It’s a common misconception that stretchmarks are a problem only women suffer through. Both women and men are equal partners when it comes to being embarrassed and self-conscious about stretchmarks. Males in general are a lot less likely to even talk about stretch marks which adds to the myth that stretchmarks are a woman’s domain.
In males, stretchmarks usually appear by way of rapid growth periods brought on by puberty, excessive weightlifting, steroid use or during times of weight gain due to an abrupt slowdown from an energetic lifestyle.
Stretch Marks 101
Our skin is made up of distinctive layers, each with their own purpose. The surface layer, the epidermis, rests on the dermis and is our bodies first line of defense against harmful environmental contaminates. Directly underneath, the dermis is comprised of collagen and elastin, proteins that are instrumental in keeping the skin flexible and firm. The dermis provides nutrients and support to the epidermis. When the dermis is healthy with lots of collagen and elastin, the skin looks firm an smooth. When there is a lack of collagen and elastin, the skin will look wrinkled, lumpy and loose.
In the case of stretchmarks, the skin is forced to adapt quickly to an abrupt change in the size or shape of an individuals body. Often, it doesn’t do an adequate job. Depending on your age, genetics, skin type or overall health, the dermis frequently cannot adapt quickly enough, causing weak thin areas in the dermis. When new, these weakened areas become red, purple or darker due to broken capillaries similar to bruising. It is these discolored thin areas we see from the surface as stretchmarks. Over time, these livid marks do heal and become smaller, pale white or glossy white and less noticeable.
Hormones Are The Root Cause
Another common misconception is stretchmarks are caused by the “tearing” of the skin. Stretchmarks are actually caused by hormone imbalances. These glucocorticoid hormones affect the growth of elastin and collagen in the dermis. Imbalances bring about impaired collagen and elastin formation resulting in bands of “thin” dermis, particularly in areas of the body where growth is the greatest: abdomen, chest/shoulders, buttocks, arms, etc. So, in effect, the skin doesn’t tear, but grows and expands abnormally due to a lack of sufficient building materials.
Hormonal changes occur in the male body for a number of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are growth spurts during puberty, rapid weight gain or loss, bodybuilding or weightlifting, and steroid use for illness or sport.
Growth Spurts during Puberty
Throughout puberty, teenage boys commonly go through rapid growth periods. Stretchmarks can show up on the lower back or abdomen, shoulders, thighs or upper arms or virtually any area of the body that is developing very quickly. Unfortunately, there is no way to slow the body growth. However, utilizing moisturizers, being active and maintaining a healthy diet rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins C, A and E can go a long way to keeping the skin healthy, durable and adaptable.
Of note, because of the durable nature of a growing body, stretch marks acquired during adolescence generally heal quickly and eventually become the least noticeable.
Rapid Weight Gain or Loss
Rapid weight gain or loss is another common precursor to stretch marks. Hormones are similar in structure to cholesterol and fat, so putting on or losing a lot of weight quickly can cause imbalances in the skin’s glucocorticoid hormone levels that influence how the skin regenerates and grows.
Avoiding a diet high in fat and simple carbohydrates such as sugar and processed flour can ensure rapid weight gain. Weight gain also comes from an abrupt slow down in physical exercise. Going from an energetic outdoor job for an indoor sedentary desk job without any alteration of diet can be enough in certain individuals to cause unwanted sudden weight gain.
Bodybuilding or Weightlifting
In bodybuilders and weightlifters, the arms, shoulder muscles and upper body are particularly vulnerable to stretch marks because these areas build muscle quickly with rigorous exercise or by using anabolic steroids or supplements. To prevent stretch marks while muscle building, exercise all muscle groups instead of concentrating on just the upper body. For added protection, lubricate the skin in places such as the upper arms, chest/shoulders, upper thighs and buttocks, and most importantly, create a plan to develop muscle mass consistently over time.
The use of any steroids, whether to treat certain illnesses or boost athletic performance can eventually lead to stretch marks. The use of steroids are known to affect hormone activity thus potentially affecting the connective tissue of the dermis. Common types of steroid use are prolonged or overuse of corticosteroid medications like those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis or asthma and anabolic steroid use in athletes.
First and foremost, prevention should be a priority when dealing with male stretch marks. Once present, stretch marks can be reduced even to the point where they are hard to notice, but they will be with you for life. There are many over-the-counter topical creams that can be quite effective. Most work best for recent stretch marks and require dedicated consistent use for many months. The costs can add up. When looking for an effective stretch mark cream, research the subject online paying particular attention to objective reviews that provide good details and products that offer a satisfaction guarantee.
For white “aged” or severe stretch marks, visit a dermatologist for a more in-depth evaluation of your particular case. A good dermatologist will have experienced knowledge of what will most likely work best for your stretch marks. They can provide information on more advanced treatments such as laser stretch mark removal, microdermabrasion, massage therapy or combinations of treatments.