For many of us, stretch marks are those unwelcome scars that we'd like to just magically disappear. They can pop up all over the body, with the most common areas being the tummy, thighs and chest area. While some women are glad to show off their marks as a proud symbol of motherhood, others constantly search for treatments to get rid of them. We spoke to Dr. Justine Hextall, Consultant Dermatologist at the Tarrant Street Clinic, for an explanation of why stretch marks appear and how to treat them.
"Stretch marks are triggered by a rapidity of growth and how that effects collagen," says Dr. Hextall. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and it's found in bones, muscles, tendons and skin. It's essentially the substance that holds the body together and gives the appearance of bouncy, full, smooth skin. However, collagen production declines as you get older and can be literally over-stretched by rapid growth and weightgain.
"Teenagers can suddenly have a growth spurt which their collagen simply can't keep up with, or a woman may put on a reasonable amount of weight in a short amount of time during pregnancy, and the skin will stretch".
"Collagen is a bit like elastic", she continues. "If you stretch it beyond its limit, you'll get fractures in the collagen within the connected tissue. It's important to understand that's what a stretch mark is. It's in the deep area of the skin, the dermis".
Despite the fact the fact that "you can't really prevent stretch marks with a topical treatment because it's in the 'scaffolding of the skin', you can help them", Dr. Hextall says. "Keeping the skin hydrated and healthy is always a good thing to do."
Here, Dr. Hextall outlines exactly what you can do to minimise the appearance of them…
1.Wait for stretch marks to fade
"There are two stages of stretch marks," says Dr. Hextall. "Stage one is when they are very new and red and the second is when they fade to a white, silvery appearance. Although the underlying problem of the fractured collagen cannot be corrected by a cream, using one when the stretch marks are still red will help to speed up this colour change making them less noticable".
2. Try Intense Pulse Light
"If you have got residual stretch marks that aren't improving and the redness remains, you could consider a treatment such as IPL (intense pulse light) that will promote collagen and reduce redness," suggests Dr. Hextall. "This treatment is available at clinics across the country."
READ: Stubborn stretch marks: Golden rules for successful prevention
3. Photo Fractional treatment
"You could also try Photo Fractional Treatment, which is a combination of IPL and laser. The IPL will help any pigmentation change and the Fractional will help promote new collagen and tightening of the skin. By combining the two, it increases the effect of the fractional laser."
Another treatment that Dr. Hextall recommends is Microneedling. She explains: "Microneedling is a treatment where you needle the skin. Rather than putting heat holes into the skin, you use a mechanical approach where you damage the collagen in certain areas. It realises it's under attack and starts to produce new collagen. That starts to soften those lines. With any treatment, the end result depends on the severity of the stretch marks and how the patient responds."
5. Natural treatments
If treatments at a clinic aren't for you, how about some more natural-based remedies? "Chamomile is a nice anti-inflammatory treatment that you can use at home," says Dr. Hextall. "Anything that reduces inflammation and soothes the skin is a good idea. Products containing Aloe Vera or Glycerine are very hydrating and soothing."
6. Boost anti-oxidants through exercise
Dr Hextall says: "If you don't exercise for nine months in pregnancy, you lose muscle tone and the skin looks looser." She advises continuing to do gentle exercise such as yoga, swimming and walking to prevent stretch marks. Exercise also helps reduce the marks. "Exercise promotes anti-oxidants and give us good blood flow, which are really important for stimulating new collagen. Any repair is much better when we're exercising."
LOOK: Stretch marks: is weight gain the only cause?
7. Look at your lifestyle
Poor lifestyle choices could be having a big impact on your stretch marks. "Stress, poor diet, UV exposure and smoking breaks our collagen down," Dr. Hextall reveals. "The best way to counter this is a healthy diet full of 'rainbow foods' such as yellow peppers, berries, carrots - foods full of antioxidants."
8. Super supplements
While Dr. Hextall advises caution when taking supplements, she is a fan of supplements containing Anthocyanins. She explains: "Anthocyanins are an interesting antioxidant for protecting your collagen. Green tea is also good antioxidant and vitamins D and C are great for the skin too."
9. Be careful of UV exposure
"Lying in the sun on holiday can pigment the stretch mark, which you don't want," advises Dr. Hextall. "It's very important when you have new stretch marks to wear a high sun cream like factor 50 sunblock with both UVA and UVB protection, and reapply as often as a low factor sun cream. I'd recommend wearing a UV top if you're swimming in the sea because reflection from the water means higher sun exposure."
10. Makeup is a great quick fix
"The best product for covering stretch marks is Dermablend by Vichy," she reveals. "It comes in a stick so it's fantastic for whizzing over thread veins or stretch marks. It's great because it tends to stay on in the sea."