Oh, stretch marks. If you’re anything like us, then chances are you’ve felt self-conscious at some point or another about having stretch marks be visible when you’re wearing shorts or a bathing suit. Of course, almost all of us have stretch marks somewhere on our bodies, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about! But is there anything you can do to get rid of these marks on your skin? Here, learn about what causes stretch marks and whether or not you can do anything to say goodbye to them forever.
What do stretch marks look like?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of stretch mark causes and treatments, let’s back up a sec and paint you a picture of what stretch marks look like. Stretch marks are indented lines that can appear on areas like your stomach, boobs, hips, butt, and thighs. They’re usually pink, red, or purple in color when they first appear, but they fade over time to a white or grayish hue. While you might not like how stretch marks look, the good news is they’re not painful and they’re absolutely innocuous.
Why do I have stretch marks?
Stretch marks form when your skin suddenly stretches. More specifically, when your body grows, the fibers in your skin stretch to accommodate that growth. Your skin actually tears when this happens, so deeper layers of your skin become visible. Hello, stretch marks.
Women are more likely to get stretch marks than men, and genetics also play a role (thanks, Mom!). Stress is involved, too. Your adrenal glands produce something called cortisol, aka the stress hormone. Cortisol is converted into cortisone, which weakens skin elasticity and makes it easier for stretch marks to happen.
Stretch marks often occur during pregnancy and puberty, which makes sense when you think about it — your body changes a whole lot during both of these periods. When you’re pregnant, your skin has to stretch to accommodate a baby, and when you’re a teen in puberty, you often experience growth spurts or rapid weight gain.
Even if you’re way past your teen years, gaining weight quickly is another common stretch marks cause. Meanwhile, medical conditions like Marfan syndrome (a genetic disorder) and Cushing’s syndrome (a hormonal disorder), weaken your skin’s elasticity, making it easier for stretch marks to form.
Finally, using steroid creams for prolonged periods of time can up your risk of getting stretch marks, because these creams decrease the amount of collagen you have in your skin — and collagen is what keeps your skin strong.
Is there anything I can do to get rid of stretch marks?
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to completely get rid of your stretch marks. That being said, there are steps you can take to fade their appearance. You’ll have the best results with in-office treatments at your dermatologist’s office. Unfortunately, lotions, creams, and oils don’t have any scientific evidence backing them up, although it probably doesn’t hurt to try and apply these products.
If you do want to apply a cream, ask your dermatologist about a prescription retinoid. This ingredient helps encourage collagen production and works best on newer stretch marks. Just keep in mind that it can cause irritation and shouldn’t be used when you’re pregnant.
One dermatologist treatment often used on stretch marks is pulsed dye laser therapy, which stimulates collagen and elastin growth. This treatment works best on newer stretch marks. Fractional photothermolysis is another in-office laser treatment that can be used to lessen the appearance of stretch marks. If you have older stretch marks, microdermabrasion — polishing the top layer of skin with crystals to reveal newer skin underneath — could be an option for you.
What about preventing new stretch marks?
There’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent new stretch marks from forming, but maintaining a healthy weight is ideal for curbing your risk. Talk to your doc for strategies on keeping a steady weight.
The bottom line: Stretch marks are super-common, so don’t let them stress you out if you do have them. Show off your skin proudly, marks and all!
Dr. Betty Yan, a dermatology resident at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU), helped contribute to the accuracy of this story.