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Stretch Marks

Stretch marks (medical: striae) are very common and can have many causes. Stretch marks occur on the skin, and are present almost anywhere on the body, although the most common stretch marks are found on the stomach and sides, the top of the lefts, the bicep and triceps area of the arms, the hips and buttocks, the neck and the chest or breast area.
When you are young, your skin has an abundance of the protein collagen, which helps maintain the elasticity of your skin.

As you grow older, you produce less collagen, and your skin loses its elasticity. This is why we get wrinkles. Collagen also helps in the healing and replenishing of skin. When the skin is literally stretched thin, your body is not able to heal or replace the skin to its original form or elasticity – for this reason, repaired or reinforced skin tends to show as white or reddish lines called stretch marks.

Stretch Mark Causes

There are many ways to get stretch marks, but some of the most common are:

• Growth spurts
• Obesity
• Pregnancy
• Bodybuilding
• Topical Steroid use

All of the above examples with the exception of steroids are direct causes of the overstretching of skin. When the skin is literally stretched tin, glucocoticoid hormones prevent fibroblasts from creating collagen and elastin which are responsible for keeping the skin tight. Although the stretched skin is replaced and reinforced, the resulting skin is less taut and smooth, making them visible blemishes. Stretch marks are very similar to scarring, where the replacing skin is not of the same ‘quality’ as the original skin before the wound.

Growth spurts usually affect preteens and teenagers during puberty. Areas affected are usually the upper arms and upper legs. In many cases, because the stretch marks occur at a young age, they all but disappear unless they are severe in nature.

Pregnancy causes the body to grow and the skin to expand at a great rate. Because of this, stretch marks caused by pregnancy (striae gravidarum) are almost always unavoidable. Common areas affected are the stomach, the buttocks and the breast area.

Bodybuilding can cause stretch marks anywhere on the body where a major muscle has grown at an accelerated rate. The skin literally does not have enough time to adjust to the growing muscle, and is thus stretched thin, reinforced with a lack of collagen, and the result is stretch marks.

These are some of the most common causes of stretch marks. There are many other causes however; literally any time the skin is stretched at an accelerated rate the chance of resulting stretch marks is increased. Other examples include surgery and severe injuries or accidents. It has been shown in some studies that caffeine, along with regular stretch mark causes, can exacerbate the appearance of stretch marks, probably due to its dehydrating effects.

Stretch Mark Symptoms

Stretch marks are fairly common and therefore symptoms do not need to be discussed at length. If you find you have only one stretch mark in a certain area, and it has manifested with no particular reason, it is advisable to see a physician to make sure it is not a cyst or other dermatological condition.

Stretch marks usually start out as reddish/purple lines or blemishes. In most cases, the cause of he stretch mark is obvious (growth spurt, pregnancy, body building). By the time a stretch mark is noticed, there are usually more than one present, as the skin attempts to spread the stretching over a larger area to prevent tearing. Stretch marks can start out a couple millimetres or a couple of inches in length, depending on the area and the severity. Over time, stretch marks may start to turn whitish (like a scar) and manifest into an irregularly shaped line that is sometimes protruding slightly or indented. Some stretch marks disappear completely over time. Others diminish in visibility. If the underlying cause is not treated (obesity, for example) stretch marks may actually get worse or more stretch marks may become present over time.

Stretch Mark Removal

There are various stretch mark treatments available, and all have different levels of efficacy depending on the patient, the severity of the stretch marks and the individual. Below is a list of known treatment methods:


• Cocoa butter: Cocoa butter used as a topical treatment is very popular in natural healing. Also used as a preventative measure, cocoa butter has been shown to significantly reduce the appearance of stretch marks in some individuals.
• Vitamin E: Known to help the skin replenish itself, natural topical cream products with Vitamin E have been used to treat stretch marks for decades. Then benefits of using Vitamin E are that it has no adverse side effects and tends to make the skin look healthier.
• Elastin: Some products actually contain elastin. Their efficacy as a treatment method is questionable, as the product needs to be used before stretch marks occur. In the case of pregnancy, stretch marks are easy to predict.
• Retinoids, also used to treat many other dermatological conditions, have been prescribed to treat stretch marks. Retinoids can have adverse side effects and must be prescribed. Talk to your doctor.


• Dermabrasion is a common procedure used for many dermatological conditions. Dermabrasion is literally the ‘sanding’ of the skin to bring down protrusions. Dermabrasion can help in decreasing the visibility of stretch marks but will not heal them as dermabrasion only affects the top layer of the skin.

• Laser therapy, where a 585nm pulsed laser is used on the skin has shown significant results in removing stretch marks. Laser therapy is a very common treatment method used for a wide range of procedures including acne, scarring, hair loss and more. Multiple sessions are usually needed.

• Laser resurfacing: This procedure is more expensive than regular laser treatment, but has shown to be up to 75% effective in some clinical studies. The scarred area is literally removed by laser pulses in very minute sections, distributed throughout the scar. When minute areas are removed, the skin responds instantly by healing that area of the skin. Minute areas being healed tend to heal normally, therefore, through multiple treatments, the entire scar can be systematically removed and healed.


• Depending on where the stretch marks occur, surgery can be performed to hide or remove them. In the case of stretch marks on the lower abdomen/stomach area, a tummy tuck can be performed (sometimes accompanied by liposuction) where the marked skin is actually removed, and the resulting would sealed and treated so that no scarring takes place.

Preventing Stretch Marks

Probably the best way to avoid stretch marks is to avoid getting them. Prevention options are vast in comparison to treating stretch marks that already exist. Here is a list of common prevention methods:

• Diet: Your diet affects your skin directly. Eating healthier allows your skin to get the nutrients it needs to work properly, longer. Proper diet can help prevent stretch marks and other dermatological conditions such as acne. Increased water intake and cutting out caffeine or other dehydrators can significantly help in making your skin healthier (and healthier looking) and more taut. Make sure to eat fruits and vegetables containing Vitamin C and A.

• Creams: Many natural creams are available that contain a number of ingredients. The most common are Vitamin E, menthol, Aloe Vera and other moisturizing ingredients and extracts. These creams help keep the skin healthy and promote the production of collagen and elastin, making yours skin stronger and more resilient.

• Cocoa Butter: although cocoa butter’s efficacy for reducing stretch marks has not been proven, it is know that applying cocoa butter to your skin works excellent as a moisturizer. Many people are adamant that cocoa butter reduces the amount of stretch marks caused by pregnancy when used in a preventative manner.

Eating healthy, maintaining hydration and using moisturizers or Vitamin E products is probably the best and safest way to prevent stretch marks. Creating a routine for the above preventions is probably the most difficult part. When you shop, have your stretch marks (or potential stretch marks) in mind. When you reach for the 12 pack of soda, correct yourself and buy juices instead. Buy a small coffee or tea in the morning instead of a large. Put your skin moisturizers or Vitamin E products in a place where you will see them daily – the bathroom counter for example. By constructing a healthy routine, not only will you reduce the chance of stretch marks, but you will feel healthier and happier as a nice side effect.

Nemours Foundation:

US National Library of Medicine:

NHS Health Encyclopaedia:
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