It may come as a surprise, but stretch marks are a common appearance on the human body. They are, in fact, nonirritating and harmless scars with pale color that appear due to the stretching properties of our skin. Stretch marks generally manifest as lines, narrow stripes or streaks on the surface of the skin.
We notice stretch marks most commonly after pregnancy, or upon sudden and significant weight loss. They can be located on the stomach, buttocks, thighs, but also on the breasts and the arms. There are various causes for the skin to start rapidly expanding, such as weight and hormonal change. Bodybuilding or just lack of physical activity can also cause rapid expansion, which produces tearing in the middle layer of the skin, the dermis layer. This can be noticed via the purple, red or discolored marks that appear on parts of the skin that is stretched.
There are estimations that as high as 90 percent of women who were or are pregnant have developed stretch marks. This number drops to 70 percent among adolescent females, while only about 40 percent of adolescent males are affected by this phenomenon.
But what is the real difference between red and white stretch marks?
Red stretch marks:
The red color of the stretch marks points toward the fact that the process of stretching is in its starting phase. The color is due to the blood vessels which are visible through the now thinner line of skin above them. Because it is a starting phase, it is also ideal for the start of treatment. Restoration of collagen to the skin can be done using topical creams. There are also treatments with laser technology called ‘pulsed dye’. They are an efficient way to renew skin cells and reduce scarring.
Another treatment for lowering the visibility of the red stretch marks is the IPL – Intense Pulsed Light, which is a light-based laser treatment. Further options are the PDL – Pulsed Dye Laser, and the fractional laser resurfacing. However, it needs to be stressed that most doctors are on the standpoint that lasers are not the way to go to deal completely with stretch marks. They view those options as just a measure to make stretch marks less noticeable.
White stretch marks:
When the stretch marks become white in color, it’s a sign that the stretching of that part has been going on for a longer period of time. Apart from white, they can also get a silvery hue. Treatment with topical creams is of no use at this stage. There is a treatment called ‘Microdermabrasion’ which should improve the texture of the skin and give it a kind of polished look. It should be noted that this treatment does not restore collagen to the skin. There are some other treatments for reviving the color of the skin, but the results are variable in most individual cases.
Is it possible to get rid of stretch marks?
Of course, there is no link of any particular ethnicity or race with stretch marks: all people can be affected. They are not a condition that appears just by itself, and will not disappear magically. Since it is a condition found all over the globe, the abundance of products for its treatment is vast. But which of them really work? The sad and harsh reality is that there are no treatments or products to completely do away with stretch marks. Still, there are ways to aid in minimizing the visibility, and with time maybe even vanish to a satisfying degree.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is considered to aid the fading of stretch marks
Stretch marks can fade with the use of Vitamin A. This vitamin is also know as a retinoid. Retinoids are chemical compounds that contribute to the skin appearing smoother and and more youthful. They can be found in many over-the-counter cosmetic topical creams. Applying a topical extract of vitamin A to the skin, or taking vitamin A orally, will better the health and overall appearance of your skin. There is a study that specifically identified retinoids as something that helps improve the appearance of stretch marks. Additionally, certain foods like carrots and sweet potatoes introduced in the diet, can increase vitamin A levels in your system.
Sugar exfoliates the dead skin cells which usually accumulate on the stretch marks
There are people that claim sugar is excellent used as homeopathic microdermabrasion agent. The process of microdermabrasion done by a trained dermatologist is one of the few clinically proven methods to aid in fading of stretch marks. This makes sugar, a common household item, a nice candidate to try. Rubbing it on the skin leads to exfoliation of the surface. The recipe is as follows: 1 part sugar & 1/4 part coconut or almond oil (used as softening agent) mixed to a consistency of wet sand. Lemon juice is added, after which you can apply the mixture by scrubbing it on the area where the stretch marks can be found. The process should be repeated 3-4 times a week during showering, for about 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Aloe vera
One of the best ways to take care of stretch marks is by using the magical properties of aloe vera
Aloe vera is believed to be one of the best things to improve skin moisture and elasticity. It contains around 200 active enzymes, 75 nutrients, 18 amino acids, 20 minerals along with 12 vitamins. All these help the process of repairing the damaged collagen fibers in the dermis. This, in turn, cuts down the chances for stretch marks to develop. You can extract the gel from a leaf of aloe vera by gently squeezing its leaf. Then apply the gel on the stretch marks by smoothly massaging it, so it can be absorbed into the skin. You can let it sit overnight, after which it should be rinsed off with lukewarm water. The process should be repeated over the course of several days, after which the stretch marks should visibly start to fade.
4. Coconut oil
The skin absorbs the coconut oil very quickly and deeply
It was established that coconut oil is aids in quickly helping the skin heal from the damage done by stretch marks. The studies for the healing properties of coconut oil have found that it acts by helping reduce the overall healing time of skin wounds. This is partly due to fact that it can be quickly absorbed deep in the skin. The abundance of antioxidants it has help against free radicals, while also nourishing damaged skin. Coconut oil can be used both internally and externally, as it was established that it does not have harmful or discomforting side effects.
Coconut oil and pregnancy
Pregnant women can rub coconut oil on their stomach as much as two to three times daily to prevent the appearance of stretch marks. Its use is completely safe for both the mother and the baby. Coconut oil has exceptional qualities which help heal, moisturize, soothe and clean the skin during the pregnancy. This is even more so evident after the baby is born – very few stretch marks appear, sometimes none at all.
5. Pulsed-dye laser
Pulsed dye laser is a device known to have excellent results in elimination of stretch marks.
The best way to treat newly formed stretch marks is with Pulsed-dye laser therapy. This is so, because it aims to improve and repair the blood vessels -arterioles and capillaries, which are responsible for bringing oxygenated blood to the area affected with stretch marks. Better oxygenation and improved blood circulation in general results with improved synthesis of collagen in the dermal layers, along with improvement of the connective tissues. Studies also established that individuals with darker skin tones can experience slight skin discoloration.
The process of microdermabrasion is in fact polishing of the skin with tiny crystals. The purpose is to reveal new skin that’s under the more elastic stretch marks. Microdermabrasion improves the outlook of older (white & pale) stretch marks.
7. Massage therapy
There are numerous claims that massage aids in the removal of stretch marks. Those claims come in general by massage therapists themselves. But regrettably, there is not a single clinical research that supports these claims, maybe simply because the human body just does not function in that manner. It is also worth mentioning that it is highly inadvisable to massage the abdominal area during pregnancy due to the risks it can bring with the pressure being applied. Pregnant women should consult their obstetrician as to which type of massage is best and most appropriate for them.
8. Hyaluronic acid
It is a well known fact that collagen is the protein responsible for keeping the skin healthy. With ageing, natural synthesis of collagen in our bodies decreases. But its production can be stimulated with the use of hyaluronic acid, an extract which is available in health food stores. Hyaluronic acid can be absorbed by consuming a commercially available capsule or extract. It has been clinically established that Hyaluronic Acid increases the moisture of the skin, and in doing so, keeps the skin supple and elastic.