by: Li Jin
Some people call them ‘railway tracks’, ‘spider webs’ or broken skin. Half of all women who have had a baby will experience stretch marks at their abdomen, thighs or underarms. Sometimes it goes away by itself, sometimes they never quite go away.
Stretch marks not only happen to pregnant women but also to people who have lost a lot of weight. Yes, and that includes men too!
What exactly are stretch marks?
They appear as fine, horizontal lines across areas of the body that are prone to rapid weight gain, such as around the stomach area, the back of the arms and thighs, and around the buttock area.
Although your skin has the ability to stretch (elasticity) in order to accommodate natural growth, there are times when the growth rate surpasses the skin’s ability to expand. When this occurs, stretch marks will form.
The color of stretch marks ranges from pinkish to brownish to purplish. Over time they fade until they appear as lines a few shades lighter than your natural skin tone.
What can you do about it?
There are many remedies available, all with differing rates of success. But before you decide what to do, bear in mind that no treatment will completely eliminate the marks. No matter what treatment you choose, the end objective is merely to reduce the appearance of stretch marks as much as possible.
Keeping your skin well-moisturized may help reduce stretch marks before they even form. Although moisturizing ingredients only penetrate the upper-most layer of the skin, they help by ensuring your skin remains supple and more resistant.
Vitamin E has long been touted as a skin miracle but in truth it has limited effect on stretch marks and may only offer slightly better result than moisturizers. However prescription-strength vitamin A (also known as retinol) has an exfoliating effect and penetrates deeper for better results in reducing the appearance of marks. A dermatologist would be able to advise you on the respective therapies available, their efficacy and possible side effects.
Also known as AHAs, these are derived from fruits and work by exfoliating old skin cells on the surface and encouraging the renewal of cells. By replacing the old with the new, your skin looks and feels better, and stretch marks are reduced so long as you continue with the AHA treatment. However be careful not to expose treated areas to the sun as AHA-treated skin is more sensitive to sunlight.
Laser surgery is most effective on marks that are darker than your natural skin tone. As such, it’s only possible in the early stages when marks are still forming, rather than at advanced stages when the marks have lightened. You may also need to have a series of treatments to get good results.
This process, offered at many slimming centers, is actually a deep-tissue massage using rollers and a suction device to increase circulation and encourage your body to dispel excess water and toxins. The stretching effect, ironically, is what helps to exfoliate dead cells and reduce the appearance of marks. However, a series of treatments is necessary to see results.
What Doesn’t Work?
Be wary of miracle cures. Early measures such as moisturizing and exfoliating can help reduce the appearance of marks before they even start, but once the marks are visible there is little you can do.
Most importantly, natural or artificial tanning does not help because the marks don’t tan easily. Hence the marks will still be noticeable after tanning, and may even become more visible because of the contrast between tanned skin and pale stretch marks.
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