Stretch marks: what you need to know
Did you know that stretch marks are a type of scar? Known medically as striae, stretch marks are indentations that form when the skin expands or shrinks rapidly. Because they are scars, they will never fully disappear unless you deal with them medically. There are, however, ways of caring for your skin that will help them fade significantly. Here’s the low-down on how they form, along with treatment options – both natural and medical.
WHAT CAUSES STRETCH MARKS?
Stretch marks tend to develop during pregnancy (particularly the last trimester); during growth spurts around puberty; with significant weight loss or gain; and with rapid muscle development caused by weight training.
The sudden change in weight inherent in each of these situations is what causes stretch marks to form. The collagen and elastin that support the skin break down, and, as the skin heals, scars take shape, in the form of lines or streaks. They can be raised and itchy at first, initially appearing red, brown, purple, pink or black.
How many you get and how distinctive they appear depends on several factors. Genetics are a big one; if your parents or other family members have or had stretch marks, you’re more likely to get them, too. High levels of cortisol – or ongoing application of cortisol creams – can cause stretch marks. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It’s the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ switch; an ancient survival mechanism that regulates glucose, blood pressure, heart rate, in response to stress.
HOW TO PREVENT STRETCH MARKS
Maintaining a consistent weight by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly can keep stretch marks at bay. Vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, D and E, plus zinc and protein, support collagen and elastin production, so it’s beneficial to eat foods rich in these nutrients.
Even with the healthiest of diets, it can be challenging to control weight changes during teenage growth spurts and pregnancy. The next best thing is to treat stretch marks as soon as they appear. There are creams, lotions and gels on the market that are designed to prevent stretch marks, with varying effectiveness. Your best bet is to go as natural and organic as possible – particularly if you’re pregnant. The results of a 2004 Environmental Working Group study, conducted in collaboration with Commonweal, suggest that chemicals can transfer from the mother to the baby via the umbilical cord. Researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group.
When it comes to natural stretch mark treatments, Primavera’s STRETCH MARK FORMULA is a good option. This NaTrue-certified organic treatment features a combination of fatty oils such as sweet almond oil and wheatgerm oil to boost skin’s elasticity. To enhance the efficacy of these oils, combine them with neroli oil. Primavera’s STRETCH MARK ENHANCE FORMULA gives you a power-packing blend of all these three oils.
Alternatively, try Little Butterfly’s STRETCH MARK BUTTER. This vegan, organic formula contains a mix of cacao, shea, kokum, illipe, mango and cupuaça butters, along with manilkara, argan and sea algae, as well as rooibos and arnica flower to soothe itchy skin.
HOW TO TREAT EXISTING STRETCH MARKS
As we’ve mentioned, it’s impossible to get rid of stretch marks entirely once they have formed. Not unless you opt for a medical solution administered by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist.
The medical options for removing stretch marks are pulsed dye laser therapy, which pulses light at stretch marks to calm the blood vessels under the skin and stimulate collagen production from the inside. Fractional CO2 laser therapy is another alternative; this destroys the upper layers of the skin in order to encourage new skin tissue to develop, targeting areas very precisely. Treatment can be uncomfortable, causing redness and irritation afterwards while the skin heals.
While these are essentially topical, non-invasive treatments, they may not appeal to you. If you’d prefer a home remedy, look to natural, organic solutions such as Primavera’s REMOVE STRETCH MARK FORMULA, featuring rose hip oil and sweet almond oil. You can enhance the benefits with Primvera’s ENHANCE FORMULA, containing neroli oil.
Another natural, organic option is Susanne Kaufmann’s TONING BODY SERUM, which uses caffeine, tiger grass and boldo to stimulate the lymphatic system, breaking down fat cells and boosting skin metabolism. The RESTORATIVE TONING BODY CREAM from Susanne Kaufmann includes many of the same ingredients, along with extracts of Jiaogulan, a climbing vine from southern China that’s known for its adaptogenic benefits, and rock rose, a flowering shrub that’s used as an antioxidant, and to treat anxiety and promote calm.