Pregnancy brings many changes to a woman’s body. Some are welcome, such as glowing skin and a twinkle in the eyes. Others, like stretch marks, are not.
What may come as a surprise is that you don't have to be pregnant — or a woman, for that matter — to get those bothersome stretch marks. They can happen to both men and women at any age.
“Stretch marks are usually the result of weight gain or a growth spurt,” says Dr. Larry Pollack, a board-certified plastic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. “Yes, many women have stretch marks in the thigh, abdomen, hips and breast areas after pregnancy, but we also see it in teenagers during puberty or in young athletes who build muscle by lifting weights.”
Stretch marks, also called striae, initially appear as red or purple stripe-like marks on the skin that slowly fade to white or gray pale lines. They are the result of changes to the body that cause the skin’s elastic fibers to stretch, weaken and break — such as rapid growth, weight gain, pregnancy, the building of muscle or even cosmetic implants.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), stretch marks occur in 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women, and genetics play a role. If your family members are prone to stretch marks, you may be more likely to have them.
Although stretch marks can’t be prevented, Dr. Pollack recommends using lots of moisturizer to keep your skin feeling smooth and reduce the itchiness that often accompanies stretching skin. It is also important to stay hydrated by drinking appropriate amounts of water. Avoid rapid weight gain by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Stretch marks do not require medical intervention and may fade over time. However, some people are distressed by their appearance. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Pollack, stretch marks can be very difficult to treat.
“Superficial stretch marks will usually fade,” he says. “However, we don’t have a definitive, effective treatment for the complete elimination of stretch marks.”
Retinoids prescribed by your doctor may stimulate collagen growth to improve your skin’s appearance. Laser treatments and microdermabrasion may also help repair severe stretch marks.
Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about your stretch marks and their cause. He or she can work with you to help you maintain your overall health, wellness and appearance.