Stretch marks are distinctive lines that often appear on the skin. Whilst completely harmless and natural, they can be a source of aesthetic concern for some people. Whether due to pregnancy, weight fluctuations or growth spurts, these markings are common. In this article, we will explore what causes stretch marks and the best evidence backed treatments to remove them. We’ll also review safe and effective treatments for stretch marks in special cases like sensitive skin or when pregnant.
Causes of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are medically known as striae distensae. They are essentially scars that form when our skin stretches or shrinks rapidly. This sudden change causes the collagen and elastin, which support our skin, to rupture. As the skin heals, stretch marks may then appear. Initially, they may be red, purple, pink, reddish-brown or dark brown depending on your skin tone. Over time, they tend to fade to a more silvery colour and develop a slightly indented appearance.
To be honest, stretch marks are a normal part of your skin’s healing response. They can affect anyone, regardless of skin colour, gender or age. That being said, there are a number of causes and we discuss the common ones below.
The stretch marks that occur when you’re pregnant are called striae gravidarum. These develop as a result of the rapid stretching of the skin to accommodate the growing baby. As the baby grows, the skin, particularly around the tummy, but also on the breasts, hips and thighs stretches a lot. This rapid expansion puts stress on the skin’s connective tissues and leads to the tearing of the dermis (the middle layer of skin). In turn that causes the visible lines known as stretch marks.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy also play a role. This can soften the fibres in your skin, making it more prone to stretching and tearing. As a result, many pregnant women notice the appearance of stretch marks, especially in the later trimesters. This is when the baby’s growth is most significant. These marks may start out as reddish or purple lines and gradually fade to a lighter, more silvery tone after childbirth.
These are common during adolescence and puberty and are another significant cause of stretch marks. During these periods, the body experiences rapid and often intense growth spurts in a short amount of time. This sudden increase in height and weight can stretch the skin beyond its elastic capacity. It is particularly common in areas where growth is most pronounced, such as the back, shoulders, thighs, hips and breasts.
As with pregnancy, during these growth spurts, the dermis may not be able to keep pace with the growth of the body. This results in micro-tears which heal to form streaks or lines on the skin’s surface. The colour of these marks can vary from red or purple to eventually fading into a white or silver hue. It’s important to note that these marks are more common and often more pronounced in individuals who have a sudden and rapid increase in size. Additionally, genetic factors can play a role in the likelihood of developing stretch marks during these periods of rapid growth.
Rapid Weight Gain or Loss
Big fluctuations in weight can be significant contributors to the development of stretch marks. When the body undergoes a quick increase in weight, the skin is stretched to accommodate the new body size. This rapid expansion can cause the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers to rupture. That then leads to the formation of stretch marks. Conversely, sudden or extreme weight loss can also lead to stretch marks. As the body sheds weight quickly, the skin, which may have been stretched from the previous weight gain, might not have enough time to contract or adjust to the new body size. This lack of elasticity can leave the skin sagging in places. The stress on the skin can then manifest as stretch marks.
In both scenarios, areas typically affected include the stomach, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms and lower back. These stretch marks initially appear as reddish or purple lines and may feel slightly raised and itchy. Over time, they usually fade to a lighter, almost silvery colour and become less noticeable. It’s worth noting that individual susceptibility to stretch marks during rapid weight changes can vary based on genetics. In addition, skin type and overall skin health also contribute.
Certain medical conditions can predispose you to developing stretch marks. These often influence the skin’s elasticity, collagen production or overall hormonal balance. This can then affect how the skin responds to stretching. Here are a few examples of medical conditions that can cause stretch marks:
- Cushing’s Syndrome: This is characterised by an overproduction of the hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol can lead to skin fragility and weight gain. This makes the skin more prone to stretch marks.
- Marfan Syndrome: This genetic disorder affects the body’s connective tissues, including those that provide strength and elasticity to the skin. People with Marfan syndrome often have weakened skin tissue, which can lead to stretch marks with minimal skin stretching.
- Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS): EDS encompasses a group of disorders that affect connective tissues, including the skin. Those with EDS often have overly stretchy, fragile skin, which can lead to easy bruising and stretch marks.
- Obesity: Obesity can cause the skin to stretch significantly, particularly in areas where fat is concentrated. This continuous stretching can lead to the formation of stretch marks.
- Breast Implant Surgery: After breast augmentation surgery, the skin around the breasts is stretched to accommodate the implants. This is sometimes done rapidly, it can result in stretch marks.
Long-term or high-dose use of corticosteroids can significantly impact the skin and contribute to the development of stretch marks. These drugs are steroids that come in topical creams, inhaler, oral or injection form. They are commonly used to treat various conditions like asthma, allergies, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. Long-term use of corticosteroid (most commonly creams or pills) can thin the skin and reduce it’s ability to stretch. This then leads to an increased likelihood of stretch marks.
Treatments to Remove Stretch Marks
Although stretch marks are a natural occurrence and not a medical concern, there are a lot of people who want to remove them. Although stretch marks are hard to remove, there are a number of good treatments that can improve their appearance. These range from topical skincare to professional skin treatments. Below we discuss some of the best treatments to remove stretch marks.
The best and easiest place to start is with skincare treatments. These will not only help remove or reduce stretch marks but can also help improve the skin to reduce the risk of new ones forming. Boosting your skin can also enhance the effect of professional skin treatments and maintain the results if you’re considering trying these. Below are the best skincare treatments for stretch marks.
Retinoids and in particular prescription ones like Tretinoin cream can enhance skin renewal and repair. They can significantly improve the appearance of new stretch marks that are less than a few months old. They work by boosting collagen production. This helps thicken and improve skin elasticity thereby reducing the visibility of stretch marks. Retinoids also exfoliate the skin, helping to fade the discolouration associated with stretch marks. However despite their effect on stretch mark, retinoid creams can not be used when pregnant or breast feeding. They can also cause irritation especially if you have sensitive skin. If you are considering Tretinoin for stretch mark treatment, you should consult with a dermatologist or other skin doctor. They can provide guidance based on your individual skin type and needs.
This is a naturally occurring substance in the skin that has an incredible ability to retain moisture. Hyaluronic acid acts as a powerful hydrator to help keep the skin supple and moisturised. When applied to stretch marks, especially those in the early stages, hyaluronic acid can enhance skin hydration. It may also stimulate collagen production which can improve skin texture and potentially improve the appearance of stretch marks over time. Hyaluronic acid is generally safe for use by most people which makes it a favourable option for preventing or as a stretch marks treatment when pregnant. You can find it in various skincare products, including serums, creams and lotions.
Also known as Gotu Kola, Centella Asiatica is a herb that is used in traditional medicine for its healing properties. In recent years, it has gained popularity in skincare, particularly in stretch mark treatments. This plant extract is believed to stimulate collagen production, which can help improve skin elasticity and potentially reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Its ability to promote wound healing and improve blood circulation makes it a promising ingredient for skin repair. Studies have also suggested that Centella Asiatica may be effective in preventing stretch marks when pregnant. Although Centella Asiatica is generally considered a safe stretch marks treatment to use when pregnant, you should consult with your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Advanced Skin Treatments
There are a number of professional skin treatments that can help improve or remove stretch marks. These can work alone but its usually better to use them alongside the skincare products mentioned above to get best results. You may also need to use a combination of treatments to depending on the severity of your stretch marks. These treatments can work on early or late stretch marks but results do vary from person to person. In addition, the type of treatment and amount of sessions will depend on location, extent and type of stretch marks that you have.
Simply put, laser therapy involves the use of concentrated light beams to resurface and stimulate the skin’s natural healing processes. There are various types of laser treatments, each targeting different aspects of stretch marks. For instance, fractional CO2 lasers focus on promoting collagen and elastin production, which are crucial components for maintaining skin elasticity and texture. Pulsed dye lasers, on the other hand, target the pigmentation. They help to fade the red or purple coloration of newer stretch marks.
