Whether you have stretch marks as a result of pregnancy, dramatic weight
loss, puberty or simply genetics, surely you have some questions about
what they are, how you got them, and what you can do about it.
So let's start with the basics -- what exactly are stretch marks? Stretch
marks are discolored streaks or stripes that appear on the skin, typically
red, pink or slightly lighter than your skin tone. More often than not,
they begin as a red or bright pink color, and slowly fade to a more neutral
tone over time. "One thing many don't realize is that stretch
marks are actually scars," notes
Yen Tran, DO, an obstetrics/gynecology physician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "When your skin stretches past its limit, like on a new mom's
growing belly or on the legs of someone who has recently experienced rapid
weight gain, it becomes permanently scarred, as it has pushed the limits
of its elasticity." Stretch marks are most common on the lower back
and abdomen, inner and outer thighs, hips and breasts.
The scars themselves aren't external, like a standard scar when you
get a cut or scrape, but rather under the layers of skin. When an area
of your body essentially grows faster than your skin can stretch, the
dermis, or the middle of the three layers of skin, tears just beneath
the surface and reveals a scar through the epidermis, the outermost layer
of skin. "Nearly 90 percent of pregnant women start noticing stretch
marks by their third trimester. It's certainly not uncommon. And if
your mother or grandmother have stretch marks, it's a safe assumption
that you'll get them as well, as genetics are a major factor in how
your skin responds to that type of stress," explains Dr. Tran.
One of the questions patients often ask Dr. Tran is whether it's possible
for someone to prevent stretch marks, or fade them after they show up.
"No amount of slathering on cocoa butter, olive oil or 'miracle
cream' all over your body is going to keep your skin from stretching,"
says Dr. Tran. While it's not possible to prevent them, there are
some tips and tricks that focus on fading. One option is a retinoid cream,
prescribed by your dermatologist, which works by speeding up cell turnover
and stimulating the growth of new collagen. It's important to note,
however, that retinoid cannot be used topically while pregnant of breastfeeding,
so this treatment may not be ideal for you. There are a handful of other
options, such as over-the-counter creams, laser treatment or dermabrasion,
but none of those fixes produce dramatic results.
At the end of the day, there's no need to fret over a couple of stretch
marks, but there are certainly ways to minimize their appearance if you're
looking to do so.
Do you have any other questions about stretch marks? Leave them in the
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