Stretch marks are skin’s way to accommodate sudden stretching/ expansion of the skin which ruptures the collagen and elastin layer in the skin. These narrow bands can occur due to physiological changes like rapid weight gain or loss, growth spurt during puberty, pregnancy, rapid muscle gain during weight training. Apart from them, long term application of steroid creams, and diseases like Cushing’s syndrome can also present with stretch marks.
Initially, depending on the skin colour, they may appear as red, pink, blue, brown or black colour known as striae rubra. they are still not mature and can be itchy and raised on touching. Over a period of time, these scars become mature with colour skin or white colour known as striae alba.
The ideal way to prevent stretch marks is to have a healthy lifestyle, with adequate nutrition and hydration. Though there are no specific vitamins to prevent stretch marks, but skin health overall requires vitamins like A,C, E and zinc for its natural function.
There should be gradual weight gain or loss accompanied by regular exercise to prevent excessive stretching of skin. This regime should also be continued in pregnancy.
Skin should be moisturized regularly to alleviate itching as well as to keep skin supple which can prevent stretch marks to some extent.
According to research, most of the agents like almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil or vitamin E do not work on stretch marks. The only agents which have been scientifically proven to prevent them are centella asiatica, hyaluronic acid and retinoids ( not approved in pregnancy).
Stretch marks are basically scars and once formed, they will always be there but can be decreased to some extent if treatment is started early. Once the stretch marks have matured ( white stretch marks), most of the treatments do not work. The following treatment helps in reducing these marks to some extent but their level of efficacy is still debatable:
1. Retinoids : these are vitamin A derivatives which helps in building new collagen and help in fading of marks. Unsupervised use of retinoid can cause irritation of skin. retinoids’ use is restricted for pregnant and nursing women as it can have a delirious effect on baby.
2. Chemical peels: deep peel like TCA ( trichloro acetic acid), phenol, retinoids, high concentration glycolic acid work in regenerating collagen and bringing relief to some extent.
3. Microdermabrasion : this involves removing a fine layer of skin along with crystals blowing into the skin. this promotes growth of new collagen and elastin in the skin.
4. Lasers and heat based devices: a large number of heat based devices like fractional ablative lasers, micro needling with radio frequency and ultrasound devices which help in collagen remodulation. However, the type of device usage depends on the skin type, scar stage, area to be treated and age of patient.
5. Platelet rich plasma therapy: this treatment involves injection of growth factors from one’s own blood causing fading of these scars.
It is always better to prevent any stretch marks formation by leading a healthy lifestyle. However, not all can prevent its formation due to varying skin type and genetics.
Once formed, one should take consultation from a board certified dermatologist as early as possible to benefit maximum from the armamentarium of treatment available at the moment.
With inputs from Dr Jyoti Gupta, Consultant Dermatologist.