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Stretch marks are common, affecting men and women of all ages. Although there is no way to get rid of them, there are methods to deal with them. Before spending time or money on treatment, however, it's important to understand what causes stretch marks, and how to prevent them.
Anatomy of a Stretch Mark
Stretch marks are depressed scars that appear in the skin when the middle layer of skin, known as the dermis, is stretched beyond capacity. Stretch marks can appear as thin, silvery or white lines, or deep red or purple lines up to an inch wide. Severe stretch marks may appear with itching, pain and even bleeding. Likelihood of developing stretch marks is typically genetic.
Causes of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks can occur whenever the skin is stretched beyond its limit, but typically happens when growth occurs rapidly. Adolescents and teens are particularly susceptible to stretch marks during growth spurts. Pregnant women commonly develop stretch marks in the abdomen, hips and breasts, and some women even develop them in their legs or ankles as a result of extreme water retention during gestation. Stretch marks are also common with nonpregnancy weight gain.
Exercise and Stretch Marks
No exercise can remove or reduce stretch marks, but regular, moderate exercise may help prevent stretch marks from developing. The American Pregnancy Association recommends regular exercise to pregnant women to promote energy and healthy sleep. In addition, regular exercise can reduce the unnecessary weight gain that often results in stretch marks. Exercise also improves circulation, which could help the skin remain elastic and allow it to stretch without tearing. Some exercises, such as weightlifting, can actually cause stretch marks when the skin is stretched to accommodate rapid muscle growth.
Stretch Mark Treatments
Many treatments are marketed for treatment of stretch marks. Some lotions or oils can improve skin's hydration and elasticity, so it stretches without causing damage, but there is no cure. Stretch marks fade over time, notes exercise physiologist Richard Weil. A quality moisturizer can also make the skin appear more supple and smooth, which may reduce the visual effects of stretch marks until they heal. Laser treatments can also be effective at reducing the appearance of new stretch marks and encouraging skin's natural healing ability to fade the scars. Only surgical removal of the skin, such as with a tummy tuck, can eliminate stretch marks.