What are Stretch Marks and How they are Formed

A stretch mark, also known as a stria by dermatologists, is a faint type of scar that appears on the surface of the skin as a discolored and off-hue line or set of lines.  They are completely benign and don't interfere with any bodily functions.  At first, they will appear as deep red or purple lines, but become much lighter and begin to fade over time.  Also, an area of skin affected by stretch marks might feel soft to the touch in comparison to surrounding skin, but this is normal. 

Contrary to popular belief, stretch marks are not caused by stretching of the skin alone.  Glucocorticoid hormones, which appear naturally in the human body, are actually responsible for the appearance of stretch marks.  Stretching of the skin will often dictate the area where the stretch marks occur, the size of the stretch marks, and what direction they run, but the actual stretch marks themselves are caused by changes in glucocorticoid hormone levels in the body.  These hormones prevent the formation of collagen and elastin fibers which are responsible for keeping skin tight.  When collagen and elastin production are affected by glucocorticoid hormones, the body is unable to keep up with the skin’s demands for collagen and elastin and stretch marks appear.  The lack of elastin is also what causes skin with stretch marks to feel soft to the touch. 

The most common cause of stretch marks is rapid weight gain or weight loss.  In essence, the skin stretches so fast that it can’t produce collagen or elastin to cover every inch of the body.  Because the appearance of stretch marks is related to hormone levels, women who are pregnant and pubescent teens are at the highest risk of forming stretch marks.  Others at a higher risk for developing stretch marks include individuals undergoing hormone replacement therapy and people who work out.  The skin doesn’t care whether it is being stretched by muscle or fat, which is why many bodybuilders are just as susceptible to stretch marks as the obese and pregnant women.  Bodybuilders who take supplements that alter the hormones in their body become even more susceptible.  The most common places where stretch marks form are the areas of the abdomen (around the bellybutton), breasts, the upper arms, the armpits, back, inner and outer thighs, hips, and buttocks.

While several products on the market exist in the form of creams that claim to have success with stretch mark reduction and removal, most of these claims are unfounded by the scientific and dermatological communities.  Dermatologists do, however, agree that simple medical procedures like dermabrasion and fractional laser resurfacing are helpful in reducing the appearance of stretch marks.  A more invasive solution to stretch marks is the tummy tuck, which actually removes the area of skin around the belly button where stretch marks are more common.

For the best advice on stretch mark removal and reduction, a dermatologist should always be consulted.  The dermatologist will be able to recommend a treatment depending on a person’s specific skin type and the location of the stretch marks. 

This article has been viewed 621 times and contains 539 words. Article written on 2012-06-14.

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