The technical names for Stretch marks are Striae Atrophica or Striae Distensae. Stretch marks also have many common names such as Tiger stripes, Zebra stripes and Pregnancy lines. Stretch marks are generally caused by overstretching of the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin due to overweight or muscle development. As core tissues grow, the underneath skin gets stretched out due its elastic nature and striae appear on the exterior surface of the skin. The width of the marks usually varies from 1 -14mm and sometimes covers a much larger area. Stretch marks are a common problem faced by both men and women. It gains prominence during phases such as puberty for both sexes, and pregnancy in the case of women. During puberty, stretch marks are mostly seen on the upper and lower extremities, back, hips, abdomen, arms, around the stomach region and breasts. Pregnant women are prone to stretch marks which affect the abdomen and breast area. Stretch marks are often seen on the skin of obese people, bodybuilders, and people who use certain creams or ointments containing steroids such as hydrocortisone. People who are habituated to consuming heavy doses of oral corticosteroids may also face the problem of stretch marks. These marks have an unusual texture and appear in regions of the body where fat is stored. The stretch marks appear as red or purple lines which turn lighter and fade with the passage of time.
The elastin fibers in the dermis layer are responsible for making the skin elastic and firm. These fibers produce adequate quantities of a major nutrient called collagen. Usually when the skin gets overstretched the dermis layer (lies between the epidermis and hypodermis) gets torn, thereby disrupting the production of collagen. Thus when the skin is stretched beyond its limits, the lack of collagen makes it unable to get back to its original position. Thus stretch marks appear on the surface of the skin.
Stretch marks can be of various types:
Distension Stretch Marks or Albicant Lines: These marks usually appear in the case of pregnant women and obese people who rapidly lost their weight. They can also occur in certain pathological conditions like renal syndrome and ascitis. These stretch marks usually affect the chest, abdomen and breasts.
Dark Red Purple or Purpuric Stretch Marks: These marks occur due to regular consumption of pharmaceutical corticoids.
Puberty Stretch Marks: This type of stretch mark is the result of a growth spurt during puberty. These marks are particularly seen on person’s back, lower and upper extremities, hips and breasts. These marks appear red and purple in color.
Stretch Marks due to rapid muscle growth: These marks are caused by body building or rapid muscle growth. The marks are usually seen on a body builder’s biceps, triceps and shoulder muscles. The growth of these marks happens as result of intake of steroids, which cause the rapid growth of the muscles.
Stretch marks can be removed with the help of surgery performed by a qualified plastic surgeon. Laser treatments are sometimes successful depending on the circumstances. Usage of oils such as emu oil, bio oil, mama mio oil, gels, balms and creams (like zenmed revital) and lotions help in fading and removing the stretch marks. Cocoa butter is also commonly used to reduce stretch marks. Affected individuals can rub cocoa butter on their skin three times a day. These oils must be massaged in a circular motion. For quick results, application of vitamin E oil or aloe vera gel on the stretch marks thrice a day along with exfoliation can be effective. Eating a balanced diet (plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains) rich in vitamins and nutrients can help to lessen stretch marks.