Stretch marks or striae distensae can appear on boys and girls, men and women, usually on the abdomen, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms or lower back, anywhere fat is stored.
Approximately 90% of pregnant Caucasian women develop stretch marks, with women of color fairing slightly better.
Your genetics play a role, so if your mother has bad stretch marks, you probably will too; as does your skin type, stress, poor diet and sudden environmental change.
What is the cause of stretch marks?
They appear during puberty, pregnancy, the bulking up phase of bodybuilding, obesity, intense physical activity and Cushing's disease. Oral steroids and over-use of low potency topical steroid creams/ointments driven deeper into the skin when covered with plastic wrap, can also cause stretch marks.
During these critical times, increased hormones in the bloodstream prevent the dermis from forming collagen and elastin fibers.
At the very time your skin over-stretches and you need elasticity and strong underlying support most, you do not have it. Unsurprisingly the dermal layer tears, it flattens the epidermis and leaves red surface marks.
Stretch marks are actually bands of elastin broken beneath the skin. When the tears heal, the collagen fibers do not line up properly, resulting in an uneven appearance and white marks.
What it boils down to is that stretch marks are scars created by your own body to heal damage on the inside caused by over-stretched skin which is too thin.
Unfortunately stretch marks stay with you forever because the damage is in the dermis, far below the surface of the skin, and no cream on earth can undo it.
How your skin normally heals indicates what your stretch marks will look like. With time all stretch marks are less noticeable, and with treatment, even less so, but their striated appearance rarely returns to its original smooth appearance and the texture remains different to normal skin.
Although aesthetically stretch marks may bother you, they are harmless and do not require medical treatment.
How to fade stretch marks?
Instead of trying expensive, painful, invasive procedures which may or may not work, with just a little diligent self-maintenance and patience your marks will fade dramatically.
The regimen we look at entails repairing your multi-layered skin from the inside with water, good nutrition and exercise; and from the outside with exfoliation, massage and oils.
All the natural, chemical free ingredients are conveniently found in your kitchen or local health store, generating the same results as expensive creams, but saving you a ton of money.
The earlier you start treatment on red scars, the faster they heal; but do not give up hope, there is still a lot you can do for older white scars.
Let us start by replenishing the inside:
Drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day naturally hydrates your tissues, keeps your skin soft and elastic and helps keep collagen production at normal levels. Think of it as an internal moisturizer.
For every mug of coffee, tea or soda you drink, have an additional glass of water.
Eating foods rich in essential fatty acids, zinc, silica and vitamins A,C,D,E,K nourishes the body and replenishes your skin. Include oily fish, eggs, liver and lean meats, citrus fruit, tomatoes, almonds, pumpkin seeds, carrots, spinach, green cabbage, kale, Swiss Chard, turnip greens, broccoli, tomatoes, collards and low fat dairy products in your diet.
Stress, oral contraceptives and hormone therapies can deplete your body of essential nutrients vital for skin health. Good nutrition helps correct the balance.
Calcium Fluoride, Natrium Muriaticum and Calcium Phosphate restore tone and elasticity to muscles, connective tissue and skin, and help maintain the body's water balance.
Stretch marks look worse on flabby skin than they do on toned, firm flesh.
Working from the outside, focus on the stretch marks themselves, twice a day:
Exfoliate or dry brush the stretch mark areas.
Apply lemon juice to fade the scars.
Dry your skin.
Generously moisturize with one or more of the oils below.
Massage as vigorously as you can to increase circulation.
Moisturize generously, preferably after showering when your pores more receptively soak up the oil.
When you can, cover your oil saturated stretch marks with plastic wrap, put a hot water bottle, hot towel or heating pad on top for 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the wrap and wipe off any excess oil to obviate stained clothes.
Use whichever oils appeal to you; there is no wrong one. Just stick to the general principles - exfoliate, moisturize and massage.
Let us look at each factor in more detail.
Exfoliating and/or dry brushing removes layers of dead skin to unveil soft, fresh skin. Some marks may be difficult to reach and areas like the breasts are more sensitive, but do what you can.
Use a loofah or an exfoliator, bought or home-made -- sea salt, oatmeal, baking soda, ground coffee or apricot scrub, with a wet washcloth. Add any of them to olive oil to make a paste and then massage the stretch marks for 10 minutes in a circular motion while you are in the shower.
Or use this as your exfoliator:
5 tablespoons of scrub
1 teaspoon aloe vera gel
1/2 teaspoon vitamin E
1 teaspoon cocoa butter
Rinse off afterwards.
Apply lemon juice which helps stretch marks fade. Allow it to dry, then rinse with warm water and towel dry your skin.
A derma or skin roller helps oil penetrate more deeply. If using one, use it now before you moisturize.
Moisturize and hydrate
The more you infuse your skin with moisture the better.
