “How do I stop stretch marks from ripping open?”
A: It is said that 9 out of 10 women will get stretch marks during pregnancy. How many you will acquire, and where, can be determined by several factors. One, is a hormone called “cortisol” in your body. Someone with high levels of cortisol in their system will acquire less than normal - or maybe none at all. Unfortunately, another factor is your genes. If your mother, or others in your immediate family have them, odds are you might get them too. They are more likely to appear after multiple births, or after giving birth to a more than average weight baby - and typically in the third trimester.
Q: “When and how do stretch marks appear during pregnancy?”
A: The answer is -yes, it is fairly common. many women even have them before pregnancy, and during. They can have already happened during puberty for most women, and it’s very rare for women to go through pregnancy without acquiring any. The fact is, stretch marks are nothing to be ashamed of! They are totally normal and natural, no matter how they happen!
Q: “Do all women have stretch marks after pregnancy?”
A: This is something you don’t really need to worry about. They might not look super attractive, but they are just scars - the skin is not broken. You have just as much chance to rip them open as you do with any skin on your body, stretch marks don’t undermine the strength of your skin. So the chances are very slim this will happen, unless you get cut or injured.
RESOURCES & FINDINGS:
—> Cosmetic Cop’s guide to getting rid of stretch marks
—> Top 10 Home Remedies on how to get rid of stretch marks
—> Wikihow’s how to get rid of stretch marks
—> Healthline’s article on Risk Factors
—> Healthline on stretch mark home remedies
—> Doc Shop on stretch mark removal
—> The Stir on 7 natural ways to get rid of marks
—> Kids Health’s guide to stretch marks
—> American Pregnancy on pregnancy stretch marks
—> Medicine Net’s guide to stretch marks
—> Mayo Clinic on stretch mark diagnosis
—> Mayo clinic on stretch mark symptoms
—> Live Strong’s guide to stretch marks that hurt
—> Mama Natural on pumps rash
—> Community Baby Centre on painful stretch marks
—> Health’s How Stuff Works on stretch marks
—> Wiki How on preventing pregnancy stretch marks
—> Wiki How on stretch marks during puberty
—> Livestrong on exercise and stretch marks
—> Healthy Living on exercise and stretch marks
—> Lucille Roberts on stretch mark removal exercise
—> Fox News’s guide to preventing stretch marks
—> Livestrong on foods to eat while pregnant
—> Skincare Articles guide to the do’s and font’s of stretch marks