Understanding Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are actually a form of skin scarring, and appear as lines on the body that are off-color, soft, and slightly depressed as compared to the level of the surrounding skin. These marks are usually darker in color when they first appear, and can be purplish or reddish. Over time, they tend to fade to a lighter color. Stretch lines occur because of a tearing of the dermis, which often is the result of rapid weight gain or growth. This can cause the skin to be pulled and stretched beyond its elasticity, and tears occur which cause stretch marks. Pregnancy is often a common cause of stretch marks, even if a woman's weight gain is not excessive. This is because there are hormonal changes that occur that tend to encourage the formation of these marks.
Areas Often Affected by Stretch Marks
Although stretch marks can occur anywhere on the body, the most likely locations are where the body stores fat. When fast weight gain occurs, these areas are the ones that are most likely to grow quickly, causing the skin to stretch beyond its elastic limits. The abdomen, thighs, buttocks, hips, and breasts are common areas for stretch marks, as are the upper arms. As a general rule, these areas of the body are most affected by weight gain, and as a result, are also most affected by stretch marks. Bodybuilders, weight lifters and teenagers often get stretch marks even in areas that are not generally prone to them because of growth spurts or the bulking up of muscles, both of which can stretch the skin.
Preventing Stretch Marks
Overall, the focus is often on preventing the formation of stretch marks in the first place. Although it is thought that a tendency towards stretch mark may be genetic, there are some things a person can do to help prevent the formation of these marks on the skin. Of course, the most important preventative measure is to avoid gaining weight rapidly. Moisturizers, lotions and creams that contain various extracts and vitamins are also commonly used to help keep the skin elastic and thereby prevent the occurrence of stretch marks. Although lotions and creams can help keep the skin in good condition and may help, they are not a cure-all when it comes to prevention.
Removing Stretch Marks
Although stretch marks are not harmful, they are somewhat unsightly, and as a result, people who get them often look for ways to remove them or at least reduce their appearance. Stretch marks will fade in color on their own, but the texture and stretched appearance will remain. There are creams that claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, but in most cases dermabrasion or laser treatments are needed to provide any real noticeable results. Additionally, because the abdomen is a common location for stretch marks, some people rely on a "tummy tuck" to remove stretch marks, since the surgery is designed to remove the skin where coincidentally most stretch marks tend to occur.