Stretch marks are visible lines beneath the skin that commonly appear on the stomach, chest, thighs, hips, or arms. They are caused when skin changes shape more rapidly than it is capable of and, as a result, tears and scars. The tearing and scarring appears beneath the topmost layer of the skin in red, pink, purple, or white lines and does not heal on its own regardless of how much time passes after originally appearing.
Who’s at Risk for Stretch Marks?
Because stretch marks are a common concern for pregnant women, many people believe that only pregnant women are at risk for developing stretch marks. However, stretch marks can develop on anyone regardless of gender or age—men and teenagers have as much or a risk of developing stretch marks as pregnant women. Stretch marks commonly develop under the following conditions:
- Pregnancy: Stretch marks commonly develop on a pregnant woman’s belly and breasts due to the rapid growth in those areas during pregnancy.
- Weight Lifting: Male and female body builders, especially those using supplements to promote quick muscle development, commonly develop stretch marks on their arms, chests, buttocks, and thighs due to rapid skin expansion to accommodate new muscle development.
- Puberty: Teenagers and preteens commonly develop stretch marks during puberty due to growth spurts that cause skin to stretch rapidly.
- Weight Gain or Loss: When weight is gained or lost rapidly, skin will expand or contract to accommodate for the amount of fat present beneath the skin. Because of this, gaining or losing weight rapidly can result in stretch mark formation on any part of the body.
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stretch Marks
Whether you belong to one of the groups that is at high risk for developing stretch marks or not, there are several lifestyle changes you should make to minimize the likelihood that you’ll get them:
- Control Your Weight Gain/Loss: Gaining or losing weight at a slow pace will give your skin time to compensate for changes in shape and will lessen the likelihood of tearing. For pregnant women, this means gaining only the weight needed to support a developing fetus. For body builders, this means building muscles gradually over time. For individuals starting a diet, this means losing weight gradually rather than making drastic diet changes that will encourage rapid weight loss.
- Eat Foods that Promote Collagen Development: Collagen is a protein in your body that promotes skin elasticity and prevents the tearing that causes stretch marks. While your body produces collagen naturally, it may not produce enough on its own to prevent stretch marks. In order to help promote collagen development, make sure your diet consists of lean meats, green vegetables, and fruits that are rich in amino acids. Consult a doctor through before any nutritional changes to your diet.
- Avoid Tanning and Direct Sunlight: The UV rays produced by direct sunlight and tanning beds destroy collagen, so spending time in the tanning bed or in direct sunlight can increase your likelihood of developing stretch marks by making your skin brittle and prone to tearing. During periods of high risk for stretch mark development, replace tanning with a sunless tanner, bronzer, or spray tan for color. If you must be in direct sunlight, make sure to wear a sunscreen that blocks UV rays.
- Drink Plenty of Water: Skin must be hydrated in order to stretch, so if you are dehydrated, your skin will be more likely to tear while stretching. For this reason, it’s important to drink the recommended amount of water each day while at risk for stretch marks: 13 cups of water per day for men, and 9 cups of water per day for women.
- Avoid Eating Too Much Sugar: When you eat more sugar than your body can use for energy, the excess sugar in your system can attach to proteins in your body and damage them. Collagen is a protein, so eating excess sugar can damage your body’s collagen and make it more likely for skin to stretch and tear. Avoiding eating excess sugar can help ensure that your collagen is undamaged and is available to promote your skin’s elasticity.
Stretch Mark Prevention Products
Lifestyle changes can help reduce your likelihood of developing stretch marks, but they may not be enough to prevent them altogether. One of the potentially best ways to prevent stretch marks is to apply a stretch mark prevention product to your skin twice a day.
Stretch mark prevention lotions and creams can help prevent stretch marks by softening skin and promoting elasticity, making it less likely that skin will tear when stretched. Using these products is a simple and effective way to help prevent stretch marks without having to make major lifestyle changes. However, in combination with lifestyle changes, a stretch mark prevention product can drastically reduce your likelihood of getting stretch marks. You can see a full list of products we’ve compiled here.