Almost every first-time pregnant woman falls for this one: a commercial comes on TV promising a special cream that will not only prevent stretch marks from occurring, but actually get rid of them once they do. Only the carefully worded ad doesn’t actually say the cream will eradicate them, it says it “may” eradicate them. Does it? Nope.
In reality, there is no real way to prevent stretch marks – with the exception of not suddenly putting on excess weight in a short period of time. We get stretch marks for a variety of reasons: hormones, pregnancy, weight gain. If your mother had them, there’s a good chance you’ll get them too.
The big question, then, is not what kind of coconut oil or Vitamin A cream to rub all over your skin to ward stretch marks off, but what to do about them once they appear.
Why We Get Stretch Marks
Stretch marks, or striae distensae, are simply tiny skin tears that occur when we grow too quickly. They are actually little scars which occur when the lower skin layer tears when it doesn’t stretch as quickly as the upper layer.
Girls – and some boys – get them during adolescence, we get them when we get pregnant, and we get them at any time in our lives when we suddenly find our bodies getting bigger fast. In fact, it’s estimated that 90 percent of women get stretch marks when they are expecting, whether it’s a deep purple and red map across the belly, or a few fine lines on the breasts.
The most common places for stretch marks to appear, in both men and women, are the tummy, thighs, hips, breasts and lower back. Some people also get them on their upper arms.
Getting Rid of Stretch Marks
Once those dreaded marks appear, things are a bit different. Many fade in time so they are only discernible close up. Yet some, especially on post-pregnancy bellies, can drastically change the appearance of your skin, changing it from a pristine expanse of creamy skin to an angry road map of blue and red highways in a short period of time.
There are four main ways to attempt to get rid of them once they appear – but some medical professionals say you will be fighting a losing battle (unless you excise them away, as in option four). In most cases, the goal will be to make them less red and obvious, not to make them go away completely. These methods are:
* Chemical Peel
* Laser Surgery
* Excision Surgery
Chemical Peel. This method is perhaps the most straightforward: in involves putting acid and chemicals onto your skin (sounds fun!) to take away the top layers and reveal less blemished skin underneath. The chemicals “damage” the tissue of the skin, which in turn triggers the healing process underneath the top layer.
Dermabrasion. This method works best only in the case of light stretch marks which are only on the surface of the kin, as it does not penetrate the skin layers very deeply. It involves “sanding” away the top layer of skin with a special instrument, and is very painful – which is why local anesthesia is used.
Microdermabrasion or Microderm, can work well too – it involves using a hand-held wand with a roughened surface to slough away the skin. Less invasive than full-on dermabrasion, it can be carried out at a med spa and does not require anesthesia. Be aware, however, that you will require a series of treatments for full effect, so although this method might appear cheap at first glance, the cost can add up significantly.
Laser Surgery. This method is a highly debatable one. On the negative side, it’s argued that lasers cannot repair tissue, so they cannot be “fixed”. On the positive side, it’s argued that laser therapy can work by stimulating the production of collagen underneath the skin, therefore producing a cosmetic effect with which most people are satisfied.
If you decide to have laser surgery, your skin will turn a bit pink at first, then get darker (temporarily) after subsequent treatments. Only you will decide whether the time and cost is worth it, as results vary from individual to individual.
As lasers respond to darker colors, it is better to have your stretch marks treated when they are in their early stages, when they are red or purple and before they begin to fade. Remember, lasers will not make stretch marks disappear altogether, but they can make them much less visible.
Excision Surgery. The most definitive way to get rid of them is to have them surgically excised, or cut away. This is only possible in areas where there is excess skin, however. Best candidates are post-pregnancy women desiring a tummy tuck, with loose, flabby skin that is marred by stretch marks.
Prevention Before They Appear
Some people will get stretch marks no matter what, such as the majority of pregnant women. In other cases, it may be possible to keep them from occurring, at least to some extent. Try these tips:
* Avoid fast weight gain. When the skin is stretched to quickly to accommodate a growing bulk, the end result is that stretch marks are likely to occur. Keeping your weight constant (at a healthy level) is the best way to avoid this. Obviously, pregnancy doesn’t count!
* Cut down your caffeine intake.
* Eat a balanced diet including foods containing nutrients that are good for the skin, such as Vitamin A and C, silica and zinc.
* Drink a lot of healthy fluids to keep your skin hydrated and pliable.
* Exercise regularly.
Moisturize and also have regular massages when you are pregnant. It is thought that rubbing the belly and breast regularly help keep the tissues of the skin in better shape. Wearing a decent support bra will also help keep stretch marks from appearing on your breasts.
Nobody likes stretch marks, but take comfort in the fact that they usually fade over time. And if not, you can always take solace in buying loads of new cosmetic creams and foundations to cover them up!