Normally, when you pinch your skin and release, it doesn't stay pinched for very long -- and that's a good thing, or visits to grandma's house would be pretty hard on the cheeks. The elastic nature of your skin's middle layer, the dermis, allows it to return to its normal form after being pulled, pinched or squeezed.
However, when skin undergoes rapid or extreme stretching, it doesn't bounce back. It's because there's a threshold to the elasticity of the dermis, and when the elastic fibers in your skin snap, your skin's once-springy appearance suddenly looks sprung. When excessive skin-stretching occurs, it can result in the appearance of indentions, streaks or stripes, often pink or purple, on the skin. These are stretch marks, also known as striae.
When stretch marks first form, they start off with pretty intense coloration but fade over time. The somewhat mottled texture, though, won't fade away. Stretch marks frequently appear on the thighs, buttocks, arms (usually near the armpit), abdomen and breasts.
Before trying to get rid of stretch marks, the first step is determining what's causing your stretch marks to appear in the first place:
- Rapid weight gain or weight loss
- Prolonged use of corticosteroids
- Growth spurts, especially during adolescence
- Large increase in muscle mass, especially in arms and legs
- Genetic disorders, such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos
- Prolonged steroid use
Keep in mind that aside from causing self-consciousness, stretch marks are harmless and don't require medical or cosmetic attention. But if you're self-conscious or embarrassed by yours, can you get rid of them? Keep reading to find out.
Treating Stretch Marks: Making Amends with Your Skin?
Now we'll look at some of the ways you can treat stretch marks.
Relatively new stretch marks can be treated with tretinoin cream, which helps rebuild collagen and can help your skin heal, but only in the first six weeks of developing stretch marks. If you're a pregnant woman considering this option, don't -- the effects of topical tretinoin on a fetus aren't yet fully understood.
Pulsed laser therapy promotes growth of collagen and elastin and can help retexture stretch marks when they're still relatively new. These treatments of high-intensity light pulses don't affect the outermost layers of skin, but instead cause intentional and controlled damage to chromophores -- colored chemical compounds within molecules -- located in the dermis.
Both these treatments work best on new stretch marks. These are your options for old stretch marks:
- Microdermabrasion resurfaces your skin by gently blasting it with tiny crystals while simultaneously vacuuming them back up. This only affects the outermost layer of skin, and promotes new surface skin growth.
- Excimer lasers promote new melanin development in stretch marks and help to even out the color.
A therapy that works on both old and new stretch marks is a chemical peel with glycolic acid. Doctors will first cleanse the area to be treated, and then apply the chemical solution to intentionally wound the skin, prompting skin regeneration.
There are also number of creams -- such as cocoa butter, shea butter and vitamin E -- that you can use at home that may (or, frankly, may not) help. The creams will keep the skin lubricated and may speed the fading of the color. Some people claim to get results with these applications, while others see little or no change. Other common topical treatments include castor oil, olive oil, fruit acids, seaweed wraps and other "holistic" or herbal remedies. (The jury is still out on these products.)
You can diminish stretch marks with creams, and depending on a number of factors, you may be able to come pretty close to getting rid of them through surgery. Unfortunately, nothing will completely eradicate all signs of stretch marks.
Need more information on skin care? Check out the links to more HowStuffWorks articles on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Cosmetic Procedures: Laser Skin Rejuvenation." (Sep. 28, 2009) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/laser_skin_rejuvenation.html
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Stretch Marks." July 17, 2008. (Sep. 28, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretch-marks/DS01081
- MedicineNet. "Chemical Peel Treatments." (Oct. 2, 2009) http://www.medicinenet.com/chemical_peel/article.htm
- New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. "Intense Pulsed Light Therapy." June 15, 2009. (Oct. 2, 2009)http://dermnetnz.org/procedures/ipl.html
- New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. "Stretch Marks (striae)." June 15, 2009. (Oct. 2, 2009)http://dermnetnz.org/dermal-infiltrative/striae.html
- Ogbru, Omudhome, PharmD. "Tretinoin." Apr. 16, 2008. (Sep. 28, 2009) http://www.medicinenet.com/tretinoin/article.htm
- Tunzi, Marc, M.D.; Gray, Gary R., D.O. "Common Skin Conditions During Pregnancy." American Family Physician. Jan. 15, 2007. (Oct. 1, 2009)http://www.aafp.org/afp/20070115/211.html
- WebMD. "Skin Conditions: Stretch Marks." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/stretch-marks-overview