Stretch marks – or striae – are caused when your skin needs to stretch rapidly during periods of weight gain. The resulting scars are permanent and are most common on the abdomen, buttocks and thighs. Rubbing creams, oils, or lotions into the skin will help it feel more elastic but does not appear to prevent stretch marks from occurring altogether. With time the lines become paler and fade to faint streaks nearer to your own skin color.
The stretch mark is the consequence of the dermis layer of skin stretching enough that the connective fibers rupture. Removing stretch marks is not easy. Aesthetic laser surgery is costly, but it can fade stretch marks anywhere on the body, including the abdomen, arms, chest and thighs. Expect to pay about $600-$700 per session and probably 6-8 sessions.
Stretch marks are also the result of an increased level of circulating glucocorticoids throughout the bloodstream. This hormone, secreted by the adrenal glands, becomes elevated during pregnancy, adolescence, with obesity, weight lifting and Cushing's disease. Those glucocorticoids responsible for the appearance of stretch marks affect the dermis by preventing the fibroblasts from forming collagen and elastin fibers, necessary to keep growing skin taut.
Bodybuilders are prone to getting stretch marks because of the rapid body changes that bodybuilding can produce. You can also get stretch marks if you use a steroid-skin cream or ointment (such as hydrocortisone) for more than a few weeks, or if you have to take high doses of oral corticosteroids for several months or longer. Some people find that sunless tanning treatments can help cover up stretch marks.
Stretch marks can also be tattooed over and disguised. If you're considering this option should find an artist who is experienced with working on this type of tissue as it can require more care when it's being tattooed. The stretch marks must be thoroughly healed (a year or more), or your skin will be a mess.
Although ugly looking, stretch marks do not indicate a serious skin condition, and their presence is not life threatening. However, the ugly sight causes a lot of grief to sufferers, especially to new body builders who may be mystified as to their origin and their cure. Their presence is mainly a matter of genetics, over which you have no control, so beware of advertisers trying to sell you pricey products and making dubious claims.
A visit to the bodybuilding forums revealed that "large and in charge" stretch marks are a common problem, with bodybuilders recommending products like cocoa butter, Vitamin E, and creams for pregnant women to each other. "Mighty Bull" also suggested that lifters take shorter breaks between cycles. "Ace Rothstein" summed it up well: "be happy to have them, it means you are growing … they are battle scars – the manifestation of limits transcended."
Depending on your skin color, the marks start out as pink or brown streaks, at which point laser surgery is most effective. Laser treatments don't remove stretch marks – they simply make them fade. One type of laser responds to dark colors only, which is why treatment is most effective in the early stages when the marks are still dark red or brown. Faded, flesh colored marks will probably respond to another type of laser treatment, which stimulates the production of pigment making cells.
Laser treatments also stimulate the production of collagen to help restore the skin's elasticity. If you'd rather use over the counter treatments, some people see a difference with 20% glycolic acid, topical Vitamin C or products created to help even out and diminish scar tissue.
Each person is unique and skin grows at different rates, causing some people to suffer from stretch marks more severely than others. Stretch marks are basically scars, and are very difficult to eliminate completely, so prevention is key. Some prevention creams can increase your skin's elasticity while also effectively helping to fade out and diminish existing stretch marks.
Here are some general suggestions to help with stretch marks:
- Massage your skin with a glove or massage brush to increase circulation
- Rub moisturizing cream or cocoa butter on the affected area every day to keep the skin elastic. Barmon Stretch Mark cream is a popular choice among bodybuilders. You can also use Vitamin E oil or cream. These vitamins and oils are designed to enhance collagen production and support the dermis, to keep the skin intact despite rigorous stretching. Keeping your skin moisturized will prevent it from tearing when it stretches, since it is supple.
- Exfoliation may be effective depending on the severity and position of the scar tissue. Use a loofah or skin brush when you shower to remove the dull skin and the dead cells in the scars that show as stretch marks.
- Consume foodstuffs that add to the general health of your skin, such as those high in Vitamins A, C and E, zinc and silica. Also use supplements such as ZMA, which helps form collagen, the supporting fibers in the skin.
- Speak to your doctor about prescribing tretinoin cream (Retin-A)
- Drink lots of water. Hydration is important for your overall health and well-being, as well as for keeping your skin elastic and smooth.
The best way to prevent stretch marks is to lose or gain weight slowly. They are a very common skin condition – some people have good genetics and some don't when it comes to skin elasticity, so you don't have to be embarrassed by them. Don't despair if you follow all the guidelines and still develop stretch marks. They will fade in time to small, silvery lines, and become much less noticeable.