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Stretch marks are a common skin problem, characterized by long, red, pink or white lines that are sometimes depressed. They usually appear on the belly, the buttocks or on the hips, and they can also appear on the breasts. Stretch marks stay on the skin for a long time and rarely go away on their own.

What are stretch marks

Stretch marks or striae are a result of the skin stretching due to weight gain or weight loss, sudden growth, and most commonly, pregnancy. They can also be caused by hormones and steroid medications. Stretch marks affect 70% of teenage girls and 40% of teenage boys.

When the skin is caused to stretch quickly and massively, its supporting structure cannot hold anymore and it breaks. Dermal collagen becomes damaged and the blood vessels dilate, which results in red or purple-pink marks on the skin. Eventually the color fades but the lines, which become white, persist.

Stretch marks and pregnancy

Stretch marks are a common problem during and after pregnancy. Almost 90% of pregnant women will have them. They are not only caused by weight gain and a belly that becomes bigger as the baby grows, but hormones also play a role in it. Hormones disrupt the protein balance in the skin and the skin becomes thin, more prone to damage.

Stretch marks usually form in the third trimester, when the body is going through the most extensive changes in size and shape.

Treatment for stretch marks

There are several options for removing stretch marks, some more and some less effective. Over-the-counter products like Strivectin, which are widely available, but unfortunately they have not proven to be very successful. The same goes for creams and lotions based on cocoa butter. They may be helpful for some, but in most cases they are not able to remove stretch marks completely.

Prescription ointments and therapies are also available, and they usually include retinA, glycolic acid and alphahydroxy acids.

Cosmetic surgery procedures are also widely used to remove stretch marks. Chemical peels and dermabrasion have been proven effective, however, the results always depend on the patient and the severity of the stretch marks.

Laser surgery can be effective but it rarely eliminates the stretch marks completely. In addition, laser treatments require more than one session.

As for the surgical solutions, they are more successful but they are also more invasive and with a longer recovery time. Stretch mark elimination is usually done during a tummy tuck procedure. The problem is, these procedures are usually performed on people who have excess skin, like those who have recently lost a lot of weight.

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