Laser therapy can significantly improve the appearance of both new and old stretch marks, making them less noticeable. The procedure is generally safe but should be performed by a qualified dermatologist or cosmetic doctor. It’s important to note that you may need multiple sessions for optimal results and that it may not be possible to remove stretch marks even after this. You may also experience some downtime depending on the type of laser. Additionally, laser stretch marks treatments are not recommended for when pregnant or breast feeding.
This is a non-invasive exfoliating procedure that gently removes the outermost layer of dead skin cells. A device with an abrasive surface or fine particles buffs away the skin’s surface. By removing the top layer, microdermabrasion can promote the growth of new, healthier skin cells. This can help to smooth skin, improve texture and even out skin tone. This makes stretch marks less visible. Microdermabrasion is suitable for most skin types and has minimal downtime. However, it may require multiple sessions to achieve noticeable results. It is also not advisable for stretch marks treatment when pregnant.
Collagen induction therapy or microneedling is a minimally invasive procedure that cann help remove or at least reduce stretch marks. It involves the use of a device with fine needles to create tiny punctures in the skin and more advanced form also combine this with radiofrequency energy. The treatment stimulates the body’s natural wound healing processes, leading to increased collagen and elastin production. This can help to improve the skin’s texture, elasticity and overall appearance. In turn, that reduces the appearance of stretch marks. Microneedling can be effective for various types of stretch marks including late ones. It is generally safe when performed by a qualified professional and there is usually very little downtime. However, you will need multiple sessions for best results. Although there is conflicting advice, it is best to avoid this stretch marks treatment when pregnant or breast feeding.
How to Remove Stretch Marks When Pregnant
Stretch marks during pregnancy are a very common concern. They present as streaky scars that usually appear on the belly, breasts and thighs due to rapid skin expansion. The growing baby, hormonal fluctuations, and genetic factors all play a role in stretch marks forming when pregnant. During pregnancy, it’s vital to choose safe options for both the mother and the baby. This does limit your options but there are somethings you can do that can help prevent or at least reduce the severity of stretch marks during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
One of the most straightforward preventative measures is to keep the skin hydrated and healthy. Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins, particularly Vitamin E and C to promote skin health. Foods like almonds, spinach, citrus fruits and avocados can also be beneficial. Keep your skin supple by apply moisturising creams or oils regularly to maintain hydration and elasticity. Although skincare products like Bio Oil, cocoa butter and shea butter are popular for this, there’s no evidence they work better than normal moisturisers. There is however scientific evidence that hyaluronic acid and Centella Asiatica can help. Both of these are generally considered safe for use during this period. However, you should consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new treatment during pregnancy.
Your options increase after pregnancy depending on whether you are breastfeeding or not. If you are not, then you have the option of starting retinoids, laser and microneedling.
It’s not entirely possible to prevent stretch marks or treat them with life style measures alone. However, you can reduce the risk of them happening or the severity of them with some good practices:
- Hydration: Keeping your skin well-hydrated can help maintain elasticity.
- Balanced Diet: Eating foods rich in vitamins C, D, and E, as well as zinc and protein can support skin health and healing.
- Prevention: Try to maintain a stable weight and avoid large weight fluctuations. Also manage underlying conditions and discuss with your doctor any medications that can predispose your to stretch marks.
Stretch marks are a common and often unavoidable aspect of life. They’re not harmful but if they bother you then there are a number of good treatments. These can range from at home skincare to professional treatments. However, it’s important to set realistic expectations and understand that you may not be able to completely remove stretch marks. Also, be aware that whatever option you pursue, it will take time and consistency to achieve results. If you dealing with stretch marks during pregnancy, then you will need a plan for what to do whilst pregnat and treatments to start afterwards. In this case or for those with medical conditions, consult with a healthcare professionals to ensure you start the safest and most effective treatment for you. Also, for best outcomes, combine these treatments with simple lifestyle measure can further boost your results.
At City Skin clinic, we are passionate about personalised skincare. Through our online skin clinic, we connect clients with our doctors for safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone. We treat skin conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation, melasma and skin ageing. To start your personalised skincare plan, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.