Stretch marks or striae are characterized by pink, red or purple indented, linear streaks. It appears on a skin that has been overstretched and can usually be found on the thighs, abdomen, chest, arms and groin.
Stretch marks are caused by rapid stretching of the skin due to sudden weight changes. The stretching causes the middle layer of the skin (dermis) to tear which allows the deeper layer of the skin to show through, forming the stretch marks. The dermis has strong, interconnected fibers that allow the skin to stretch as the body grows. However, sudden growth can over-stretch and tear the fibers. Those tears let blood vessels below to show through which is why stretch marks are often red or purple when they first appear.
After the blood vessels eventually contract, the pale-colored fat underneath the skin will be more visible, changing the stretch marks to a silvery-white color.
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Treatment and Management
Stretch marks are harmless and may fade over time. While there are treatments available, they only focus on fading to improve the appearance of a stretch mark but will not eliminate them entirely. Here are the available treatments to improve stretch marks:
- Tretinoin creams can help improve stretch marks by stimulating collagen growth, making stretch mark look more like your normal skin. However, it can irritate the skin and can not be used while you are pregnant. This treatment is only recommended for recent (less than few months old) stretch marks and is not effective on older stretch marks.
- Laser therapy uses intense wavelengths of light to stimulate the growth of collagen, elastin or melanin production. The appropriate type of laser depends on the age and location of the stretch marks and your skin color.
- Microdermabrasion is the treatment of choice for older stretch marks. Microdermabrasion removes the skin's topmost layer which stimulates the growth of new, more elastic skin.