Written for Stretchmarks1 by Michelle Alford
Stretch marks are most commonly associated with pregnancy, but both men and women can get stretch marks from weight gain or rapid weight loss. These marks usually appear on the stomach, arms, hips, and legs, but can also be on the chest and back. If quick action is taken when stretch marks first appear, they can be diminished or even completely erased.
Stretch marks are caused by the dermis, or underlying layers of skin, stretching past their natural elasticity and tearing. Because women gain weight quickly during pregnancy, the skin doesn’t have time to adjust and is likely to tear. During slow weight gain, the skin grows and expands naturally; however, the more weight gained, the more the skin tears. This can happen gradually at first, with stretch marks that appear and fade as the skin heals, but as the additional weight remains and is added to, the stretch marks become thicker and are more likely to become permanent.
Less commonly known is that rapid weight loss can also result in stretch marks. Losing weight too quickly damages the collagen and elastin in the dermis, which makes the skin less elastic and less capable of healing itself. This means that it will be more likely to crack and cause stretch marks.
The best time to treat stretch marks is while they’re still red or purple. Once they turn white, they’ve solidified into scars and will be significantly harder to erase. If you start to notice the development of stretch marks, you should take the following preventative measures:
- Drink a lot of water. If your skin is dehydrated, it’s more likely to become unhealthy and tear. Water will help your skin better stretch or shrink, in addition to improving its ability to heal small breakages.
- Moisturize your skin. Moisturizers such as cocoa butter or germ oil can also help hydrate your skin. In addition, massaging moisturizer into your skin increases circulation and promotes the growth of new cells.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Whether you’re gaining or losing weight, maintaining a healthy diet is important for skin health. Eat foods rich in protein, zinc, and vitamins a, c, and e to increase your skin’s elasticity and bolster your skin cells’ natural regeneration process.
- Exercise. Even if you’re in poor physical shape, simple exercise routines can improve skin health and prevent stretch mark growth. Try to at least stretch lightly, do leg lifts, and walk for 30 minutes every day. This will tighten your skin and increase muscle, which helps to hold skin in place and prevent cracking.
While these steps can help diminish and erase stretch marks when they begin to form, it would be best to prevent the development of stretch marks completely. Though you can’t always prevent weight gain, you can be careful about how quickly you lose weight. Be wary of diets that cause you to lose more than one or two pounds a week. Besides being more likely to cause stretch marks, these diets can be unhealthy in other ways. Healthy eating habits and exercise regimens promote both healthy bodies and beautiful skin.
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Photo: Daniel Oines