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Creams, herbs, oils, vitamins—if only it were that easy. The simple truth is, there’s still no sure-fire way to treat stretch marks, though researchers are working furiously to find one. In the meantime, here’s what you need to know.
Stretch marks, those unattractive lines with a reddish, purplish, white or silvery color, are medically known as striae. They occur most often in places where your body stores fat, such as thighs, buttocks, abdomen, breasts and upper arms. Some people are more prone to them than others.
Stretch marks are a result of rapid growth or weight gain, often happening during puberty and pregnancy. There’s evidence that hormones play a role in striae development, but simple rapid weight gain and muscle building can result in stretch marks too. Men get stretch marks as well as women, but since the skin tends to be thicker for males, they don’t suffer stretch marks as universally as women do.
Simply put, as your body builds mass quickly, splits and fissures occur in the dermis, the inner layers of your skin, and show up on the epidermis (surface of the skin) as marks resembling scars. One doctor suggests you think of the dermis as a burlap bag. When the bag is stretched, the fibers separate permanently. With this visual in mind, it’s easier to understand why topical treatments like creams and oils don’t work. They don’t penetrate deeply enough to make any difference. Similarly, no herbs, vitamins or drugs have been shown to repair the dermis. Do not fall victim to the very aggressive advertising for such “solutions” on the Internet.
Microdermabrasion and chemical peels don’t penetrate deeply enough to do much good either. These options may improve the quality of the skin that overlies fissures in the dermis, but that’s about all you can reasonably expect from these surface treatments.
There’s much talk these days about lasers and light therapy for stretch marks. Most credible dermatologists and plastic surgeons say that these treatments may have some value when striae are new and their color is reddish, and less value when the marks are mature (usually silvery white). If you decide to give one of these options a try, be sure to ask what happens if you’re not satisfied with the results. Safeguard your wallet.
Plastic surgery is an option for some people who have not just stretch marks, but saggy skin and stubborn fat deposits on the abdomen as well. Abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck surgery, often combined with liposuction, can tighten up and improve the look of your entire belly, including getting rid of stretch marks. If this sounds attractive to you, consider scheduling a consultation with at least two board certified plastic surgeons and pay special attention to what the procedure can do for your stretch marks. Depending on where the lines on your belly are located, you may not be able to get rid of all of them with a tummy tuck. And remember you’ll be trading smaller striae for one bigger scar.
Today, the best way to handle stretch marks is to prevent them as much as possible. This is another great reason to keep your weight in check and avoid becoming overweight and/or cycles of weight gain and loss. And if you’re a body builder, consider a program that will help you develop and tone your muscles gradually.
When you’re pregnant and weight gain is inevitable, keeping it to a reasonable level will help. And actually, pregnancy is a time to pay attention to vitamins—extra vitamins orally will help keep you in good health overall and many doctors feel that topical application of vitamins like B and C can’t hurt. (Again, this is about prevention, not repair.) Wearing a good support bra can help prevent tearing and stretching as your breasts gain volume.
It’s frustrating and somewhat perplexing that there’s no great option for treating stretch marks, since they are such a widespread problem for women. Two areas of research show some promise: drugs that act on hormones influencing the dermis and lasers that will penetrate more deeply and help actually repair collagen and elastin fibers that support the skin. In the meantime, prevention is the word.