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Stretch Marks 101

Written by James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by Photograph via Storq

After pregnancy, those stubborn pounds ultimately go away (even though it may feel like it’s taking forever!), but what about the stretch marks that come along with your bouncing bundle of joy? As a mom, you might be proud of your post-baby marks (aka “battle wounds” as some like to call them), and you might not be, which seems to be a common accord. But, what if we told you that your new son or daughter might not be the only reason your stretch marks appeared in the first place? Intrigued? So were we. That’s why we’ve decided to do some research and get to the bottom of the concern to help you asses and combat those mysterious scars.

What are stretch marks, really? Stretch marks (or striae, the dermatological term) are scar-tissue and show up as long, narrow stripes, streaks, or lines that develop in the dermis or middle layers of skin on both women and men. You may have discovered them on your stomach, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms, and lower back, and they usually appear lighter or darker in color than the surrounding skin areas. As for the cause of these unwelcome visitors? Most people tend to blame pregnancy or rapid weight gain, but these two aren’t purely the culprit. While weight gain itself promotes the hormonal changes that are responsible for the newfound stripes, the truth is, elevated hormone levels of cortisone produced by the adrenal glands cause the collagen and elastin fibers to tear when the skin is stretched. The source of the hormonal change? It depends from person-to-person and can be affected by genetics, puberty, diet, illness, and even some treatments and medications.

Is there a way prevent them? While you can’t predict whether or not stretch marks will appear, many mothers attribute the regular use of oils and creams to boost elasticity in the skin, which in-turn led to their scar-free bodies. Others claim that you either get them or you don’t—there’s no avoiding them. The truth is, there’s no evidence that lubing up your bump is effective in preventing the scars from occurring.

So, if you can’t fully prevent them, how can you minimize them? Stretch marks first appear as rubra—pink, red, or deep purple in color, but over time, they turn alba—silvery white, which is what you want to avoid because it means they’re fully-mature and become much harder to reduce. For fresh or white scars, apply vitamin E oil, vitamin A oil, or an over-the-counter retinol cream daily (unless you’re pregnant, as retinol cannot be used during pregnancy). We suggest Bio-Oil Scar Treatment, which promotes fading in a little as six weeks. If you have sensitive skin, skip the retinol for an over-the-counter product like Mederma Stretch Marks Therapy, which contains hyaluronic acid and anti-inflammatories that show dramatic signs of fading when applied twice-daily for 12 weeks. For those who are pregnant, look for natural products containing vitamin C and peptides, which stimulate collagen and are safe to use while expecting. Exfoliation also helps remove old, worn-out skin cells and replaces them with fresh new tissue. While stretch marks can definitely fade and lessen with treatment over time, you may not be able to fully remove these scars without costly laser and skin repair treatments. Our advice—love your body and that post-baby skin. Accepting yourself and what you deem as flaws are what make you beautiful and confident, scars or not.

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