Stretch marks are skin streaks that can appear on the body. While all stretch marks are inherently harmless, some people do not like the way that they appear on their skin, and this causes them extra stress and anxiety.
However, it does not have to be this way.
Today, our experts at Dr Aesthetica will go over:
- What causes stretch marks.
- How to prevent getting them.
- The medical cure for stretch marks.
- Home remedies
- And much more!
What are stretch marks?
Our skin is designed to be elastic. This elasticity is regulated by a hormone called "cortisone", which is naturally produced in the human body's adrenal glands. However, having too much cortisone can result in the skin losing its elasticity. This results in stretch marks.
Before stretch marks begin to emerge on the body, the skin usually appears thin and pink. It may also feel irritated and itchy.
Consequently, the marks will develop into raised streaks of varying colours such as red, purple, pink, dark brown, reddish-brown, depending on the skin tone. After a period of time (often a few years), these stretch marks will flatten and fade, leaving a silvery colour.
The general consensus with skincare experts is that stretch marks never really go away. However, time and treatments will minimalize their appearance.
Causes of Stretch Mark
Stretch marks are a result of extreme skin growth or shrinkage.
The human skin is made of three layers: Epidermis, Dermis, Hypodermis. As the body grows, the connecting fibres inside the Dermis - the middle layer – work to slowly stretch and accommodate the growth.
Stretch marks are formed when the connective tissues in the Dermis are stretched beyond the limit of elasticity due to rapid expansion/contraction of the skin. This results in the Dermis tearing, resulting in deeper layers of skin showing.
This is the primary reason for the formation of stretch marks and is why stretch marks have their respective appearance.
Over time, the pale fat beneath the skin starts becoming visible instead of the blood vessels present in the initial stages of the stretch mark. As a result, the fat has a pale colour, hence why the stretch marks fade to a silvery, white or glossy appearance.
While stretch marks themselves are harmless, the development of the marks could indicate an underlying condition. While more research is needed on this topic, a few of these conditions are:
- Pregnancy: Between 50 to 90 per cent of pregnant women experience stretch marks during and after birth. The most common locations for these stretch marks are on the thighs, breasts and stomach.
- Puberty: Rapid growth during puberty results in young people often getting stretch marks.
- Rapid Weight Gain: Putting on a lot of weight over a short period can also result in stretch marks.
- Medical Conditions: There are conditions such as Marfan syndrome and Cushing Syndrome that make the patients much more susceptible to having raised streaks on the skin. Marfan syndrome causes the elasticity in the skin tissues to decrease, hence resulting in stretch marks
On the other hand, Cushing syndrome is a product of the body producing too many hormones during rapid weight gain or fragility in the skin.
- Corticosteroid use: Prolonged use of creams and lotions that contain corticosteroids can cause a decrease in the levels of collagen in the skin. Recalling our school biology class, Collagens are responsible for strengthening and supporting the skin. Hence, a reduced amount can increase the risk of stretch marks.
It is generally agreed among experts that various factors can increase the chance of getting stretch marks. These conditions include:
- Family history.
- Chronic diseases.
- Body mass index (BMI).
Preventions for Stretch Marks
While stretch marks may be inevitable in some cases, patients can still adhere to the following tips to reduce their chances of getting the streaks across their bodies.
Maintain adequate hydration
While staying hydrated has many benefits, it also comes with reducing the chances of stretch marks.
Drinking water keeps the skin hydrated and soft. As such, soft skin does not usually tend to develop stretch marks as much as dry skin. The Institute of Medicine recommends an average daily water intake of 3 litres for men and 2.1 litres for women.
However, this number will vary depending on the activity levels of each invidiously.
Suppose you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, like coffee. In that case, it is strongly suggested to increase your fluid intake to balance out the dehydration that comes with caffeine.
Treat Fresh Stretch Marks
If you see a fresh stretch mark, immediately make an appointment with a doctor or skin specialist to discuss your options. This is the best way to mitigate any further stress or anxiety that may result from the streak.
