Stretch marks, also known as striae, are scars that appear on various parts of your skin, primarily around the stomach, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms, lower back and even around your calves. They start out red and purple in appearance and later fade to a slightly off-colored hue that is similar to your skin tone, but still noticeable upon closer inspection. Stretch marks are often the product of stretching or tearing of the dermis, which is one of the layers of skin on a person's body. For many people, stretch marks can be embarrassing and unsightly, but most cases can be avoided.
1. Rapid Weight Gain and Obesity
One of the most common causes of stretch marks for most people is rapid weight gain or obesity. Anywhere in a person's body where fat is stored is most likely to be affected by stretch marks. The size and the amount of stretch marks that appear depend on the extent of a person's weight gain. The more weight that is gained in a short time frame, the more severe the stretch marks will appear.
2. Growth Spurts
Some teenagers may be alarmed to find stretch marks around their body, especially when they aren't overweight or haven't suffered from rapid weight gain at any point in their lives. The common explanation for the appearance of these stretch marks is from rapid growth spurts, especially during puberty. Just like rapid weight gain and obesity, any time the body grows or expands faster than the elasticity of the skin can handle, stretch marks can appear.
3. Weight Lifting
Weight lifting and those who start putting on more muscle mass at a rapid pace, like athletes, can expect to see stretch marks on their body, even though they are in good shape. This is why stretch marks cannot be used to identify a weight problem or obesity, since they can occur on people in top physical condition; the muscles under the skin are just growing too fast for the skin to handle. Those who are affected by stretch marks due to muscle building tend to see scarring primarily around the arms and shoulders.
Pregnancy is most likely the predominant cause of stretch marks in most women. Because a woman's stomach is expanding at such a rapid pace during pregnancy, it is highly likely that she will develop stretch marks around her belly. Multiple pregnancies can lead to the formation of new stretch marks after each pregnancy.
Hormonal imbalances have been labeled as one of the common causes of stretch marks. Since hormonal changes occur during puberty, pregnancy, obesity and even weight lifting, it's hard to pinpoint which particular factor is to blame for the appearance of stretch marks. The hormonal imbalance that occurs during these times can cause collagen and elastin fibers to tear over stretched skin, creating the appearance of stretch marks.
Unfortunately, stretch marks have a tendency to remain on a person's body, even after pregnancy or losing weight. Another major issue with stretch marks is that most treatment methods available are ineffective, and the ones that actually work, typically cost more. The best thing a person can do to deal with stretch marks is to prevent them as much as possible:
- Apply topical ointments rich in vitamin E in areas where one might expect stretch marks to form, like around the belly before pregnancy.
- Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help with inner-moisture.
- Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol, which are diuretics that suck out the moisture from your body.
- Eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins that can help keep the skin strong and healthy.
- Use moisturizers to help with skin elasticity.
- Ingest more nutrients like zinc that can help with your skin's elasticity.
Tips to Hide Stretch Marks
Sometimes, the best way to deal with stretch marks is to try and hide them. While most articles of clothing are enough to cover-up most areas affected by stretch marks, exposing them may be an issue when you are in a bathing suit or going sleeveless. Here are some helpful tips to hide stretch marks if exposing them is making you feel self-conscious:
- Try tanning your skin to help hide your stretch marks. If you are worried about sunburn or overexposure to UV rays, try using safe self-tanners.
- Use makeup to cover up any embarrassing stretch marks. Waterproof makeup can be effective for hiding your makeup during a day at the pool or the beach.
- Look for clothing that can expose your skin while hiding your stretch marks. Women can opt for a one-piece bathing suit to cover any stretch marks due to pregnancy. Men with stretch marks around their shoulders can still wear sleeveless shirts to show off their arms instead of wearing a tank top.