Whether you have or are worried about stretch marks on thighs, stretch marks on bum, stretch marks during pregnancy – information is power my friend… and prevention is also a lot more effective than cure.
Stretch marks crop up at the worst of times. I mean puberty – who needs more reasons to feel self-aware ‘eh? Then there’s pregnancy, weight-gain, growth spurts. Skin somehow feels the need to leave a lasting tattoo – but why. Why are there stretch marks? Why are your stretch marks red? How can stretch marks be treated?
Ready to get going? Me too…
What are Stretch Marks?
To understand how best to treat stretch marks, we need to get to know your stretch mark beast intimately. You can’t repair a relationship without understanding it first ‘eh. I hear you.
Stretch marks are a type of tear. Think of them like grazed or cut skin hidden under your covering of white or chocolate frosting.
You my friend have 3 layers of skin – you have the outside one called the epidermis, the ‘rose in-between two thorns’ called the dermis and the bottom of your sandwich cake, called the hypodermis.
Epidermis – Dermis – Hypodermis.
You’ve got it.
When stretch marks quake your layers. They raise a fracture line in layer 2, the dermis. If that fracture line happened in your top layers of skin, the epidermis, you’d see a cut or graze, whereas if they happened in your bottom layers, the hypodermis, you’d most likely see nothing at all.
What you see as a stretch mark, is actually the hypodermis poking through the tear of your dermis. A little like a tissue dispenser with a white puff of toilet paper waving hello.
Why Are Stretch Marks Red?
When you first contract a stretch mark, it’s going to show up with vibrancy. Red vibrancy. Technically called striae rubrae, the red colour of growing lines are thanks to the fleshy red colour of the hypodermis. This deepest layer of your skin is full of blood vessels and when it pokes through, it’s exactly like the colour of skin you’d see if you’d cut yourself deeply.
As your stretch marks mature, they change in colour from red to pale silver.
Why do they do this? Imagine you cut yourself, first up you’d get lots of blood, next up you’d get a healthy scab and finally because this was a pretty deep cut, you’d develop a small scar… and what colour are scars? You got it my friend, pale silver.
As your stretch marks age, they change from striae rubrae to striae albae. Pale silvery thin lines. Red marks are easier to treat than mature white marks… and pre-stretch marked skin is easier to treat than those vibrant red marks.
Why do Stretch Marks Form?
Stretch marks effect 88% of us. That is huge. You are not alone. Your friends have them, your relatives probably have them and me here writing this – i have them too.
Stretch marks pounce upon us when skin is being pulled too far in opposite directions. Imagine discovering an elastic band hidden right in the depths of your desk’s top draw. Now imagine its 5 years old and morphed into that strange powdery elastic band feeling. Now imagine stretching it. Did you see it go ping and snap?
Skin is elastic in a very similar way. It has a protein called elastin to thank for this. In areas of skin affected by growing marks, the elastin hasn’t been able to provide you enough give or the elastin fibres have become degraded and therefore they’ve ‘pinged’.
Because stretch marks occur as a result of stretching. Clever name ‘eh, they’re caused mostly by;
- Weight gain
Your likelihood of developing them is also to an extent genetic, for example African women are much more likely to contract stretch marks. It’s also to another extent dependant on how your skin’s developed for example being born prematurely gives you a significantly greater risk of developing stretch marks later in life.
How Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?
So glad you asked my friend. Prevention is a lot, lot easier than cure. Preventing your skin from developing stretch marks is all about improving one or more of these skin factors;
- Increasing your skin’s collagen production
- Increasing skin’s elasticity
- Improving blood flow aka an excuse for massage
- Improvement in cell proliferation i.e. skin that quickly regenerates
- Increasing skin hydration
- Lending anti-inflammatory ingredients to your skin
Of the investigated ingredients to help prevent your stretch marks, the ones with scientific trial evidence (oh yes, because that’s what we’re talking about, there’s no wishy washy here) are;
- Centella Asiatica aka indian pennywort or Gotu kola e.g. in Trofolastin (£22/250ml)
- A prescription cream called Alphastria – containing allantoin, camphor, hyaluronic acid, menthol, vitamin A, Panthenol, Vitamin E.
