Stretch marks, or striae, are visible skin irregularities caused by stretching. While men and children can get stretch marks during rapid growth or weight gain, women often notice these marks after pregnancy. Most stretch marks usually grow fainter over time. Certain treatments may help your stretch marks fade and appear less visible.
Pregnancy is one of the main causes of stretch marks. During pregnancy, the skin on your abdomen stretches rapidly to accommodate your growing uterus. The skin on your breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs may also expand as you gain weight. Striae gravidarum is the term for stretch marks acquired during pregnancy.
Stretch marks appear as parallel streaks of glossy skin. During your pregnancy, these marks may look like red, pink or purple streaks. The stretch marks can feel slightly depressed between areas of thicker skin. After your pregnancy, your stretch marks can lighten and fade from pink to white, resembling thin, flattened scar tissue.
While stretch marks from pregnancy don’t require medical treatment, they can detract from the appearance of your skin. While treatments won’t completely remove the stretch marks from your skin, they may help reduce the appearance of these skin irregularities. Tretinoin cream may help improve stretch marks less than six weeks old, but you shouldn’t use it while you are still pregnant. This prescription cream helps to rebuild the collagen in your skin.
Other treatments for stretch marks include two types of laser therapy, pulsed dye laser therapy and fractional photothermolysis. These therapies may help stimulate your skin to produce collagen and elastin, helping to fill in the depressions left in your skin. An excimer laser won’t help with collagen production but may help repigment your skin by stimulating melanin production. Microdermabrasion is a process that involves polishing the surface of your skin with fine grains that may help make your skin more elastic.
While many women spend large amounts of time and money on products designed to prevent the formation of stretch marks, MayoClinic.com advises that you can’t prevent stretch marks. However, by eating a healthy diet during subsequent pregnancies, you may minimize your chances of excess weight gain, helping to minimize the amount of stretch marks you develop.
While pregnancy stretch marks don’t carry any health risks, some stretch marks may signal the presence of an underlying disorder. Stretch marks unrelated to your pregnancy or other periods of excess weight gain require a doctor’s diagnosis. Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal gland diseases can cause stretch marks to appear in previously smooth skin. Some medications, such as corticosteroid creams and oral steroid can also cause stretch marks.