Stretch marks are sometimes treated like a dirty secret in society – the reality is that the vast majority of people (especially women) have stretch marks at least somewhere on their body. Most know that stretch marks occur due to… well… stretching, but many do not know exactly what happens within the skin for the signature reddish-purple indents to appear.
Why do stretch marks form?
Our skin is elasticated in a sense, as it contains two structural proteins, collagen and elastin, which make it what it is and keep it where it needs to be rather than sliding all over the place. When the body expands or shrinks rapidly, such as during pregnancy, puberty, weight loss or weight gain, this places pressure on the collagen and elastin in the skin’s dermis (the layers below the epidermal layers, deep, deep in the skin).
Just like a rubber band, when placed under strain, fissures appear and this is where we get the appearance of a stretch mark.
What do stretch marks look like?
Striae Rubra ("Fresh" Stretch Marks)
Stretch marks, AKA striae distensae, are a type of scar and so follow the colour patterns of scars as they age. When they initially form, they’ll be reddish, pinkish or purplish narrow indents on the skin, known as striae rubra. As time goes by, they may widen and deepen and darken in colour – but do not panic! After this point, the stretch marks will start to become less noticeable. The colour in them will fade out to a whitish or silvery colour and they may sink a bit inwards, causing a dip in the skin and evolve to a different form known as striae alba.
Striae Alba (Older Stretch Marks)
Understandably, stretch marks make many feel very uncomfortable in themselves. To be fair, any change in the skin can zap self-confidence like nothing else. However, it must be remembered that we are hooman beings and our bodies are built to adapt to things.
Our skin is an organ and, to an extent, we can only expect so much from it! Before I go on to talk about POSSIBLE prevention and treatment of stretch marks, I want to emphasise that I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have stretch marks somewhere.
Stretch marks do not mean your skin isn’t healthy, nor do they mean that you have to work on them at all. I adored the major Instagram trend where people created art on their stretch marks, filling them with glitter and painting them rainbow colours!
Can stretch marks be prevented?
Preventing stretch marks is a tricky one, as it is hard to know what actually works. From an internal perspective, if your collagen and elastin is in good shape, you hypothetically would be less likely to develop stretch marks (or they may at least be less severe).
A little known fact is that vitamin C when taken internally can aid in the skin’s natural production of collagen – this ain’t your orange-a-day level of vitamin C though, it would need to be a supplement for maximum levels! When your skin is healthy in general, ie. due to a 360˚ skincare regime, your elastin will be more plentiful, as will your collagen.
Providing the skin with vitamins like A, C and E both topically and internally can help its function and nourish the cells – think about how quickly you recover from a cold or flu when you’re eating healthily compared to when you’re living off Maccie D’s.
No judgement on the Maccie D’s weeks… Life is busy and we all need to have them sometimes. Bear in mind that, dependent on the levels of vitamin A, brands and bodies often do not advise on using vitamin A internally (or externally) whilst pregnant - however, very recently, Environ have stated that AVST 1 & 2 are safe for use during pregnancy.
The only things that there is evidence of actually helping to prevent stretch marks are centella (of which there was limited evidence of success) and hyaluronic acid (of which there was weak evidence of success).
Centella is a plant but obviously, you would not be a rubbing a leaf all over yourself daily. It is found in Clarins Stretch Mark Control body cream so that would be one way of getting it onto you! When you’re looking at hyaluronic acid body products, I believe pure hyaluronic acid to be best but sodium hyaluronate is simply a different form and still holds up to 1000x its weight in water (and in gold, it is a wonder ingredient).
When it comes to creams, gels and oils specifically marketed as stretch mark healers, there is little evidence that they work but researchers found that when applied daily at the beginning of the formation of the stretch mark (when it is still pinkish and hasn’t darkened), it had better results than when not… This was also true for centella and hyaluronic acid, so it seems the key to actually minimising the appearance of a stretch mark is to nab it early.
Olive oil is often mentioned on online forums as a trick to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy but keep it for the kitchen and the kitchen only – research showed that it did not effectively prevent stretch marks at all!
Is there a solution for stretch marks that have already formed?
I know that everyone reading this is looking for a topical solution to stretch marks, and preferably something cheap as chips. Well, there is some good news!
Moisturisers and creams including vitamin E, rose hip oil, centella asiatica and patented stretch mark ingredient hydroxyprolisilane C were shown to reduce the severity of stretch marks in studies – woop woop!
Application of 0.05% retinoids (specifically Trenitoin) on stretch marks was ALSO shown to be effective, however, this is not for during pregnancy as retinoids are a different form of vitamin A.
Microneedling is one of my favourite treatments of all time and I have had many clients see fantastic results with it for stretch marks. Microneedling, like prescription vitamin A, can trigger the production of collagen and elastin in the dermis, hence why it leads to stretch marks (both early AND late stage) saying bye-bye. I have had it done with a 3mm needle - owch!
I find that I had great results when the skin was prepped with a vitamin A serum as microneedling allows it to get deeper into the skin and you get the added bonus of penetration of the serum alongside dermal stimulation.
Laser treatment, specifically done with an Nd:YAG laser, when trialled showed AMAZING results. When it comes to laser, the fresher the stretch mark is, the better the result but it is definitely something to try if you are very concerned with your stretch marks. Whether your stretch marks are due to pregnancy or a regular ole change in your body, these are the things that are most likely to work.
Keep in mind that they will fade out over time like any scar does and don’t stress about them, as they are a minor, solely aesthetic skin concern – easier said than done but when it comes to scars and stretch marks, sometimes the best approach is to find pride in them!