Stretch Mark Facts: How to Prevent and Treat
Falling along the same lines as cellulite and spider veins, stretch marks are a purely cosmetic ailment and, although not harmful, doesn’t make them any the more welcome on our skin. And while stretch marks are an all too common problem, there, unfortunately, doesn’t exist a common set of solutions or truths behind their existence.
Some attest that stretch marks are simply an inevitable part of aging, weight gain, childbirth, or hormonal fluctuations. Others, however, claim that stretch marks can be prevented or even (gasp!) cured, with the right product regimen. Let’s try to clear up some of the biggest myths associated with stretch marks as we separate truth from fiction, to help you determine if there is, in fact, relief from those tiny, miserable lines.
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are long, light-colored lines which appear as streaks or squiggles, and can occur on a range of body areas, specifically stomach, back, hips, thighs, and breasts, and are significantly more common in women than men.
And common they are: in fact, over 50 percent of women report experiencing stretch marks postpartum.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
The primary reason for their occurrence comes from a significant shift in overall body weight, which causes the pulling or stretching of the skin, hence the name stretch mark. Stretch marks, while most closely tied to the rapid weight gain associated with pregnancy, can also occur from shifts in hormone levels, certain medications, or any stressor which weakens the skin fibers.
Can Stretch Marks Be Prevented?
Experts are split on whether stretch marks can truly be prevented, but there’s one thing for certain: staying hydrated can have a huge impact on your skin’s elasticity. Therefore, it’s crucial to consume sufficient water during pregnancy, while exercising, or any other time when your weight is expected to fluctuate. That’s because moist skin bounces back into place better than dry skin, due to its increased elasticity.
Another benefit to drinking water: it can help while stretch marks are actually forming, to combat the dry, irritated, itching feeling that comes from their occurrence.
Can Stretch Marks Be Treated?
So, while staying hydrated is great advice, what if you already have stretch marks and you’re totally past the prevention stage? Is there an effective treatment or even cure for those nasty little lines that, like an uninvited guest, just refuse to leave?
While we have the technology to build robo-floor cleaners, conversational AI, and self-driving cars, to date there exists no effective cure for stretch marks. Go figure.
But all hope is not lost, because although there isn’t a cure, stretch marks can be treated, and their presence lightened, through the use of heavy moisturizers and retinol. However, you’ll want to ensure your moisturizer doesn’t contain corticosteroids, as these will decrease the level of collagen in your skin, and a decrease in collagen will lead to an increase in stretch marks.
Do Topical Creams Help?
This one’s a mixed answer, because while prescription retinol and Vitamin E-rich moisturizers may help lessen stretch marks, there are just so many ineffective products out there. Stretch mark lotion, like cellulite creams, are a bit like our modern-day equivalent of snake oil - there just isn’t significant evidence that their ingredients will do anything other than fatten the pockets of the person peddling the tonic.
Does Tanning Help Stretch Marks?
Despite the popular myth, no, tanning does not help fade stretch marks. In fact, tanning can actually make stretch marks more apparent. To understand the reasoning behind this, think of stretch marks as scars instead of white lines. Scarred or stretched skin does not contain functional melanocytes, meaning these damaged areas of your body will never turn the same color as non-damaged skin.
Do Stretch Marks Fade With Time?
Now here’s a small ray of hope for what’s been an overall bleak outlook. Time heals all wounds, and according to dermatologists, stretch marks are no exception. If you’ve found your postpartum body littered with "battle wounds”, you’ll be happy to hear that most stretch marks fade significantly within 6-12 months after giving birth.
So, while topical creams such as retinol and moisturizers may help lessen the appearance of them, the best cure for stretch mark fading is simply time.