Stretchmarks are very common and are also called striae distensae or striae gravidarum by medical professionals. They can be red, purple or white streaks on the skin in appearance. The collagen and elastin of the skin breaks because of skin stretching resulting in stretchmarks. They do not pose any serious health risks or complications. Being not aesthetically appealing, it can affect the quality of life and self-esteem of those affected.
They mostly appear on chest, thighs, hips and abdomen. They are pink, red, purple, reddish brown or dark brown depending on the skin color initially which eventually changes to faded color when they become mature.
The appearance of stretchmarks can be due to various reasons including:
- Losing or gaining weight too quickly
- Having a family history of stretchmarks
- Long term use of corticosteroids which can lead to reduction in collagen that provides firmness to the skin
- Medical conditions like Marfan syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome
It can appear to men or women of all ages, sizes and skin types, although studies suggest it affects more women than men, major cause being puberty and pregnancy.
The diagnosis of stretchmarks is easy and based on appearance on skin examination. There are many treatments available currently but are not proven effective in most cases and can be costly as well. Creams, oils, gels, lotions or even medical procedures like chemical peels and cosmetic surgery are to name a few. Stretchmarks may not be completely prevented, however there are few ways to reduce the risk:
- Maintain healthy weight: The best way to keep stretchmarks away is to keep your weight under control. Sudden weight gain or weight loss, both can cause stretchmarks. Even if you are pregnant, it’s best to keep healthy weight.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: They help keep your skin soft and supple. The rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids being fish, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and soybeans.
- Stay hydrated: When your skin is dry, it tends to stretch more in comparison with the skin that is soft and supple. Drink enough water and avoid caffeinated beverages.
- Moisturize your skin: Moisturizing the skin reduces the risk of stretchmarks and decreases the itching caused by stretched skin.
- Exercise regularly: Exercising helps improving blood flow to the skin, helping it to rebuild itself.
- Vitamin C: Have foods rich in vitamin C as it helps development of collagen.
- Vitamin D: Soak up some sun (do apply sunscreen) for Vitamin D that is necessary for good skin health.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking not only poses a threat to your skin by causing early ageing but also to the healing process of your stretchmarks. Smoking reduces the blood flow to the skin, reducing its abilities to heal itself.
- Healthy diet: Nutrient rich foods loaded with vitamins and minerals especially zinc and protein help the skin heal and reduce the risk of stretchmarks.
- Earlier the better: If you pose the risk of developing stretchmarks, say you are pregnant, it is best to start applying creams or oils as per your doctor’s advice in the early stages. As treating the mature stretchmarks may get difficult.
Cosmetically stretchmarks can be very disturbing and can affect day-to-day living. Makeup may help to hide these scars temporarily, but everyone does seek a long-term effective cure. With so many products available in the market, very few are actually effective as per the research. The medical procedures come with their own set of side-effects and can dig a hole in your pocket. There are few home remedies for stretchmarks which doesn’t pose any threat of side-effects but needs patience and regular application for results.
- Aloe vera is a succulent plant which stores water making it a good hydration ingredient. It has lots of antioxidants and vitamins making it anti-inflammatory in nature. This helps healing stretchmarks and making the skin soft.
- Cocoa butter derived from cocoa beans is used as a main ingredient in many stretchmarks creams available in market. This retains moisture and helps to fade the stretchmarks.
- Coconut oil consists of fatty acids that encourages collagen production. Collagen helps firming the skin and thus help healing the stretchmarks. One can mix equal parts of almond oil and coconut oil and massage over affected area for good results.
- Potato and lemon juice are known for its lightening effect on skin. They both can help reduce the visibility of stretchmarks.
- Sugar is an excellent exfoliant for skin. Mix it with olive oil to form a good scrub for stretchmarks. Sugar’s exfoliation can help regulate the blood flow and improve the healing process. Olive oil consists of Vitamin E that aids the healing and moisturizing.
- Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and also does wonders on pigmentation. Mixing turmeric with oils like coconut oil or argan oil can be effective on stretchmarks when applied regularly. These oils help making the skin supple and reduce the inflammation.
The best way to deal with stretchmarks is its prevention. If they still appear, it is appropriate to start the treatment as early as possible. If they mature, it would take longer and would be more difficult to treat the same. It needs patience and regular skin regime for stretchmarks to heal and eventually they will fade over time.