Have you ever looked at someone’s skin or maybe yours and noticed some concentric lines? Chances are, you were looking at stretch marks. Chances also are, you didn’t like them. Many people don’t find stretch marks attractive. However, they are normal and almost inevitable when your skin expands as you grow.
While stretch marks are pretty normal, excessive stretch marks may connote an unhealthy state. Here, we explore what stretch marks are, their causes and how you can avoid getting them.
Stretch marks are scars that develop when the skin shrinks or stretches quickly. They are caused by structural weakness in the skin and excessive pressure or tension applied to it.
Too much pressure or tension causes the skin to stretch over time. The tension causes elastin and collagen, the skin’s support system, to rupture. When the skin begins to heal from the effect of this tension, stretchmarks then appear. Any activity or condition that causes the skin to stretch will result in stretch marks eventually. Therefore growth spurts during puberty, pregnancy, rapid weight loss or gain over time, exercise, and weight training activities that cause muscle growth will result in stretch marks. Asides from these conditions, certain disease conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome or Marfan disease, that cause thinning of the skin will also cause stretch marks. Excessive application of corticosteroid creams will also result in skin thinning, causing stretch marks.
Stretch marks first appear as slight color changes in the affected skin area. The color change depends on the person’s skin color. Thus, light-skinned people may notice a red, purple, pink, or reddish-brown coloration. In contrast, darker-skinned people are likely to notice a dark brown discoloration. The discolored area may also feel a bit itchy in some people. After a while, the discoloration begins to fade, and narrow bands that sink beneath the skin begin to appear. These narrow bands are what people typically see when they talk about stretch marks.
The most common areas in your body where stretch marks mostly appear are the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks, breasts, stomach, thighs, lower back, shoulder, or other places on the body. In pregnant women, it is common to stretch marks to appear on many parts of their bodies, especially the abdomen and legs, during their last trimester.
Stretch marks are not harmful in any way. However, they are a cosmetic concern for many people who do not admire the outlook and start to feel self-conscious and a little depressed about having them. At times, stretch marks fade and disappear over time with or without treatment, and at times, they don’t. However, there are some risk factors associated with stretch marks. This means that some people are most likely to develop stretch marks. These include; females, especially when young, pregnant women, those with a family history of stretch marks, adolescents and obese people etc.
Stretch marks are caused by stretching of the skin. However, certain factors increase the likelihood that a person’s skin will stretch. These factors include genetics, the amount of stress on the skin, the level of cortisol hormone, etc. The following states commonly cause stretch marks.
- Pregnancy; Pregnancy is the biggest cause of stretch marks. Pregnant women undergo rapid expansion in different parts of their body, most noticeably, their abdomen, thus, resulting in stretch marks. Pregnant women also undergo hormonal changes, which increase their likelihood of having stretch marks.
- Puberty: stretch mark is common in young people going through puberty.
- Rapid weight gain or weight loss: losing weight rapidly or putting on weight in a short time can cause stretch marks.
- Medical conditions: certain conditions can cause stretch marks; an example of these medical conditions is Marfan syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome. Marfan syndrome occurs when there is a reduction in the elasticity in the skin tissue, and Cushing’s syndrome occurs when there is excessive glucocorticoid production in the body, causing rapid weight gain and skin weakness.
- Corticosteroid use: Using corticosteroid lotions and creams can cause structural weakness to collagen in the skin over an extended period. Collagen is responsible for skin support and strengthening.
- Intensive bodybuilding activities: excessive pressure on the skin over a long period from intensive and rigorous bodybuilding without time for recovery can cause the skin to get fragile. This fragile skin also expands from the resulting muscle growth, leading to stretch marks.
The human skin consists of the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layers. Stretch marks start forming when the connective tissues present in the dermis become stretched beyond their elastic limit. These connective tissues adapt to the expansion and contraction of the skin and normally stretch to allow growth. However, when the growth is rapid, it causes the connective tissues to tear, resulting in stretch marks. Cortisol aids this process by weakening the connective tissues. Thus, small stretches in the presence of high cortisol will lead to connective tissue tears, resulting in stretch marks.
Generally, stretch marks are unavoidable. When present, they do not cause any obvious harm. However, people consider them unattractive and feel insecure about them. Therefore, people constantly seek means to avoid getting stretch marks. Here are some valuable tips to help you prevent stretch marks.
