A common myth about stretch marks is that only women can get them. However, men are just as likely to suffer with stretch marks as women. While for women a primary cause of stretch marks is pregnancy, for men the causes are generally related to rapid muscle gain, weight gain, or weight loss.
Stretch marks are a significant concern for bodybuilders who make their living off of the appearance of their bodies. Because rapid muscle development can lead to stretch mark scarring, bodybuilders must take preventative measures to prevent skin from stretching and scarring. However, stretch marks are not a concern exclusive to bodybuilders; regular men who like lifting weights at the gym and sculpting their bodies are also at risk for getting stretch marks as a result of developing muscles.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks appear when skin must stretch to accommodate changes in the size and shape of one’s body. If skin is brittle when the body changes shape, the middle layer of the skin—known as the dermis—will tear in order to accommodate growth. The torn dermis layer will originally appear as dark red or purple lines and can, over time, become white. These lines are known as striae, or stretch marks.
Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body but commonly appear on the arms, thighs, and/or buttocks of weightlifters. The reason stretch marks are more likely to appear in these areas is because these areas are more likely to experience rapid muscle development after starting a new workout routine.
Why Worry About Stretch Marks?
If you are a professional bodybuilder, you spend a significant percentage of your life perfecting your body. When people look at you, you want them to notice your six pack abs, not the collection of stretch marks extending out from your armpits. Additionally, if you plan on participating in a professional bodybuilding competition, judges will take the appearance of your skin into consideration when scoring, and having stretch marks may result in lower scores. If you’re just lifting weight for fitness, you could feel self-concious when going to the pool, beach, or taking of your shirt in general.
Stretch marks are permanent and will not go away on their own without treatment. For that reason, it is important to take preventative measures to discourage stretch mark development so that your progress toward sculpting the perfect body is not marred.
Stretch Mark Prevention
By improving skin elasticity, softening skin, and avoiding behaviors that encourage stretch mark development, you can drastically reduce the likelihood of stretch mark scarring.
- Avoid Performance Enhancing Drugs and Supplements: Performance enhancing drugs like steroids and supplements like creatine will greatly increase the speed in which new muscles develop. If your skin is not elastic enough to support the rapidity with which muscle develops due to your performance enhancing drugs and your new exercise routine, your skin will stretch and tear, forming stretch marks. Plus, the hormone imbalance created by using these can also make one more likely to develop scarring.
- Use a Stretch Mark Prevention Product: A stretch mark prevention lotion, when applied twice daily, can strengthen and hydrate your skin and help significantly decrease your chances of developing stretch marks. Stretch marks typically have no symptoms, so the best way to prevent them is to start using a prevention lotion as soon as you begin a new bodybuilding routine. See our compiled list of prevention products here.
- Use a Self-Tanning Lotion or Spray Tan for Color: If you’re planning to participate in bodybuilding competitions and need to be tan, opt for a spray tan or use a self-tanning lotion instead of going to the tanning bed. The UV rays caused by the tanning bed can damage the protein in your body that promotes skin elasticity, increasing the likelihood that your skin will tear when stretched.
- Drink Plenty of Water: Lifting weights and exercising will deplete the moisture in your body, and when your body is dehydrated, your skin can be more brittle and less flexible. Making sure your water intake matches the needs for your workout regimen will keep skin hydrated and less likely to stretch and tear.
Living with Stretch Marks
In some unfortunate cases, no amount of prevention can stop stretch marks from developing. In a way, you should be proud of your stretch marks when they come—they show that you buffed up so much that your skin couldn’t handle it! However, building up muscle is in many ways about having a great looking body, and stretch marks will mar what is otherwise a perfect physique.
If you have stretch marks already or end up with them after taking up weightlifting, there are many ways to reduce their appearance or get rid of them altogether:
- Hide Them Under a Tan: If you already have stretch marks, there’s no point in avoiding the sun to prevent them. While still recognizable, tanned skin does help with the appearance.
- Use a Stretch Mark Treatment Product: Similar to the lotions designed to prevent stretch marks, there are also products designed to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. If you want a cost-effective and easy way to diminish the visibility of your stretch marks, try using a stretch mark treatment product.
- Visit a Dermatologist: A dermatologist can perform a variety of procedures that may reduce the appearance of stretch marks, such as microdermabrasion, laser treatment, a chemical peel, or blue light therapy. Keep in mind, however, that these treatments are expensive, and you may have to undergo several treatment sessions to see any difference. For example, laser treatment can take multiple sessions and several months to have an effect on stretch mark visibility and can result in out of pocket costs between $5,000 and $10,000.