Tiger stripes, lightning strikes, stretchies – whatever you call stretch marks, chances are everyone you know has at least one or two somewhere on their body.
They’re not the reserve of overweight people. They’re not only common among Mums.
Whether it’s through puberty, weight gain, pregnancy, or just generally growing in the body we own, stretch marks affect both men and women of varying sizes and shapes.
It’s rumoured that both the Ancient Greeks and Romans used olive oil to make stretch marks disappear on pregnant stomachs.
Today, we spend thousands of pounds on ‘miracle’ products and laser treatments in hope to fade them, and use photo editing software to make them vanish from ad campaigns and social media posts.
This in turn has inevitably led to (mostly but not exclusively) women understandably feeling a variety of different emotions when they see stretch marks on their skin. Whether you love them or hate them, we’ve unpacked the science behind what causes stretch marks and how to get rid of them, should you want to.
At mamabella we believe women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes and should feel comfortable and empowered in their own skin. Our stretch marks tell a unique story and we’re under no circumstances telling you to get rid of them. We’re also not judging you if you want to minimise them.
We’re simply arming you with the information about what they are and what causes them to fade should that be something you’re interested in.
Stretch marks, medically known as Striae or Striae Distensea, are exactly that – marks left on your skin after its been stretched.
They are long, narrow streaks, stripes or lines that develop on the skin. They can occur on a range of body parts, including but not limited to, the stomach, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms and lower back.
Before stretch marks initially begin to emerge, the area can appear thick and pink, and may also feel irritated or itchy.
As the marks develop, they appear as wrinkly, raised streaks that can be red, purple, pink or reddish-brown depending on the skin tone.
Stretch marks are caused by extreme skin growth or shrinkage. The most common causes include:
Now for the science.
The skin consists of three key layers. Stretch marks form in the dermis (or in layman’s terms – the middle layer) when the connective tissue is stretched beyond the limits of its elasticity.
As the body grows, the connecting fibres in the dermis layer slowly stretch to accommodate slow growth.
However, rapid growth leads to sudden stretching and causes the dermis to tear, allowing deeper layers of skin to show through. This can form stretch marks and contributes to the way they look.
Over time, the streaks eventually fade and flatten and tend to change to a silvery colour and may gradually become less noticeable.
They get this silvery or glossy appearance as the pale fat beneath the skin becomes visible in place of the usual blood vessels.
There is a number of ways to get rid of – or at least reduce the appearance of stretch marks, from cosmetic products right up to surgery.
We should note that its relatively straightforward, and can be cheap, to minimise how noticeable stretch marks are but they’re very difficult to get rid of completely due to the fact the skin has been damaged and torn.
As a result, be a little cynical of high-street products that promise to get rid of them, especially if they claim to get rid of stretch marks in a matter of weeks.
Like with many skin concerns, prevention is better than cure.
READ NEXT: How to prevent wrinkles
If you moisturise often – around twice a day – every day from around the age of puberty, you may reduce your chances of developing stretch marks as you grow as supple, well moisturised skin will not give in to stretch marks as easily.
However, we’re acutely aware that if you’ve landed on this page, it’s probably too late to stop them in their tracks. Plus, there’s no *guarantee* that this will work – stretch marks for almost everyone is an inevitability.
While we still recommend you moisturise daily, here are a few other ways to tackle the dreaded stretch marks.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding do not use retinol-based products, or products containing retinoids, as they can be harmful.
Creams spiked with retinol – derived from Vitamin A – stimulate the collagen production in the body to generate new, slightly thicker skin over time.
Whilst this isn’t a cure, it comes pretty close and can help to fade the appearance of new scars, making stretch marks look more like un-stretched skin.
mamabella recommends: Try Face Theory’s Retin-C Vitamin Scar Treatment Oil 09 (£17.99).
It consist of a blend of 2% retinoid, plus Vitamin C and E with a non-comedogenic base to accelerate skin cell shedding and renewal leaving skin feeling hydrated and the appearance of stretch marks faded.Buy now from Face Theory
Exfoliation alone won’t make stretch marks disappear.
However, what it can do is make retinol creams work better as it helps loosen and lift dead skin cells that might be getting in the way of the formula.
Dry brushing (gently brushing your dry skin before getting into the shower) is a great option if you have a normal skin type.
Dry brushing can also reduce the appearance of cellulite.
mamabella recommends: Try the Dr. Barbara Sturm brush (£25), which comes in two densities, soft and medium depending on what you prefer.
It can be used anywhere from your feet, legs, arms to your bum and tum.
Dry brushing is not suitable for sensitive skin or if you have conditions such as eczema.
Using fake tan is a quick and easy way to temporarily get rid of stretch marks and boost your confidence.
mamabella recommends: For a glowy, sun-kissed look try working a gradual tanning lotion into your daily routine such as St. Tropez Gradual Tan Lotion (£15).
It’s fast drying, non-sticky and provides a hint of bronze that slowly intensifies for a natural-looking finish.
It may not permanently change the appearance of stretch marks but glowing skin is always en vogue.
If you haven’t ventured into the realms of fake tan yet, our editor recently took the plunge for the first time and you can read her experience including what to do – and what to avoid – in our beginner’s guide to fake tan.
We’ve also explained the science of fake tan if that will put your mind at rest!
For most people, oils are the first choice when it comes to looking to get rid of stretch marks. They’re usually full of vitamins and help get hydration into your skin quicker than most moisturisers.
The act of massaging the oil into the skin, and the fact it takes a little longer than creams, is also beneficial to improving the texture of your skin.
mamabella recommends: Try using a gentle all- over body oil such as Bio Oil (£9.99).
It’s fast absorbing and packed with Vitamins A and E to soften and moisturise skin, all of which can help temporarily reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
This is suitable to be used during pregnancy, teenage growth spurts and periods of rapid weight gain – or at any point in your life!
Massage the oil in a circular motion until its fully absorbed and for best results, apply twice daily for a minimum of three months.
In addition to stretch marks, hormonal changes in pregnancy can also affect the condition of your skin and leave it dry or sensitive when it wasn’t before.
It’s safe enough to be used throughout pregnancy as well as during labour and the postnatal period and contains sweet almond, grapeseed, olive and wheatgerm oil plus glasswort extract, and cocoa and shea butter.
The most drastic way to get rid of stretch marks, not to mention expensive is through the use of lasers.
Laser therapy is an effective way to resurface the skin, however it does come with a hefty price tag – into the hundreds, or thousands – and does require multiple treatments to tackle the area. Having said this, the procedure itself is said to be fairly quick and painless.
The laser delivers pulses of energy into your skin, tricking your cells into thinking they are injured – you are numbed first, don’t worry.
This causes the body’s natural healing process to kick in, triggering your cells to release the chemicals that it needs to create new collagen in the area, all of which eventually improves the appearance of stretch marks.
Annie has a degree in Multimedia Journalism from Bournemouth University. Since graduating, Annie has freelanced for a travel magazine and is a senior account executive for a technology PR consultancy based in London, where her main role is content creation