- Set a routine for your workout
Most people that end up having stretch marks caused by intensive workouts have workout regimens that are too strenuous without a break. Usually, they want to lose weight or gain muscle quickly. Hence to prevent stretch marks, you should choose a steady workout routine to gain muscle mass or lose weight steadily.
- Avoid sudden weight gain.
Conditions that cause you to add weight suddenly, including improper diet and use of corticosteroids and other weight gain therapies, will cause stretch marks. However, gaining weight steadily will allow your connective tissues to adapt optimally to the pressure placed on them.
- Proper diet
A properly balanced diet provides all the nutrients needed by your body. These nutrients include proteins which are important building blocks for connective tissues, antioxidants that prevent cellular aging, allowing the connective tissues to work optimally, and other nutrients needed for glowing skin. In addition, a balanced diet promotes overall wellness, allows you to grow steadily and prevents obesity.
Stretch marks are more common with dry skin. This is because the connective tissues weaken when the dermis does not get enough moisture, making them break easily when stretched. Quality moisturizing creams and lotions ensure that the dermis gets moisturized and the connective fibers are strengthened.
Some people have no problem with their stretch marks. However, they do not want visible stretch marks showing in public. There are some tips to make stretch marks less visible in public in such a case. These include;
- Using sunless self-tanner
- Putting on makeup to even out skin tone
- Wearing clothes that cover up visible stretch marks
Several remedies help you get rid of stretch marks when present. These therapies may be natural or orthodox, with each having its benefits. For example, natural therapies are easier and cheaper to obtain. They are also harmless and a great choice when your stretch marks are ‘young.’ In contrast, medical therapies are more effective, especially when the stretch marks are extensive. However, they are more costly to obtain.
There are several natural products that can heal weakened connective tissues, thereby treating stretchmarks. These products are included in many stretch mark creams and have shown considerable efficacy, especially for mild stretch marks. These natural products include;
- Vitamin A
- Hyaluronic acid
- Aloe vera
- Coconut oil
Orthodontic therapies involve surgically treating the stretch marks. The following medical treatments are available for stretch marks.
- Laser therapy
- Radiofrequency therapy
- Chemical peel
If you’re hoping to get bigger through bodybuilding, you will almost definitely have to deal with stretch marks. Stretch marks in bodybuilders are associated with super-efficient muscle hypertrophy, causing you to expand faster than your skin’s connective tissues can handle. The more rapid and extensive your muscle growth, the more extensive the stretch marks. Thus, intense bodybuilding routines will cause undesirable stretch marks. Stretch marks in bodybuilders usually appear around pecs, biceps, shoulders and other muscle groups that expand rapidly in the course of training.
As a bodybuilder, noticing fine stretch marks on your body may mean you’re doing something right and making steady, significant progress. On the other hand, extensive stretch marks may mean you’re doing something wrong, and your routines are too rigorous. The focus should be on optimizing your workouts to allow steady rather than rapid muscle growth.
Stretch marks themselves are not harmful. Some bodybuilders even find them attractive. However, if you desire to avoid them while bodybuilding, your focus should be on eating right, using supplements like collagen and gaining muscle steadily. You may also look towards treatment options. There are bodybuilding stretch mark creams containing various natural products that help repair collagen fibers and strengthen the skin. Vitamin E and cocoa buttercreams are also available but do not effectively penetrate the dermis. However, it is important to note that prevention is the first step in treatment. The best strategy to prevent stretch marks is to build a well-rounded body.
Bodybuilders often focus on the biceps and the chest while forgetting to balance this in other parts of their bodies. Putting too much tension on these areas puts more strain on the skin of the arm. So, to prevent stretch marks, you need to adopt workouts that help build a well-rounded body shape.
While stretch marks are not medically bad, they are cosmetically undesirable, creating anxiety feelings in persons who have them. The key to preventing stretch marks is to avoid conditions that cause rapid weight gain or loss, which puts tension on the skin. Some of these conditions, such as pregnancy, are unavoidable. If you strength train, you’re also likely to get stretch marks, especially when you have rigorous workout routines. Thus, eating nutrition-rich balanced diets, using supplements, and avoiding corticosteroid creams can help prevent stretch marks. Regardless, always consult your doctor before starting any stretch mark therapy to get the best results.