Growing up, going through puberty and giving birth are life milestones we’ll always remember. The telltale marks they can leave behind, on the other hand, most of us would rather forget! To reduce the appearance of stretch marks or prevent them altogether, you first need to understand their root causes. Let’s debunk the myths and learn how to stop stretch marks in their tracks.
What is a stretch mark anyway ?
It’s widely believed that stretch marks are caused by sudden growth spurts or weight changes, but the reality isn’t so simple. Knowing that our skin is capable of supporting 600 pounds in body weight and is designed to withstand even the most intense bodily changes, there must be more to stretch marks than meets the eye.
To get a little more technical, stretch marks are formed when our skin loses collagen and elasticity, causing certain areas to shrink and atrophy. Stretch marks start out as red or purple marks in the early stages, gradually turning into silvery-white scars that are lighter than the surrounding skin (and stubborn to get rid of!).
Why do we get stretch marks?
This age-old question is like asking how the universe came to be. And everyone has a different theory! Your mom puts them down to growth spurts, your best friend blames dry skin, while your sister swears chocolate is the culprit. But to understand the true cause, we need to look a little deeper.
Prime suspect: hormones
Good news for yogis! Stretching alone isn’t enough to give you stretch marks. In fact, experts believe hormones play a much bigger role than practicing your downward dog on the daily.
As Real Simple explains, puberty, pregnancy and significant weight changes elevate levels of hormones called glucocorticoids, which are produced by the adrenal glands. These hormonal changes can cause collagen and elastin fibres to tear when the skin is stretched, which then leads to stretch marks. So the bodily changes themselves aren’t to blame, but the hormonal changes that they trigger.
Other potential culprits:
Puberty: The growth spurts we all go through in adolescence trigger hormonal changes that can lead to stretch marks. In women, they often appear on the chest as the mammary glands develop (and not when our cup sizes go up, as you may think!). Stretch marks can also show up on the lower abdomen, buttocks and upper thighs when we start our periods (as if cramps aren’t bad enough!).
Intensive training: Hardcore workouts are the leading cause of stretch marks in men. Intensive training causes muscle tension and pain, which stresses the adrenal glands and promotes cortisol production. Lifting heavy weights, coupled with taking creatine or steroids, causes localized stretch marks to form on the shoulders and chest.
Pregnancy: Without a doubt, pregnancy can wreak havoc on our hormones! More specifically, stretch marks start to form around the 6th month of pregnancy, as massive doses of hormones are directed toward the abdomen during the third trimester (so no blaming the baby!).
Illnesses and medications: Metabolic, endocrine or infectious diseases can all cause stretch marks, as can taking certain corticosteroid medications, both topical and oral.
How can I prevent stretch marks?
Sadly, there’s no escaping our hormones. We can’t exist without them. But there are some simple daily steps we can take to limit their unwanted side effects.
One word: hydration
Nourishing our skin with quality creams, oils and lotions is a must for maintaining firmness and elasticity. Women should start moisturizing daily as teens, upping the dosage during pregnancy. Stretch marks most commonly show up on the breasts, tummy, hips, butt and thighs, so pay special attention to these higher-risk areas.
Our top moisturizer picks:
- Phytomer Stretch Mark Firming Oil
- Guinot Longue Vie Body Cream
- Seacret Body Lotion
- Phytomer Oligomer Well Being Moisturizing Body Cream
- Phytomer Trésor des Mers Oil
- Esthederm High Nutrition Firming Body Balm
- Esthederm Extra Firming Hydrating Lotion
- Esthederm Cellular Body Oil
Baby on the way? Make sure you use oils and creams specially designed for pregnancy. Phytomer’s SeaTonic Stretch Mark and Firming Oil contains a winning combination of active anti-stretch mark ingredients, working to firm the skin and boost elasticity. Don’t be shy to slather it on!
Treat yourself to regular at-home massages
To stimulate the production of collagen fibres, massage in upward circular motions on high-risk or affected areas. No need to book a day at the spa … you can massage yourself at home while applying your favourite body cream! Give yourself a helping hand with massage gloves or a padded massage tool.
How can I treat stretch marks?
Go under the laser
Doctors and medical aesthetic professionals tout the pulse dye laser as one of the most effective treatments for reducing inflammatory red stretch marks.
Fractionated CO2 lasers are another great solution, working with heat to smooth the skin and stimulate the production of collagen fibres.
Give micro-needling a go
Micro-needling is a simple and effective way to promote collagen production. The technique uses advanced cellular stimulation (ACS) to penetrate the skin for powerful, impeccably precise results. Serums can also be applied during treatment to stimulate the cells that produce collagen and elastin.
Have you heard about Dermaroller Beauty Mouse? This at-home micro-needling device is the ideal tool to promote cell production. It also doubles as a powerful cellulite treatment so you can kill two birds with one stone, all without leaving the house!
PRP, a non-invasive stretch mark solution
Plasma Rich Platelet (PRP) therapy is one of the most trusted techniques to treat stretch marks. PRP injections release platelets into the cells, which are growth factors that stimulate collagen and elastin to help tighten the skin and heal it from within to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Daily care: look out for active ingredients
Grab your lab coat, it’s time to put your skincare products under the microscope! Keep an eye out for active ingredients known for their anti-stretch mark benefits.
Reach for retinoic acid (a.k.a. Retinol)
Retinoic acid or vitamin A is one of the most effective stretch mark treatments around. Look for it on the list of ingredients and make sure it comes in a highly concentrated form, like in the Esthederm Intensive Retinol Serum.
Heal your skin with silicon
Silicon is known for its healing properties and can be found naturally in several organic source ingredients. This powerful mineral promotes collagen production and regenerates elastin fibres to target both red and white stretch marks.
You can find it in plant extracts of horsetail, English ivy and lady’s mantle. Other organic sources include sodium lactate methyl silanol and methylsilanol hydroxyprolisilane, which you can find in several effective stretch mark creams like Phytomer’s SeaTonic Stretch Mark and Firming Oil.
Try tiger grass to renew the skin’s surface
It may sound like something straight of the jungle, but tiger grass (or centella asiatica) is quickly gaining traction as one of the most effective active ingredients on the market to prevent and treat stretch marks.
Legend has it that tigers would roll around in the medicinal plant after battle to soothe their wounds, earning it the nickname “tiger grass.” Best known for its wound healing powers, tiger grass also soothes inflammation, boosts hydration and strengthens the skin’s barrier, making it the ultimate secret weapon to fight stretch marks!
Treat your stretch marks with tretinoin cream
Available by prescription only, tretinoin cream is highly effective at reducing the appearance of stretch marks. Massage it daily into affected areas and prepare to be amazed! Note that tretinoin cream isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Now that you’re armed with the right information, you’re ready to line up your best skincare soldiers and wage war on stretch marks! In the meantime, follow the lead of supermodel Chrissy Teigen and learn to embrace your battle scars.
– Magazine Spa Canada Sept/Oct volume 23 #5 article Popular misconceptions about stretch marks
– Lydia Gauthier M.Sc., Dermocosmetologist – Introduction à la dermopharmacie et à la cosmétologie – Marie-Claude Martini