Stretch marks are coloured and raised lines, or striae, which appear in areas where the skin is stretched, generally as a result of hormonal changes. Although they pose no health risk, they can be rather unsightly and therefore difficult to live with. These days, special treatments can reduce the risk of stretch marks appearing, or make any that have already formed less noticeable.
- Understanding stretch marksStretch marks are parallel streaks that form slightly depressed grooves in the surface of the skin. Although they are purplish red at first, their colour fades over time, eventually becoming whitish or flesh-coloured. Nevertheless, stretch marks never disappear completely. They are due to tears in the collagen fibres of the dermis and are therefore similar to scars.
Stretch marks are mainly due to hormonal influences. During periods of hormonal change, such as pregnancy or adolescence, the structure and functioning of the fibres supporting the skin are disrupted. The skin becomes weakened, less elastic and less resistant: when stretched, stretch marks can appear.
Stretch marks most commonly affect adult women, particularly during pregnancy. However, adult men and adolescents can also be affected, especially as a consequence of rapid changes in weight. Moreover, when it comes to stretch marks we are not all equal: some people are genetically predisposed to them and their skin is more fragile.
Stretch marks form in areas where the skin is stretched and they are more commonly located on the abdomen, the upper thighs, the chest or hips. Men can also get them on the upper or lower back.
- Preventing the appearance of stretch marksBecause stretch marks are permanent, preventing their appearance is crucial. For this, avoid significant and rapid weight gain and apply preventive treatments during high-risk periods.
When pregnant, using an anti-stretch mark treatment from the first months of pregnancy until after you’ve given birth will reduce the chances of these unsightly lines appearing. To ensure treatments are effective, start them early and apply them regularly.
- Treating long-standing stretch marksIf your stretch marks are not new and you’ve been living with them for a while, special cosmetic skin treatments can help make them less noticeable. You should also ensure you never expose them to the sun without first applying a strong sunscreen: UV rays can make your stretch marks irreversibly darker, rendering them even more visible. If you have a lot of stretch marks or if they are making you very self-conscious, laser treatment could be an option and you should discuss this with your doctor.