Stretch Mark Removal: Separating Facts from Myths

2021-01-19 | Future Market Insights | Healthcare

A plethora of stretch mark removal products are available today on the shelves of supermarkets and on ecommerce platforms. These products attempt to lure consumers on the basis of several unique selling points. However, very few of these products attempt to create consumer awareness into stretch marks.

Fortunately, the issue of stretch marks is as old as humanity itself, and humans have collectively gained vast knowledge about the issue along the way dating backs to the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.

Using this collective knowledge, we are today capable to separating the fact from fiction with regard to stretch mark removal products, in spite of what their manufacturers may attempt to convince us of.

What causes stretch marks?

Stretch marks, which are medically termed striae, are mainly caused due to rapid expansion or contraction of skin tissue. The two major variables here are elasticity of skin and the speed at which the skin has expanded. Stretch marks are most commonly observed on the abdomen, hips, breasts, buttocks and thighs.

The leading cause of stretch marks is pregnancy since pregnant women see the skin around their abdominal area rapidly expanding, especially during their third trimester. Besides this, pregnant women are also at a higher risk of stretch marks since their appetite increases and they are more likely to put on weight during and immediately after their pregnancy.

Closely followed by pregnancy, the other major cause of stretch marks is rapid weight gain, which again causes the skin to expand.

Such weight gain may be linked to obesity or may also be induced from increasing muscle growth due to body building exercises; such rapid muscle growth can be caused as a result of taking medication that contains steroids as well. Body altering treatments, such as breast or buttock enlargement surgeries, can also lead to stretch marks.

Stretch marks can be caused due to rapid weight loss induced from exercises or due to an illness.

Furthermore, certain health disorders such as Marfan syndrome, which affects skin tissues that are related to muscle connectivity, and Cushing's syndrome, where an excess release of the hormone cortisol affects a person’s physical structure, can also cause stretch marks.

In fact, there is often a direct correlation between stretch marks and certain genetic disorders; persons who have a family history of stretch marks can also be more prone to developing stretch marks.

Types of stretch marks

While there are no concrete medical distinctions made between the various types of stretch marks, they can usually be divided on the basis of their appearance. Stretch marks most commonly occur as indented lines on the surface of the skin and may be in hues or colours like pink, red, black, blue or purple.

They may also be of the same colour as the skin but be noticeably brighter or darker. Often, the colour of stretch marks varies as per a person’s skin tone. Other distinctions between stretch marks are that the streaks may be small or large and densely crowded or thinly spread out. However, the causes and effects of these stretch marks remains largely unchanged.

Do stretch marks have detrimental effects?

Stretch marks are not directly detrimental to a person’s physical health. However, they can sometime be indicative of health conditions such as obesity, Marfan syndrome, Cushing's syndrome, etc., which have other, albeit unrelated, harmful effects on the body.

As a result, stretch marks can sometimes also be used as an early indicator for certain physical disorders are a person who is inexplicably experiencing stretch marks would be well advised to consult a doctor.

Having said this, the greater detrimental effect of stretch marks is often on a person’s mental health. Stretch marks, due to their appearance and the reasons associated with stretch marks, can often contribute to a person’s self-image lowering.

This can lead to a whole range of mental health issues ranging from low self-esteem and fear of being ridiculed to depression. Furthermore, stretch marks are often believed to be a contributor to post-partum stress in women.

Do stretch mark removal products actually work?

Incidentally, there is no scientific study which states that stretch marks can be completely removed by application of a certain compound, or even a combination of compounds. However, the natural process of stretch marks fading over time can be accelerated by the use of certain organic and chemical substances.

Several ancient civilisations have used natural products, mainly oils derived from vegetable or animal fat, to hasten the process of stretch marks fading. Today, with a host of lotions, gels and creams available in the market, people no longer need to put up with the mobility issues and discomfort associated with application of oils directly onto the skin.

Are there any known harmful effects of stretch mark removal products?

While organic stretch mark removal oils are almost universally believed to be safe for application onto the skin, there have been certain concerns raised about chemicals found in most modern stretch mark removal products. For example, tretinoin, a compound which has shown certain effectiveness in reducing stretch marks, is also believed to cause abnormalities in mammalian foetuses; however, it needs to be mentioned that neither study has so far been ruled conclusive.

Glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid are two other chemicals commonly found in stretch mark removal products. As research into the field grows, both harmful and positive effects of various chemicals used in stretch mark removal products will be revealed.

This will consequently propel manufacturers to either increasingly adopt or discard the said chemicals. However, from a lay man’s point of view, the attempt ought to be to favour natural ingredients over their chemical counterparts as much as possible to avoid rude shocks in the future.

Conclusion

Despite not being directly detrimental to a person’s physical health, it is undeniable that stretch marks are undesirable. A good, consistent lifestyle and a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and fatty fish may sometimes be adequate to avoid stretch marks in the first place.

However, the luck factor plays a major role in development of stretch marks. Stretch mark removal products can then come to the rescue, but it needs to be remembered that such products ought to be more accurately understood to be stretch mark reduction products. Thus, the key for persons with stretch marks is to maintain realistic expectations from products and, perhaps more importantly, to maintain a positive outlook towards one’s body.