Oftentimes, apart from discussing how to treat the new stretch marks, your specialist may examine the underlying reasons for what is causing the stretch mark and how to prevent other such marks.
Exposure to Vitamin D
Studies have strong correlations between low levels of vitamin D and the presence of stretch marks. Hence, it is an excellent idea to pursue maintaining healthy vitamin D levels to reduce the chance of getting the streaks across your skin.
The simplest way to receive vitamin D is through exposure to the sun. However, the vitamin is also present in bread, cereal and dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt.
Consuming food rich in Zinc Levels
Zinc is a VITAL nutrition for the health of your skin. It works to reduce inflammation and plays a critical role in the healing process of a wound.
While little scientific evidence exists between the levels of zinc in the body and stretch marks, consuming food rich in Zinc levels – such as nuts and fish – may help keep the body healthy.
The role of Vitamin C
Collagen plays a critical role in keeping the skin firm and elastic. It also helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and is essential for preventing stretch marks.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for the development of collagen. The vitamin can be found in various fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruit, oranges and lemons.
Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Apart from the above nutrients, having a healthy diet full of nutrients can boost the health of the skin and make stretch marks less likely to appear.
Avoid choosing processed foods and try to implement eggs, whole wheat toasts, berries, and abundant protein sources into your diet.
If you are concerned about your stretch marks, the best way to treat them is via the help of a doctor or skin specialist.
After an initial consultation regarding your medical history and expectations, there are various approaches a specialist may take to help mitigate the stretch marks.
We will discuss them below.
There is substantial evidence that microneedling may help remove stretch marks.
In 2020, a study was conducted to review the effectiveness of 3 monthly microneedling treatments on stretch marks. The group consisted of 25 individuals that varied in skin tone – some with light skin and some with dark skin.
After an average of 1.8 treatments, the visibility of the stretch marks was reduced by 50%. The results were even more potent on thicker skin, such as the buttocks.
You can find a detailed guide on microneedling here. Below is an excerpt from the guide that explains the procedure:
"Microneedling creates microscopic punctures in the same position as the old scars (acne scars, wrinkles or stretch marks). This results in the body sending extra collagen to fix the punctures. The extra collagen creates a "collagen layer" over the punctures, which also ends up covering the old scars as well."
The procedure is non-invasive, causes minimal discomfort and has minimal side effects. Results may be visible after a few days of a microneedling session, or they may take a few weeks longer. The waiting depends on your body, as this is an organic process. All of this will be explained in thorough detail by your skin specialist.
On average, individuals will need three to six treatments to see the final results. However, younger patients may be done with just one to two treatments.
Each skin is unique and is treated differently according to the patients' goals.
Like microneedling, laser therapy has also shown strong evidence of working. For example, studies have indicated that laser therapy can consistently reduce the visibility of most stretch marks by almost 75%.
The treatment works by using light beams to break up tissues that scarred and simulate the damaged areas.
In such a manner, it aims to:
- Improve the blood flow to that region.
- Energize the surrounding cells (including the cells that produce collagen).
- Boost the immune system.
- Improve the lymphatic drainage to reduce any subsequent pain or inflammation.
Laser therapy is non-invasive and causes minimal discomfort. The side-effects of the treatment are usually limited to:
- Temporary changes in the colour of the skin (especially for patients with dark skin).
- Redness in the skin.
- Blistering of the skin.
If the treatment has been carried out by a licensed professional, getting infections is minimal.
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the patient usually requires up to 20 sessions of laser therapy over several weeks to fully benefit from the reduced appearance of the stretch marks.
Another type of laser therapy that is gaining a lot of traction is laser lipolysis. This therapy works by destroying the underlying fats. However, there is currently a lack of evidence that proves its effectiveness.
If microneedling and laser therapy are not your cups of tea, then here are a few other medical treatments that have shown to be beneficial in removing stretch marks:
- Cosmetic Surgery: Surgeries such as tummy tucks may remove the skin with stretch marks, but they carry the added risk of leaving other scars. Moreover, these surgeries are usually known to be painful and expensive.
