Stretch marks: The ugly truth

As I rounded the corner into my seventh month of pregnancy, I was pleasantly surprised that my growing belly hadn’t shown any signs of stretch marks. But as my squirming bundle of joy began to grow exponentially over the next month, my thinning skin finally gave way to those ugly pinkish marks that every woman fears.

Dermatologist Rachel L. Moore, MD, Scott & White – College Station, explains why these bothersome marks happen and what you can do to improve your skin’s appearance.

What are stretch marks?

While doctors don’t know exactly why stretch marks occur, they suspect that it has to do with the elasticity of the fibers in your skin.

“[Doctors] believe that stretch marks are the result of some kind of breakdown in the elastin fibers in the dermis,” Dr. Moore said. “The elastin fibers give the dermis its strength. We think that with the rapid stretching or growth of the skin that those fibers get stretched or thinned.”

What do they look like?

Stretch marks usually appear as linear demarcations on the skin. When they first develop, they are usually pink or red. Over time they can become shiny and white. They typically appear on the abdomen or thighs, but can happen anywhere on the body.

Who gets stretch marks?

Stretch marks usually appear when someone has had a period of rapid growth. This could be during pregnancy, childhood or adolescence.

“Any type of significant change in weight or stretching of the skin will result in [stretch marks] in certain people,” the dermatologist said. “It doesn’t happen to everybody. We think that there’s some type of genetic predisposition that makes some people more prone to getting them.”

These marks can also occur in people who have overused topical steroids.

“Topical steroids are what we use a lot in dermatology, and that’s one side effect that we’ve seen,” she said. “Overuse of these steroids causes thinning of the skin, which can lead to stretch marks, or what we call, striae.”

What treatments are available?

Unfortunately, there is no scientifically proven treatment to get rid of stretch marks completely, though there are some ways to improve the look of these marks.

1. Retin A

One of the main treatments that has been studied and tested is a topical medication called tretinoin. Many people are familiar with the tretinoin name brand medication, Retin A, which is often used to treat acne.

2. Mederma

Another treatment Dr. Moore and her colleague recommend is the over-the-counter medication, Mederma. The company actually makes a line of products specifically for stretch marks.

3. Lasers

There are certain laser treatments available that are moderately effective in improving the look of stretch marks, but they require continued treatment.

Do alternative treatments like cocoa butter help to improve the look of stretch marks?

Studies do not support that cocoa butter is necessarily effective, but Dr. Moore said she tries not to discourage any treatment that a patient feels is working for them.

“If a patient comes in and says, this cocoa butter, it’s done wonders, then that’s great,” she said.

Can stretch marks be prevented?

Stretch marks can happen to anybody, but certain people seem to be more susceptible to developing them.

“The only thing you can do to somewhat prevent them is to try to minimize fluctuations in your weight,” Dr. Moore said.

For more information about stretch marks and treatment options, make an appointment with a Baylor Scott & White dermatologist.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Stretch marks: The ugly truth