Booty gains, weight loss, growth spurts, and pregnancy can all lead to an annoying side effect: stretch marks.
Stretch marks, or striae, are a common skin condition that can affect both men and women. These linear scars — which may be red, pink, purple, or silvery-gray — typically affect the midsection, glutes, thighs, breasts, back, groin, and armpit area.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
As their name denotes, stretch marks result from the physical stretching of the skin — often caused by rapid changes in weight during puberty, pregnancy, or periods of significant weight gain or loss. “Stretch marks can also occur after surgery, like breast augmentation, or due to [rapid muscle gain from] body building,” says Dr. Jason Miller of Schweiger Dermatology Group.
There are also several conditions that may lead to stretch marks, such as Cushing disease (caused by elevated levels of the hormone cortisol) and Marfan syndrome (a connective tissue disorder). Certain hormone and steroid medications have been linked to the incidence of stretch marks, too.
Newer evidence suggests some of us are more genetically predisposed than others to getting stretch marks. “Those with a family history of stretch marks may be more at risk of developing them,” says Dr. Meghan Feely, board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology.
Can You Get Rid of Stretch Marks?
Good news: Stretch marks often fade on their own from a deep purple, red, or brown color to colorless. “Most improve slightly simply with time,” Miller says. And while they may appear raised at first, stretch marks typically sink into the skin as time progresses.
Beyond just waiting it out, there are a few ways you may be able to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
There’s still a lack of research to support the role of lifestyle modifications — like diet and exercise — in preventing stretch marks. But, Dr. Miller explains, exercise may play a role in minimizing their appearance. “Exercise is key in keeping the body working to repair itself in the most ideal way,” Miller says. “By strengthening and toning the muscles below the stretch marks, the skin can tighten, making stretch marks less noticeable.” And a well-balanced diet rich in certain plants and plant extracts may also help support skin elasticity as you age.
A medicinal herb called Centella asiatica may help prevent stretch marks or reduce their severity. And research suggests tretinoin — a type of retinoid — may also be effective as a topical treatment for stretch marks.
“Retinoids can promote collagen remodeling and elastin production,” Feely says. (Collagen and elastin are proteins in the skin that help it return to its original state after being stretched.)
Hyaluronic acid may also promote collagen production, Feely says — but there’s not much evidence to support its use as a topical treatment for stretch marks. There are also mixed findings when it comes to DIY treatments like almond oil, olive oil, or cocoa butter.
Several dermatologist-administered procedures — such as microneedling, radiofrequency, lasers, microdermabrasion, ultrasound, and chemical peels — claim to improve the look and feel of stretch marks. “These procedures are generally more efficacious than topical agents,” Feely says. But going this route can be pricey, and so far, there’s no single treatment option for stretch marks that’s effective across the board.
Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks may be inevitable for some of us, but there may be ways to reduce their severity. Research suggests that daily massage of stretch mark-prone areas can help. And if you use topical treatments, Feely recommends starting early — although that can be tricky, since sudden weight loss or gain isn’t always planned. And it’s always a good idea to talk with your dermatologist before trying any new treatment.
Bottom line? A lot of stretch mark “miracle treatments” seem to be, well, a bit of a stretch. It’s unlikely for stretch marks to go away completely. But social media campaigns like #loveyourlines — along with fashion and beauty brands that refuse to airbrush stretch marks off models’ bodies — are reminding us that tiger stripes are totally normal and nothing to hide.