A stretch mark is an acquired stripe in the skin, narrow or broad, and sometimes branched. It is usually reddish at first but will eventually get pale, and it is less elastic and looser than normal skin. The skin in the stripe can be sunken or elevated, but in an irregular fashion. Several stretch marks tend to appear parallel.
They can develop any place in the body, but most often at places that have a thick fat layer. Typical places are the lower belly, the hips and the thighs. Stretch marks are structural defects in the dermis, the mid layer of the skin between the outer epidermis and the inner fat-rich layer, subdermis. Affected areas have less fibers made of the proteins collagen and elastin to keep the skin taut and elastic. Stretch marks can form at any age in both men and women, but highest risk occur during puberty and in pregnant women.
One factor causing stretch marks is a reduced production of protein fibers in the skin so that it gets weaker. This is often due to influence of an increased level of glucocorticoid hormones which typically occur during puberty and pregnancy. Genetic inheritance or a bad diet can also cause weaker skin. For the damage to occur the skin must then be stretched during some time, either constantly or repeatedly, due to weight gain, sport activities, pregnancy or external impacts.
Keeping a normal weight will help to prevent stretch marks, since a thick layer of fat tissue seems to promote them. According to research a good preventive measure is massage of exposed body areas with an oily cream that also gives moisture to the skin. Some of the ingredients used in these preventive products are wheat germ oil, other botanical oils, egg oil, panthenol, menthol, gotu kola extract and vitamin E. Taking some caution how body areas are stretched during sport and work might help. The mentioned preventive measures can also help to take away the damage at an early stage.
Stretch marks tend to normalize by time, but seldom go completely away. Laser treatment have shown to be effective to make stretch marks less visible, especially the fresh ones. By one type of laser treatment one uses light with the wavelength 585 nm at the whole affected area to stimulate healing activities. Treatment with radio waves may also be effective, especially when combined with laser treatment.
By another method one performs a series of treatments where different spots in the stretch marks are subjected to the laser rays each time, and one uses so strong light that small wounds are caused in those spots, fractional laser treatment. The subsequent regrowth activities will strengthen the structure also around the wounds so that the skin in the marks normalize. This treatment is reported to be good for older stretch marks.
Sometimes one performs surgical abrasion of the outer part of the skin to take away stretch marks, called dermabaration. Microdermabration, where not much more than the outer layer of horn stuff, keratin, is ground away, may also be an option. These procedures smoothen the surface of the skin, and the regrowth activities will spread to deeper parts of the skin and make it tighter. When there is an excess of skin at an area, the excessive skin together with stretch marks can be removed surgically, and the skin sewn together will also be tauter. This procedure is most often done at the lower abdomen, which is then called tummy tuck surgery.
Creams with retinoids, which are derivatives of vitamin A may help, especially retinoic acid. These substances may work by stimulating a new structural development within the dermis and epidermis. In many places these drugs are prescription bound.
Products with glycolic acid in a low concentration is also an option for treatment of stretch marks. Glycolic acid dissolves irregular structures, especially in the outer skin layer and takes away miscoloration. The regrowth activities may then establish a smoother and firmer structure. These products, formulated as cleansers, scrubs or lotions shall usually stay on the skin a short time before being washed away. Some people report good results by using a retinoid cream and glycolic acid between each dose of the cream.
Several manufacturers make creams, lotions or ointments to cure stretch marks that can be purchased without prescription. These will typically contain botanic oils of various kind to make the skin smooth, to act as a carrier of other working ingredients and to give the cream the right consistency. Some of these oils are also assumed to stimulate skin repair.
Most of them also contain vitamins, like vitamin A, vitamin E and Vitamin B3 (Niacin). They typically also contain different types of peptides, substances whose molecules are combinations of two or a few amino acids. The aim of these substances is to stimulate the fibroblasts to make more fibers which then is used to build up a firmer skin structure.
Knut Holt is an Internet marketer and author with a focus on health items and science. Please see his web-site to find more skin care information. There are also presentation of products to improve skin health and enhance fitness.