- Chemical Peels: This process that's placed by applying an acidic solution that burns off the top layer of the skin and removes dead or damaged cells. In such a way, new skin growth is promoted. We have written a detailed guide on this treatment here. However, while the treatment is proven to be effective, it will NOT remove all of the stretch marks.
- Radiofrequency: In this process, radio wave energy is used to create heat and trigger the body to make collagen. Studies have been conducted on this process on a small scale, and the results have been very positive. However, more research must still be done.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasound follows a similar procedure as radiofrequency. The significant difference is the type of wave applied to the body. In this case, a sound wave is sent deep into the skin to heal, tighten, and boost collagen production. Ultrasound has been proven to work well on stretch marks.
- Fractional CO2 laser therapy – This treatment is very new in comparison to the other treatments. The aim of fractional CO2 laser therapy is to smooth out old and faded stretch marks. An individual study has shown that this treatment works to fade the streaks across the body much quicker than that of topical creams (discussed later). However, research is still being conducted to figure out the effectiveness of this procedure.
Home Remedies for Stretch Marks
While it is recommended to treat stretch marks medically to get the best results, one can also attempt home remedies for the marks.
Do keep in mind that these home remedies may not always work and may have unknown side effects.
Aloe vera does not have any clinical evidence for treating stretch marks. However, the substance has been proven to carry natural healing properties and can soften the skin. This makes aloe vera the perfect home remedy for stretch marks.
If you are interested in this remedy, make sure to buy pure aloe vera and apply it daily to the marks after showering.
Applying sugar to stretch marks is a popular home remedy, and many people swear by this procedure.
Dr Debra Rose from Healthline recommends the following:
- Mix one cup sugar with 1/4 cup of a softening agent, like almond oil or coconut oil, before mixing to the consistency of wet beach sand.
- Add some lemon juice.
- Scrub the mixture on the part of your body where the stretch marks are.
- Repeat several times a week while in the shower, making sure to rub the mixture on for 8-10 minutes.
The above process takes inspiration from the microdermabrasion method that removes the outer layer of the skin to stimulate recovery. Microdermabrasion is a clinically proven way to fade stretch marks. Therefore, this remedy could be worth a shot.
As mentioned previously, collagen is a protein responsible for allowing the skin to maintain its shape and appear healthy. Unfortunately, it has been proven that the amount of collagen in our skins decrease as we age.
Fortunately, collagen can be simulated with hyaluronic acid. This acid is taken by consuming a capsule.
Note: Always consult your doctor before consuming any external non-prescribed pills.
Vitamin A – considered a retinoid - is responsible for making the skin appear smooth and youthful.
You will find the vitamin in various over-the-counter cosmetic creams. Vitamin A can also be consumed by having a rich diet consisting of carrots, sweet potatoes, and other foods rich in the respective nutrient.
Studies have indicated that retinoids can help fade the appearance of stretch marks. However, the findings are still at the early stages, and more research is required.
If you are applying creams containing vitamin A, make sure to massage it over the stretch mark to stimulate cells and tissue growth. This can be done by using gentle pressure to the stretch mark in a repetitive and circular motion.
Repeat the procedure daily to see potential results.
Topical products such as tretinoin creams – also a retinoid - with a concentration greater than 0.05% have been shown to reduce stretch marks by up to 47%. Another product that has shown similar results is retinol.
If you are not interested in retinoids, other forms of ointments and creams are:
- Creams that contain hyaluronic acid.
- Creams that contain at least 20% glycolic acid.
- Creams with at least 10% ascorbic acid.
- Silicon or collagen-based gels.
Topical products aim to:
- Boost collagen production and cell growth.
- Increase the production of elastic fibres.
- Reduce inflammations in skin streaks that are pale.
- Reduce redness and swelling in skin streaks that are of red colour.
