The Truth About Stretch Marks
Did you know that over 80% of Australians have stretch marks?
Stretch marks, medically known as “striae distensae,” seem to be having a moment lately.
From brands taking initiatives to stop photoshopping out stretch marks on their models, to rappers crooning about loving a woman with stretch marks, it seems that we can’t seem to forget about them.
Chances are you feel like you can’t keep stretch marks off your hips or off your chest, or maybe off your mind when swimsuit season comes around.
But besides wishing that our stretch marks would at least pay rent if they’re going to permanently live on our tummy, chances are you don’t actually know that much about stretch marks (and you’re not alone).
Maybe part of the acceptance of stretch marks is knowing where they come from, how they can change over time, and how we can lovingly treat them rather than trying to scrub them away with a magical moisturiser that promises us the world.
Well, you’re in luck, because that’s exactly what we’re getting into today!
We’re going to talk all about stretch marks.
From the science behind them to methods for fading them, to the body-positive “stretch mark acceptance” movement that’s been taking pop culture by storm.
Let’s get to it!
Where Do Stretch Marks Come from?
Chances are, you noticed your first stretch marks sometime in your teenage years, post-puberty.
Along with acne, suddenly-smelly underarms, and sprouting body hairs, we also had to deal with some new “tiger stripes” on our bodies – great!
Puberty is one of the most common times for the body to get stretch marks, and that’s because stretch marks occur when the skin of the body is pulled for rapid growth.
Of course, your body has been growing throughout a good portion of your life, so why do we only get stretch marks sometimes?
Well, it’s all about the speed and the amount as to which you grow.
The skin is naturally very elastic, but when it’s over-stretched (meaning too quickly or at too large of a volume at once), your body’s normal collagen production is disrupted and stretch marks may form.
The top layer of your skin (the epidermis) and the second layer of your skin (the dermis) come into play here.
The dermis contains bundles of collagen, which are pulled on when the skin has to stretch too quickly.
These collagen bundles that are pulled tear away from the larger bundle.
When the skin stops growing, these torn collagen bundles are apparent in the epidermis, and voila — now you have stretch marks.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us have gained 10-15 pounds over the span of a year before, and we probably didn’t get stretch marks, because the body can adjust in that time span.
However, if we were to gain 20+ pounds in a month? That’s when you might start seeing some stretch marks.
Because of this, there are two major periods in which women likely will garner some stretch marks: puberty and pregnancy.
In fact, there have been historical artifacts documenting the prevalence of stretch marks (and people trying to get rid of stretch marks), since ancient times.
Ancient Egyptian women had their own special oils that they’d rub on their bellies postpartum in attempts to decrease the appearance of their stretch marks.
Unsurprisingly, the most common areas for women to have stretch marks are around the breasts, buttocks, thighs, and hips (all areas that tend to grow rapidly during both puberty and/or pregnancy).
As I mentioned, anyone who’s ever gone through a period of rapid weight gain will probably also see stretch marks — and that doesn’t necessarily mean fat.
In fact, it’s a common myth that stretch marks are a sign that you need to lose weight — it’s absolutely untrue!
Stretch marks frequently appear on men and women who are bodybuilders because of their rapid growth of muscles, which as you can imagine, causes the skin to majorly stretch.
If you just did a double-take when reading that sentence, here’s a clarification: guys can get stretch marks too!
Because men don’t go through similar bodily processes as women do (re: puberty and pregnancy), they are less likely to get stretch marks, but it’s definitely possible!
In fact, studies estimate that 40% of men will develop stretch marks.
Men most commonly get stretch marks on their upper thighs, their upper arms, their buttocks, and their backs.
But some people, whether male or female, are more likely to develop stretch marks than others.
A major differentiator? How thick your skin is (and I mean literally, not metaphorically).
If you have naturally thicker skin with lots of elasticity, you’re less likely to develop stretch marks.
You also may be more likely to have pronounced stretch marks if you have naturally darker skin, or if you go tanning.
So, if you needed another reason to skip the tanning bed or slather on extra sunscreen before your day at the beach, here it is!
UV exposure can make old stretch marks appear worse (not to mention the slew of other downsides of getting too much sun).
When in doubt, always double up on sunscreen.
Another reason you may see more stretch marks than you expect? Steroid-containing skin creams or Cushing’s Syndrome.
Cushing’s Syndrome is a condition that exposes your body to high levels of cortisone for long periods of time.
You can read more about cortisone and Cushing’s Syndrome here.
Creams such as hydrocortisone, when used for prolonged periods of time, can cause your body to produce stretch marks.
Same goes for people who take oral corticosteroid supplements.
These creams and oral supplements are generally used for allergic reactions and inflammation, as well as for asthma and arthritis.
Stretch marks aside, these types of treatments can have other serious side effects, so be sure to do your own research and listen closely to your doctors prescribing information!
How Stretch Marks Appear Over Time
If you catch your stretch marks in their early stages, you’ll notice them as reddish or purplish lines.
Sometimes they’re indented and you can physically feel them.
Sometimes they are textured in a way that almost looks and feels like scar tissue.
In some people, early stretch marks can even be itchy.
Back to puberty — I remember some friends of mine finding purple lines and freaking out!
But the reason stretch marks appear more colourful in the early stages is because when the collagen tears, blood vessels may also break — making the marks look almost like linear bruising.
But, like me, you’ve probably noticed that stretch marks naturally fade on their own over time — even if you don’t do anything to them.
Eventually, your tiger stripes will fade to a more whitish or clear colour, and sometimes they’ll eventually become nearly invisible, or simply just shiny in certain lighting.
While some people claim that treating your stretch marks early on can help get rid of them faster, there’s no concrete evidence on this.
As I mentioned, stretch marks fade naturally, so it’s hard to tell if certain methods are truly working or if it’s simply just time.
Can You Really Get Rid of Your Stretch Marks?
Here’s the bad news first: no matter what you do (or how much money you spend), you’ll likely never be able to completely get rid of your stretch marks.
Some well-marketed creams may tell you otherwise, but doctor after doctor has confirmed that there’s no “cure” for stretch marks.
Here’s the good news: there are some methods to make your stretch marks fade, or simply to make them less noticeable.
How to Make Your Stretch Marks Less Noticeable
Okay, so maybe you can’t ever truly erase your stretch marks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work to make them less noticeable (or simply cover them up with some good ol’ concealer).
Here are some of my favourite, most effective ways to minimise the appearance of stretch marks.