Stretch marks • Remove and how to prevent?

Stretch marks not only appear during pregnancy, but also, for example, when you gain a lot of weight. How to prevent unwanted tissue tears and what treatment methods can be used to remove stretch marks.

The woman has stretch marks on her skin
© Getty Images / Yusuke Ide

Stretch marks (striae cutis distensae) form due to excessive stretching of the skin and are initially reddish-blue in color. Over the years, the skin changes become clearer and lighter and look like thin, elongated scars. The chest, abdomen, hips, buttocks, upper arm or thigh are often affected. If they occur during pregnancy, they are called stretch marks (striae gravidarum).

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What are stretch marks?

Excessive stretching of the dermis (middle layer of the skin) causes tears in the collagen fibers, the skin becomes less elastic and thins. The connective tissue in the subcutis is heavily supplied with blood and glistens from the lacerations in the fibers, recognizable as reddish-blue stretch marks. Skin repair mechanisms cause them to fade over time, but the cracks remain visible.

Depending on the cause, the lines are named differently:

  • Pregnancy: Stria gravidarum

  • Wachstum: Stria among teenagers

  • Rapid weight gain: striae obesitatis

  • Infections: Striae infectiosae

From a health point of view, skin changes are not a problem, indeed they are perceived as aesthetically annoying by those affected. Anyone who is severely suffering from stretch marks and as a result feels limited in everyday life, can try to remove them.

Eliminate stretch marks

Once stretch marks have formed, they usually don’t go away. Strongly pronounced streaks can be made less visible in dermatological practice by various methods of treatment – usually they cannot be removed completely:

  • Vitamin A Acid (Tretinoin): Strong acid accelerates cell division and stimulates collagen formation. That is why the prescription active ingredient is also used in acne therapy. Vitamin A acid should not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  • trichloroacetic acid: A chemical peel with trichloroacetic acid penetrates deep into the skin to stimulate the formation of collagen. This treatment is also used for corns and warts.

  • cryotherapy: In the dermatologist’s practice, the tissue is destroyed with liquid nitrogen and then regenerated by the body.

  • Mesotherapy: With very fine needles, the doctor injects active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid into the skin to strengthen elasticity from within.

  • Microneedling: Here the skin is treated with a roller equipped with tiny needles. These micro-lesions activate the regeneration of the skin and stimulate the formation of collagen.

  • Fraxel-Laser: The doctor treats stretch marks selectively with laser light. The heat from the laser causes the smallest lesions in the skin, which in turn stimulates the regeneration and production of collagen.

  • Local Dynamic Micromassage (LDM): Ultrasound waves with different and rapidly changing frequencies stimulate the formation of new connective tissue in the tissue.

Treatment specialists and patients decide together which of the treatments is best suited to the individual. Since stretch marks are a purely cosmetic problem, health insurance companies usually don’t cover the costs.

Home remedies for stretch marks?

Regular use of contrast creams, massages, and showers can usually only slightly weaken cracks. Creams with vitamin A, also used to heal scars, and vitamin E, which stimulates skin regeneration, are suitable. You can also try applying some self-tanner to even out the color difference – it may make stretch marks less noticeable.

Causes of stretch marks

Although many people think of pregnant women when they think of stretch marks, they can affect anyone. Because even people who have gained weight quickly and heavily can develop tissue tears in the appropriate places – this affects both men and women. Every extra pound of weight puts strain on the skin and increases the risk of overstretching.

Many young people experience growth spurts during puberty. If these are particularly strong, the skin can tear, especially on the thighs and back. Anyone who builds up a lot of muscle quickly also knows stretch marks. These are mainly bodybuilders and people who lift heavy weights. Long-term use of glucocorticoids can also promote skin changes.

Risk factors for stretch marks:

How are stretch marks formed?

Not all pregnant women get stretch marks during pregnancy. Presumably, this is related to the formation of collagen in the body, i.e. how much or little it produces. Also, collagen formation decreases during pregnancy.

The highest risk factor for stretch marks is excessive weight gain. According to the Professional Association of Gynecologists (BVF), an average increase of 10 to 15 kilograms is normal. The body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy helps to determine the individual value:

  • Underweight (BMI below 18.5): Weight gain 12.5-18kg

  • Normal Weight (BMI 18.5-24.9): Weight gain 11.5-16kg

  • Overweight (BMI 25-29.9): Weight gain 7-11.5 kg

  • Obesity (BMI over 30): weight gain 5-9 kg

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Diagnosis of stretch marks

Usually, skin changes don’t cause pain or other symptoms. Anyone with severe stretch marks should visit a dermatologist’s office and find out about treatment options. There, the streaks can be determined by visual diagnosis: reddish-blue to reddish-purple or white skin streaks appear on the chest, abdomen, thighs, or buttocks. They can be slightly raised, especially in the beginning.

Massage and oil: can stretch marks be avoided?

Pregnant women can best prevent stretch marks by not gaining excess weight. This allows the skin to adapt more slowly to the growing abdominal circumference and reduces the risk of tissue tears. Appropriate skin care and massage can also prevent this. It is important to do this regularly to prevent stretch marks as much as possible.

Prevention Tips:

  • Skin care with special creams. The paired ingredients are shea butter, vitamins A and E, almond oil, jojoba oil, argan oil and evening primrose oil. They keep the skin supple and take care of it.

  • Massage of the affected skin areas. Oils like almond oil, argan oil, grape seed oil or jojoba oil are suitable for massage – there are also special pregnancy oils for the baby bump. A plucking massage is particularly effective: the skin is gently plucked from the body with the thumb and forefinger. Shortly before the due date, pregnant women should no longer have a plucking massage so as not to trigger premature contractions.

  • Cold showers after a shower. To do this, gently move the shower head in circular motions over the areas of the skin prone to stretch marks. The contrast showers promote the blood circulation of the skin and improve its elasticity. A massage glove can support this effect.

  • Eat a healthy diet and get enough exercise. For skin health, a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables should end up on the plate and plenty of fluids should be consumed. Additionally, the skin and connective tissue can be strengthened from the inside out through light training. This also applies to pregnant women, which is why sport is recommended during pregnancy, as long as there are no health reasons against it.

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