Does Exercise Make Stretch Marks Go Away?

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A massage can help with stretch marks.
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Stretch marks are quite common, causing poor self-esteem, emotional distress and the appearance of "fatness" even in those of normal weight. Stretch mark removal is big business, and many exercise plans promise to help you get smooth skin. Unfortunately, you can't simply exercise stretch marks away.

Tip

Exercise can help you lose excess fat and tone up, but it won’t eliminate stretch marks.

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are purplish-reddish striations that form when your skin is stretched rapidly and extremely. They're most common in women, though men may also develop them, explains a review published in the July-September 2017 issue of the _Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surger_y.

You may associate stretch marks with the growth of a belly during pregnancy, but they can also form after a period of quick weight gain or loss, speedy muscle gain (such as with bodybuilders), rapid growth (in adolescence) and sometimes due to Cushing's disease or the use of topical steroids.

Read more: 6 Ways Exercise Can Screw with Your Skin — And How to Get Your Glow Back

As the Cleveland Clinic notes, pregnant women are especially vulnerable to getting some form of stretch marks. As time goes by, stretch marks turn from reddish-brown to silvery-white. They may appear on the breasts, abdomen, arms, chest, buttocks and thighs, making you feel distressed about your body. You may be unwilling to bare yourself in a bathing suit, short sleeves or tanks, or even shorts.

Stretch Marks Removal Methods

There are many alleged methods of stretch mark removal, but most provide unsatisfactory results, points out the Cleveland Clinic. These strategies may include:

  • Topical medications and creams
  • Light therapy and laser treatments
  • Radiofrequency treatment
  • Surgical intervention
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Alternative interventions such as cocoa butter, vitamin E and olive oil

Of course, some strategies, such as prescription topical creams, laser therapy and surgery, may be somewhat helpful in stretch mark removal — or at least reduce their appearance. However, these methods tend to be costly and invasive. For many of them, you must seek the care of a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in skin health.

If you want to prevent stretch marks, your efforts may be in vain. The Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery review has found that popular home remedies, such as olive oil and topical hyaluronic acid, cannot prevent this aesthetic issue. However, some remedies, including hip rose oil, may reduce the severity of stretch marks during pregnancy.

Stretch Marks: Exercise Considerations

In the past, experts recommended exercise and dietary changes to reduce stretch marks. However, research indicates that these strategies have little effect, even if they do result in weight loss, explains a review published in the July-August 2019 issue of the Indian Dermatology Online Journal.

Stretch marks are caused by rapid stretching of the skin, which causes important skin structural compounds known as collagen and elastin to rupture, states the American Academy of Dermatology. When your skin heals, the stretch marks appear.

Stretch marks are scars, and exercise cannot rid you of scar tissue or repair collagen and elastin. Regular physical activity helps burn fat and build muscle but has a negligible effect on skin appearance.

Exercise also improves circulation and may reduce inflammation, which can help you feel better about the appearance of your skin and your physique as a whole. But it won't make stretch marks go away.

Read more: The "Burn Fat Faster" Workout

If you have stretch marks from working out your legs or bodybuilding stretch marks on the biceps, you may reduce their appearance by applying self-tanning lotions — a common procedure prior to bodybuilding shows or competitions. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that self-tanners can minimize the appearance of some stretch marks.

Massage is often included as part of stretch mark therapy that includes exercise. An article published in Drug, Design, Development and Therapy in February 2017 reports that it's hard to prove that massage helps reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

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