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Stretch Marks: Here to stay and how you can help!

Stretch marks, medically known as striae, are linear, depressed areas of the skin from mechanical damage. Stretch marks are normal occurrences in males and females. They are seen in puberty, growth spurts, rapid weight changes, body building, and pregnancy. As parts of the body rapidly grows, such as the legs of a teenage boy during growth spurts, the changes in fat distribution in a developing woman, or the growth of the belly in pregnancy, stretch marks may occur. Stretch marks may also occur if patients are being treated with high amounts of corticosteroids medications and are secondary to rapid weight gain.

Where do stretch marks occur?

Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are usually abruptly noticed and distressing. They are found in areas where large bony structures connect or where growth of fat and muscle are common. The armpits, shoulder blades, upper arm/shoulder, lower belly, upper thigh/hip, inner thighs, lateral buttocks, and outer and inner knees are the typical locations. Usually stretch marks appear as mirror images on the body area affected.

What do they look like?

In lighter skin individuals, the affected area most often appears as symmetric, red linear streaks in the skin; the skin feels slightly depressed to the touch ( atrophic). In darker skin individuals, the area will present the same way except will be lighter than the normal surrounding skin tone and have no noticeable redness. In all affected persons, the linear streaks may have a shimmery, translucent or glossy appearance, noting the changes in the skin connective tissue.

Why do stretch marks happen?

Multiple factors seem to play a role in stretch mark formation.

  1. Rapid growth of underlying tissue (bone, muscle, or fat) that leads to thinning and breakage in the skin covering those tissues.

  2. Mechanical stress and tear of the skin usually related to rapid weight gain.

  3. Genetic predisposition or heredity; stretch marks may be familial.

Are stretch marks curable?

While they can be distressing to people, the good news about stretch marks is that they pose no medical problem. However, they are normally permanent changes in the skin that are irreversible. Time will improve the redness or light discoloration of stretch marks and they may fade but they never completely resolve.

Can stretch marks be treated?

Some treatments have improved the appearance of stretch marks and may help them fade or reduce their size. However, no treatments have been found to permanently remove stretch marks.

  1. Use of topical prescription retinoid cream tretinoin 0.1% cream can help minimize appearance if started early and reduce their size.

  2. Use of topical vitamin C ( L-ascorbic acid) and glycolic acid may minimize appearance through exfoliation.

  3. Pulsed dye laser may improve the redness.

  4. Significant skin hydration with rich skin butters (shea or cocoa butter) or Mederma, an over-the-counter brand to moisturize the skin and improve stretch marks.

My recommendations?

  1. Keep skin hydrated well to promote skin barrier protection and preserve elasticity. This may help minimize stretch mark formation in situations where weight gain or skin stretching is anticipated (pregnancy, body building, high-dose corticosteroid treatments).

  2. Start treatment to the affected skin right away with either good hydration or Mederma.

References:Dermatology, Third Edition. Bolognia et al. Elsevier 2012.

Margareth Pierre-Louis