Stretch marks, also known as "striae," are a common skin complaint. Stretch marks will first appear on the skin as red, unevenly textured stripes or lines. Preventive care can decrease your chances of developing striae, but there are no guarantees. Depending on the age of the stretch mark, it may appear as dark red or silver.
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Stretch marks are usually caused by sudden weight gain. If you are pregnant or have gained a lot of weight, through either diet or exercise, you are more prone to stretch marks. Growth spurts during puberty can also cause striae. According to Medline Plus, overuse of cortisone creams, Cushing syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can also be causes.
When stretch marks first occur on the skin, the affected skin will be red or slightly purple. With time, and depending on your skin type and color, these will often fade to white or silvery. While there are many creams on the market that claim to fade stretch marks quickly, most have little to no effect.
Treatment for Red Striae
Fresh stretch marks may respond to different treatment than older marks. According to MayoClinic.com, tretinoin cream, pulsed dye laser therapy and fractional photothermolysis may be of most use to new, red stretch marks. Tretinoin cream contains an ingredient called retin-A, which might help repair the collagen in the skin. It should not be used by pregnant women. Pulsed dye laser therapy uses laser light to stimulate collagen under the stretch mark to promote healing. In fractional photothermolysis, light is pulsed into the skin in small amounts to encourage the healing of the skin.
Treatment for Silver Striae
Older stretch marks may not respond to the same treatment used for fresh marks, so a different approach is necessary. Microdermabrasion abrades the skin with small crystals to improve the appearance of stretch marks. An excimer laser, which promotes the production of the skin pigment melanin, may color the stretch mark to a pigment closer to your natural skin color.
Maintaining a healthy weight and taking care not to bulk up through exercise may help you avoid stretch marks. Striae as a result of pregnancy are usually unavoidable, because the woman cannot control the weight gain and stretching of the skin caused by the baby. Creams and oils will not prevent stretch marks from forming but may alleviate some of the itching and dryness associated with striae.