Stretch marks are the skin’s way of accommodating sudden stretching/expansion, which ruptures the collagen and elastin layer. These narrow bands can develop as a result of physiological changes such as rapid weight gain or loss, puberty growth spurts, pregnancy, or rapid muscle gain during weight training. Stretch marks can also be caused by long-term use of steroid creams and diseases such as Cushing’s syndrome.
Initially, depending on the skin color, they may appear as striae rubra in red, pink, blue, brown, or black. They are still immature and can become itchy and raised when touched. These scars mature over time, becoming skin-colored or white, and are known as striae alba.
The best way to avoid stretch marks is to live a healthy lifestyle that includes adequate nutrition and hydration. Though there are no specific vitamins to prevent stretch marks, skin health, in general, requires vitamins such as A, C, E, and zinc to function properly. To avoid excessive skin stretching, weight gain or loss should be gradual and accompanied by regular exercise. This regimen should be followed during pregnancy as well. The skin should be moisturized on a regular basis to relieve itching and to keep skin supple, which can help to prevent stretch marks to some extent.
Most agents, such as almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, or vitamin E, do not work on stretch marks, according to research. Centella Asiatica, hyaluronic acid, and retinoids are the only agents that have been scientifically proven to prevent them ( not approved in pregnancy).
Stretch marks are essentially scars that will always be present but can be reduced to some extent if treatment is initiated early. Most treatments do not work once the stretch marks have matured (white stretch marks). The following treatments help to reduce these marks to some extent, but their efficacy is still questionable:
1. Retinoids: These are vitamin A derivatives that aid in the formation of new collagen and the fading of scars. Unsupervised retinoid use can cause skin irritation. Retinoids are not recommended for pregnant or nursing women because they can cause delirium in the baby.
2. Chemical peels: Deep peels such as TCA (trichloroacetic acid), phenol, retinoids, and high concentration glycolic acid work to regenerate collagen and provide some relief.
3. Microdermabrasion: This procedure involves removing a fine layer of skin while crystals are blown into the skin. This stimulates the skin’s production of new collagen and elastin.
4. Lasers and heat-based devices: A variety of heat-based devices, such as fractional ablative lasers, radiofrequency micro-needling, and ultrasound devices, aid in collagen remodulation. The type of device used, however, is determined by the patient’s skin type, scar stage, area to be treated, and age.
5. Platelet-rich plasma therapy: This treatment involves the injection of growth factors from one’s own blood, which causes the scars to fade.
It is always preferable to avoid the formation of stretch marks by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, due to differences in skin type and genetics, not everyone can prevent it from forming. Once a diagnosis has been made, it is critical to seek the advice of a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible in order to maximize the treatment options available at the time.