Stretch marks. They happen for a variety of reasons, affect most of us regardless of our sex, can occur at any stage of our life, and crop up in all sorts of areas over the body.
However, stretch marks (which are also sometimes referred to as striae) are actually incredibly common… Around 80% of Americans have them!
Unfortunately though, they can be unsightly and their appearance can make you feel embarrassed or self conscious, particularly if they occur in an area that’s not easily covered. In addition, they’re not easily prevented but there are numerous ways to help reduce and minimise their appearance.
But, first things first… What even are they?
Stretch marks are harmless: they are nothing to be worried about or fearful of. Stretch marks appear as lines, that vary in thickness, and usually appear red, black, brown, pink, purple or silver, dependent on your skin tone. Over time, they gradually fade to a lighter shade.
The most common places on the body stretch marks occur are the abdomen, upper arms, chest, breasts, thighs, legs, bum, hips and back.
Skin is essentially a thick, deep layer called the dermis. The dermis is a complex weave of protein (collagen) fibres that are quite similar to a woven fabric. Above the dermis, (the deeper foundation layer) is a thin covering of living cells known as the epidermis.
A stretch mark is a tear in the foundation layer, and because the top layer (the epidermis) doesn’t tear, what appears is an area of vulnerability in the skin: a stretch mark.
Stretch marks usually appear when there is a period of rapid growth in the body. They include, but aren’t limited to:
Whilst you can’t stop stretch marks from happening, the best way of lowering the risk is by maintaining a healthy weight via diet and exercise.
Note: If you have very large, dark stretch marks in conjunction with very slim arms and legs with more fat on your tummy and chest, a build up of fat on your neck/shoulders and a round, puffy face check in with your doctor.
Coconut oil has long been touted for its healing properties. Try applying 100% virgin coconut oil to the marks every day and this should help reduce their appearance. Read more on the many uses of coconut oil here.
Just like coconut oil, pure aloe vera is renowned for its ability to soften skin and act as a natural healing agent. If you have an aloe vera plant, extract the aloe vera directly and apply to your stretch marks straight after you shower. Read more on the power of aloe vera here.
It may sound like it shouldn’t go anywhere near your skin, but hyaluronic acid has become a go-to product in the beauty industry in recent years.
Our skin cells actually produce hyaluronic acid naturally in a bid to maintain moisture levels, but the amount it makes depletes as we grow older. When it comes to stretch marks, hyaluronic acid has been recognised as an elixir when applied topically to them as it improves the skin’s hydration (which is key for diminishing the appearance of stretch marks) and thus its elasticity.
When we exfoliate the skin, the stimulation from rubbing encourages it to regenerate collagen, which in turns helps stretch marks to fade.
Sugar scrubs are popular for stretch mark exfoliation, and you can make your own at home! Simply mix a cup of sugar with a 1/4 cup of coconut, almond or olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice. Scrub the mixture on your stretch marks for roughly 10 minutes a few times a week when showering to see an improvement.
Always follow exfoliation with moisturising to help lock in the skin’s hydration.
The skin relies on Vitamin A to maintain smoothness so, you can use Vitamin A for stretch marks. You can consume Vitamin A via supplement or apply it topically to stretch marks with an infused moisturising cream – just look for it on the label.
You can find Vitamin A in brightly orange coloured foods like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and pumpkins too!
Microneedling creates tiny (but usually painless) punctures in the skin. This tricks the body into its wound-healing process, which stimulates collagen and elastin production which is needed when attempting to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
You can pay a professional to administer this treatment or you can purchase a microneedle body roller kit and do it yourself.
If your stretch marks are really taking their toll on your mental health, you can consider things like laser therapy (where lasers penetrate your skin to trigger the body into regenerating skin cells more rapidly) or cosmetic surgery, like a tummy tuck to help skin appear firmer.
Invasive intervention methods like these can be incredibly costly and cosmetic surgery can leave you with scars for life, so make sure you chat it through with your doctor to be sure it’s the right route for you.
Make sure to try soothing stretch marks as soon as you notice them, as the maturer the mark the less responsive to treatment it will be.