With pink, reddish, whitish, or purple lines lingering about the skin, stretch marks are the slight imperfections that appear on the thighs; the noticeable streams of stretched skin decorating a pregnant stomach; or a deeply grooved set of scars forming about the muscle of a bulging bicep. Stretch marks arrive in a variety of colors, textures, and intensities, and have yet to come across a woman or man happy to see them. While some individuals have no choice in the matter (thanks to genetics), others may be able to avert the development of this perfectly harmless occurrence through a variety of preventive measures.
What are Stretch Marks?
The appearance of stretch marks is completely normal, as an individual grows or gains weight at a rate that exceeds the capacity of their skin. The development of stretch marks takes place when the tissue located underneath the skin is pulled in such a way that fine lines appear. Under normal circumstances, the skin is a reasonably elastic, but when it becomes overstretched, the usual production of collagen is interrupted . Collagen serves as a major protein that assists in the construction of connective tissue in the skin and under disruptive conditions a scar forms.
The first signs of a stretch mark may appear whitish or pinkish and depending on the circumstances, lightens or darkens over time. Depending on the surrounding skin, indentations may develop or showcase varied textures. Over time, some stretch marks remain visible, while in an assortment of cases, they often lighten or nearly vanish, which is commonly seen in adolescents who have developed stretch marks during puberty.
The Negative Effects of Stretch Marks
The negative effects associated with stretch marks do not pose any threats to the health condition of an individual. The majority of people suffering from stretch marks are mainly concerned with the visual aspect of the condition rather than the physical implications. Today’s society often associates stretched skin as a sign of unattractiveness or obesity. It is through this desire to maintain a positive self-image (in regards to the appearance of the body) that drives many people towards preventing stretch marks.
Stretch marks may appear anywhere on the body, but usually strike the inner and outer thighs; upper arms; breasts; buttocks; stomach (especially around the naval); hips; and shoulders . Some individuals are also more prone to developing stretched skin. Risk factors include:
Some teenagers undergo a slow rate of development, while others experience growth spurts that may stretch the skin in ways that produces fine tears in the epidermis. While it is more common for a girl to endure the sight of stretch marks (on the breasts, thighs, hips, and buttocks), guys may also receive their fair share as well.
The shoulders and arms of body builders often show stretch marks as a result of continuously bulking up their body. High school and college athletes may also experience stretch marks, as they attempt to develop their muscles for enhanced performance on the court or field.
While there are many different changes that occur throughout a pregnancy, one of the most dreaded is the stretched skin that develops on breasts and the abdomen. It is believed that close to 90% of pregnant women will experience stretch marks that tend to show during their third trimester. Unfortunately, there are some women who naturally face a genetic predisposition to developing stretch marks in pregnancy. Over time, the redness will fade and the bands become lighter than surrounding skin, but some women will never recover from the visual damage.
d) Excessive Weight Gain:
Being overweight and obese often breeds the development of stretch marks, as skin is stretched to accommodate an increase in weight.
An individual that uses high doses of oral corticosteroids for months or applies a steroid-containing skin cream or ointment (such as hydrocortisone) for a prolonged amount of time may encourage the growth of stretch marks.
f) Cushing’s Syndrome:
The appearance of stretch marks is also associated with the hormonal disorder, Cushing’s Syndrome, where the body’s tissues is exposed to prolonged levels of the hormone, cortisol.
How to Prevent Stretch Marks
Familiarizing yourself with the risk factors that greatly increase the chances of stretched skin is one of the most effective ways to prevent stretch marks. One should know that a genetic predisposition regarding the development of this condition is quite difficult to avoid, but there are many different approaches to consider when avoiding the kind of stretch marks that come from hormonal imbalances and lifestyle behaviors:
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may find success in stretch mark prevention when following one or more of the following suggestions:
a) Follow a Healthy Diet:
Poor nutrition may lead to tears in the skin, which open the doors for the development of stretch marks and hinders desirable stretching that accommodates the rate of skin growth. A good way to prevent stretch marks is to follow a well-balanced diet and implement portion control. In order to avoid gaining too much weight during a pregnancy, arranging a consultation with a health care professional will lead to the establishment of a healthy meal schedule .
b) Use Specialized Oils and Creams:
A random, controlled study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science states that the daily application of Gotu Kola extract, vitamin E, and collagen hydrolysates can considerably lessen the possibility of developing stretch marks. The study was mainly directed towards pregnant women deemed susceptible for the condition .
Additional creams and oils known to prevent stretch marks include cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, wheat germ oil, and sweet almond oil. The application of such products will improve elasticity of the skin when rubbed several times a day in a circular motion.
c) Watch Your Weight:
Not only does rapid weight gain cause stretch marks, but rapid weight loss as well. In order to prevent the appearance of stretched skin, the physical changes of a body should match the rate of skin response. The body should be given enough time for the production of collagen and elastin, which greatly affects the look of skin by playing an important role in its flexibility and smoothness. Recent studies have shown that hyaluronic acid (naturally found in the body) may stimulate collagen production.
d) Drink Plenty of Water:
A hydrated body is one that often showcases moisturized skin, which helps prevent the development of stretch marks. While many physicians and nutritionists recommend consuming at least 8 glasses of water per day, you can actually use your urine to determine your level of hydration. Urine that is nearly colorless is a sign that the body has received a sufficient amount of water.
e) Regular Exercise:
In addition to the amount of water you drink on a daily basis, exercise works to prevent the accumulation of toxins in the body and increases overall tone. Strength training, daily walks with the dog, and aerobics are just some of the ways the skin keeps healthy.
f) Choose a Good Moisturizer:
Skin stays elastic and smooth with the help of a good moisturizer. One of the best kinds of products to select on the market will include natural ingredients because they are usually safer and easily tolerated by users. Applying natural lotions, creams, or oils to the skin helps avoid an allergic reaction or irritating side effects.
g) Watch the Intensity of a Workout:
The intensity of a workout may increase the risk of stretch marks. If muscle mass increases too quickly for the body to response, the appearance of stretched skin will surface. The arms and shoulders are the most commonly affected body parts. Some individuals prevent the formation of stretch marks by watching the amount of weight they use during exercises, such as biceps curls and triceps press-downs .
h) Reduce Overall Body Fat:
Stretch marks tend to appear about the body parts that display higher amounts of fatty deposits. Reducing your overall body fat is a prevention approach that may avoid the formation of stretched skin in the abdomen, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks.
 Mallol, Belda, Costa, Noval, and Sola. (1991). “Prophylaxis of Striae Gravidarum With a Topical Formulation. A Double Blind Trial.”. International Journal of Cosmetic Science (13, 51-57).