- Improved skin hydration.
The overall effect is a less visible stretch mark.
Side effects of topical products are minor and mostly pertaining to slight skin irritation and increased light sensitivity.
If you are interested in this remedy, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following tips to improve the effectiveness of topical products:
- Use them early, as older stretch marks may not respond as well.
- Massage the product into the skin, as this may improve its effectiveness.
- Use the product every day for several weeks, as it can take time for improvements to show.
While research is still limited, various oils' application on stretch marks has shown some positive results.
This section will discuss the most popular oils in the market and their effectiveness to counter stretch marks.
Neroli is an oil that comes from the flowers of the Citrus Aurantium trees. These trees are usually found in south-east Asia, and the same trees are also used to make bitter orange oil.
Most of the evidence for the use of neroli oil in fading stretch marks is anecdotal. Traditionally, in many Asian countries, the oil has been used to lighten the skin and reduce subsequent imperfections.
One thing that studies have confirmed is that the oil has potent antioxidant effects. In the case of stretch marks, this may be beneficial as antioxidants help improve the appearance of the skin by making cells regenerate.
Bitter orange oil
The tree mentioned for the above oil. Citrus Aurantium also produces the fruit, bitter orange. The peel of this fruit can be used to make the bitter orange oil.
Research is minimal on this oil; however, some positive effects are that they can tone and condition the skin. An added benefit of the oil is that it can prevent skin fragility. These benefits may well translate into reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
Do keep in mind that people with sensitive skin may experience some side effects upon application of this oil, such as:
- Skin irritation.
Argan oil is a popular natural product for use on skin and hair. The oil is derived from argan tree kernels.
Research has indicated that argan oil can improve the elasticity of the skin. In such a manner, it may work to reduce or prevent stretch marks. The oil can be applied topically or consumed orally (only consume the versions of the oil that have the "edible" logo/sign on them).
Frankincense essential oil
Frankincense oil has been used for centuries due to the healing properties it carries and its ability to treat skin conditions.
The benefit of this oil is that it can enter the skin quickly and carry many vitamins and healthy acids. This helps keep the skin soft and healthy.
Pomegranate oil – like its name – is acquired from the seeds of the pomegranate fruit. It carries a wide range of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2017 study indicated that a cream consisting of pomegranate oil as a head ingredient could increase the elasticity and thickness of the skin. In such a way, the oil could play a role in minimizing the appearance of stretch marks.
Lavender oil is known for the calming properties it carries. However, the oil also has other benefits, such as healing various wounds and marks.
A 2016 research study on rats – indicated that the oil could increase collagen production and form new tissues. This can suggest that lavender oil will work well for the healing of stretch marks.
Unfortunately, more research on humans is still required for this oil.
Bitter almond oil
Bitter almond oil is derived from a particular type of almond – not the edible ones. Research from 2012 divided 141 women into three groups:
- A group that applied the oil with massage.
- A group that used the oil without massage.
- A group that did not apply the oil at all (control group)
The research indicated that only 20% of the women in the massage group developed stretch marks after pregnancy. On the other hand, 41% of the control group developed stretch marks after pregnancy. For the group that applied the oil without massage, the number was 38.8%.
While more studies are needed (on a larger scale), bitter almond oil looks like an effective way to prevent stretch marks.
Note: If you are planning to apply the oil, do consult your local doctor. Bitter Almond oil is toxic after the application of a certain amount.
The final form of home remedy for stretch marks is exfoliation. This works by removing the layers of damaged skin and encouraging the regrowth of healthy tissues.
While exfoliation is a great skincare practice, there is currently no research that indicates its role in removing stretch marks.
Comments on Tanning
Some people may feel as if tanning their skin may camouflage the streaks on their skin. However, this process is not recommended as it may harm the region and make them more visible.
Stretch marks are streaks across your body due to rapid changes in the skin's elasticity. The best way to treat stretch marks is a combination of following proven prevention methods and treating any new marks medically.