Massage any natural oil into your stretch marks. What oil you use matters less than that you regularly and vigorously massage these areas, thereby improving circulation and promoting rejuvenation.
If you are pregnant and the skin of your expanding stomach feels ticklish, keep your nails short; scratching tears the dermis. Apply oil and gently rub the area with a cloth to relieve the itch.
A word of caution if you are keen to try one of the packaged remedies for stretch marks: many are laden with dangerous chemicals which should not be applied when you are pregnant and most especially not to your abdomen.
Fragrances in baby oil dry out the skin and petroleum jelly moisturizes when applied, but the skin becomes drier when you abstain, so stick to natural organic oils:
Rose hip oil
Extra virgin olive oil
Vitamin E oil
Vitamin K cream
Natural shea butter
Let us elaborate on some of these oils. Ideal by themselves, or combine as in these recipes.
Vitamin E oil
Alpha Tocopheral in Vitamin E is an antioxidant needed to regenerate the skin by promoting the growth of cells.
Squalene, a natural antioxidant which promotes skin regeneration, enhances the effects of vitamin E.
To get your vitamin E oil, break open the capsule, discard the casing and rub the oil into the affected areas.
Mix almond oil, castor oil, avocado oil and vitamin E oil together.
Combine vitamin E oil and cocoa butter.
Make a paste of vitamin E rich oil such as olive oil or castor oil with aromatic herbs like mint, lemon grass, lavender, thyme, and massage for 20 minutes before going to sleep.
Bio Oil is great.
To one ounce of carrier oil (avocado, sweet almond, jojoba, grapeseed) add seven drops of lavender and a few drops of chamomile, and apply to the affected areas.
Lavender essential oil, applied directly to scars will help them fade, especially newer injuries.
Vitamin K cream
Apply Vitamin K cream topically to stretch marks, and depending on how severe they are, your skin type and activity level, you will see results in as little as 8 to 14 days.
Cocoa butter is probably the best known stretch mark home remedy and also keeps the skin soft and pliable.
1/2 cup cocoa butter
1 tablespoon wheat germ oil
1 teaspoon apricot kernel oil
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
2 teaspoon grated beeswax
Heat the mixture until the beeswax melts. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and apply to your stretch marks.
Some people prefer the 100% cocoa butter stick to the lotion. Quite dry when first applied, it becomes oilier as you rub it on.
Massage onto the stretch marks.
Warm olive oil slightly in the microwave, spread on scars and leave for 20 minutes.
Mix equal amounts of olive and coconut oil.
Rub a mixture of olive oil and lemon on the parts of your body where the stretch marks are, then apply cocoa butter immediately afterwards.
Some people find cocoa butter has no effect on them, but olive oil works well. Experiment to find what best suits your skin.
1/2 teaspoon each of cod liver oil, olive oil and aloe vera gel doubles as an anti-aging skin treatment.
Good for any scar tissue, mix equal amounts of olive oil and flaxseed oil. You can add this to your favorite body cream if you wish.
Flaxseed oil is excellent for internal use too. Add to yogurt, shakes or salad dressing.
Apply castor oil to any scars including warts, moles, dark spots and wrinkles for 30 minutes a day. Combine it with rose hip seed oil, tea tree oil and vitamin E oil. Even though you apply it externally, it works as a laxative and your lymphatic system detoxifies.
Then apply some of the following cream:
200 ml unscented aqueous cream
20 ml collagen cream
10 ml olive oil
5 ml coconut oil
5 ml tea tree oil
Mix and leave in the sun for one day before you use it (more natural than microwaving). Apply at least twice a day and see an improvement after three days. Good for eczema sufferers too.
Aloe vera gel
Known for its healing and soothing properties.
1/2 cup olive oil as your base
1/4 cup aloe vera gel
Oil from 10 vitamin E capsules
Oil from 5 vitamin A capsules
Blend and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Rub into the skin until fully absorbed.
Vicks Vapor Rub
Smear Vicks onto the stretch marks.
Or combine lemon juice, aloe vera gel and Vicks, microwave for 5 seconds. Leave it on your scars for 10 minutes. Rinse it off and apply cocoa butter stick, rubbing it into the stretch marks.
Until they have faded sufficiently, consider hiding your stretch marks with clothes, a swimsuit offering more coverage, a self-tanning cream or body makeup. Tanning itself will not help - the stretch marks are less likely to tan than surrounding skin and their appearance may actually be emphasized.
Be wary of promises made by those flogging stretch mark creams. No cream can truly prevent or remove stretch marks.
If you feel self-conscious about your stretch marks, take comfort in the fact that most people have them, and with the passage of time together with the above, they will barely be noticeable.
In the meantime learn to live with them. Being proud of your body, stretch marks and all, is a very appealing quality.