- Almond oil with massage for best results (and almond oil without massage still better than placebo) e.g. Fushi Organic Sweet Almond Oil (£12/100ml)
…and the ones that have been studied but showed no benefit over not using the treatment;
- Cocoa butter
- Olive oil
While there are under 100 studies looking into the effects of stretch mark treatments, coming to the above conclusions… there’s still a lot more research to be done. The results above, telling of how you can prevent stretch marks do not mean these are the only treatments that will work. There are lots of other skincare ingredients which can also help to increase skin hydration e.g. hyaluronic acid… can help to increase collagen production e.g. glycine soja, tretinoin… and can help as an anti-inflammatory e.g. tamanu and wheatgerm oil.
How to Reduce Stretch Marks
Now say, you’re already home to a collection of purple-red stretch marks. What should you do? How do you reduce the appearance of existing stretch marks? Firstly, the exact same skincare approaches are key – that’s steps 1-6 from above. Secondly, studies show these are good treatment options for striae rubrae;
Tretinoin is a form of Vitamin A known as retinoic acid (not recommended for use during pregnancy). While it used to be available only on prescription you can buy Differin gel – containing a form of Vitamin A as an over the counter product through pharmacies. You can also find Vitamin A in skincare as retinol e.g. The Ordinary Retinol 1% (£5.80/30ml).
Of the scouted studies, treatment with 0.1% tretinoin for 6 months showed a reduced length and width of marks. Another study showed that over 3 months use, there was a 20% reduction in the length of stretch marks. Tretinoin treatments with the lower dose of 0.025% showed no difference.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 26 June 2017
Top tip: When you’re looking to buy skincare containing retinol, you’ll want a much higher dose than 0.1% because retinol needs to be broken down into retinoic acid. When skincare ingredients get broken down, collateral has to be given and less always comes out than goes in.
On the quest to reduce your stretch marks initial studies show creams containing silicone may be helpful. With 6 weeks of use, collagen levels where higher and melanin concentration (the dark colouring of skin) was lower, marks also appeared flatter. Looking for skincare solutions? Try Remescar Silicone Stretch Marks Scar Cream (£25/100ml).
What’s Good For Stretch Marks?
If you’re looking for stretch mark solutions on the market, you’ll hear a lot of buzz words… you’re less likely to hear about the actual ingredients. Which is absolutely the bit you need to know to make an informed decision: Is this skincare product going to benefit me or not? How can you purchase a cake without first knowing it’s flavour ‘eh.
So, dear friend, below I have a list of the most common on your shelf anti-stretch marks solutions against their active ingredients and if any, their evidence. Court time;
- StriVectin-SD (£70/60ml) – active ingredient NIA-114 (niacin) – no published evidence
- Cussons Mum and Me Bump Stretch marks Cream (£15/125g) – Lupin seed extract – small scale study shows 16% increase in skin elasticity with 12 weeks use
- Liforma Stretch Mark Day Gel/Night Cream – Centella Asiatica (the proven ingredient from above – a good one)
- Trofolastin (£22/250ml) – Centella Asiatica, Vitmain E, collagen-elastin hydrolysates – 22% reduced risk of marks in medium scale study
- Clarins Stretch Marks Cream (£38/200ml) – Crowberry and Centella Asiatica extracts, Olive, Coconut and Palm oils, Siegesbeckia – no evidence although it uses the already evidenced Centella Asiatica – a good stretch mark treatment ingredient
- Bio-Oil (£10/125ml) – Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Glycine soja – non-independent trials i.e. Bio-Oil performed the trials themselves showed 50% of people using Bio-Oil had an improved mark appearance
- Kelo-Cote – Silcone gel (£26/15g) – company performed testing showed 75% of people would recommend it for treatment of stretch marks
- Kelo-Stretch (£25/125ml) – Centella Asiatica extract (0.5%), Sweet Almond Oil and Shea Butter – great ingredients based on both Centella Asiatica and Sweet Almond Oil showing improvements in the appearance of marks – small scale company study showed 60% reduction in existing marks
- Thalgo Stretch Marks Cream (£38/150ml) – Marine Elastin and Marine Collagen, Centella Asiatica Plant Extract, Tamanu Oil, Wheat Germ Oil
Do you have a skin type prone to growing marks? What have you used so far? Do you use one of the good for stretch mark creams listed above? Let’s chat in the comments below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.