The Real Cause
Stretch marks happen. Whether from pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, or a growth spurt in your early teens, countless women and some men experience the frustrating but common skin problem. Yes, even the stars get them. Leann Rimes recently tweeted about her stretch marks and how she’s had them for years, and pop diva Jennifer Lopez even showed off a pre-airbrushed image from a recent photo shoot that bared her stretch marks. But what exactly are stretch marks and how do they form on your skin? If you’re curious, we have the inside scoop.
It’s Not What You Think
If you think stretch marks are caused by your skin stretching, think again. Seems like the obvious answer, we know, but there’s more to stretch marks than meet the eye. “People associate stretch marks with weight gain or pregnancy and assume that stretch marks are caused by our skin stretching to fit around this new, larger body,” notes Dr. Bernstein, Director of the Main Line Center for Laser Surgery. “The association is so strong that the name ‘stretch mark’ was given; only further adding to the misconception.”
The Real Cause
So what does cause the unsightly red and purple marks? The true cause of stretch marks is hormones. During periods of growth — when women are pregnant, when people are lifting weights and gaining muscle mass, or when growth spurts happen during teen years, a serious change in hormones and a change in the metabolism in the skin occur. It’s true that your skin is expanding as your body is expanding, “but it’s the hormonal changes and not the ‘stretching’ that is the cause of stretch marks,” Dr. Bernstein explains.
What Does Weight Gain Have to do With It?
The physical increase in body size during pregnancy or weight gain doesn’t ‘stretch’ the skin (as you might have thought). When people gain weight, it affects the hormones in the body, and also the hormones in the skin. The hormonal changes that occur as a function of gaining weight are the cause of stretch marks. When it comes to pregnancy, as hormones shift and change in the body during pregnancy, these hormones interact with your skin and result in stretch marks.
Stretch Marks: The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that anything that changes the hormones in your body and your skin — from pregnancy and birth control pills to rapid weight gain or loss and growth spurts — can all cause stretch marks. It might sound hard to believe, but there’s proof. “We have been able to artificially create stretch marks on normal skin simply by applying strong topical corticosteroid creams,” says Dr. Bernstein. “And this is without any weight loss or gain on the part of the test subject. The steroids are similar to the hormones in our bodies which cause stretch marks, so by applying them to the skin we are inducing a stretch mark,” he explains.
Knowing what causes stretch marks won’t make them go away (unfortunately), but the more facts you have about what’s happening to your body, there easier it is to find ways to alleviate the problems you’re facing. If you’re dealing with stretch marks, talk to you doctor about the best options for minimizing them.