Imagine a balloon that has been blown up and then deflated. No matter how much you blow it up again, it has lost much of its original elasticity and will never look quite the same. So it is with stretch marks. They don't go away entirely. The key is to find ways to reduce their appearance. The earlier you begin treating stretch marks, the more likely you are to lessen their appearance; they are much easier to treat when they first appear as raised red or reddish brown marks. Once they begin to flatten and fade, they become less obvious and are more difficult to treat.
About 75 to 90 percent of all pregnant women (90 percent of white women) develop stretch marks during pregnancy. The sustained stretching on the abdomen as a result of weight gain usually means stretch marks will appear during the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. But pregnant women aren't alone in being susceptible. Adolescents experiencing a growth spurt and athletes (especially bodybuilders who practice strenuous and repetitive exercise) are likely to get stretch marks, as is anyone who gains or loses a significant amount of weight in a short period of time.
If you never gain weight for any reason over the course of your life, you are not likely to develop stretch marks. But those of us who carry children or simply put on weight are likely candidates, as are those of us who practice strenuous and repetitive exercise. Some say that as our skin structure is genetically determined, we are predisposed to developing stretch marks; others disagree, pointing to the fact that there are ways to help prevent stretch marks. Prevention takes diligence, but certain things can help: Massage your skin with a massage brush or glove to increase circulation; apply moisturizing cream to the area of concern on a daily basis to keep the skin supple; and eat foods that contribute to the overall health of the skin, such as those high in vitamins C and E, zinc and silica (which helps to form collagen).
Understanding the Skin and Stretch Marks
We have three layers of skin: the epidermis, or outer layer; the dermis, or middle layer; and the subcutaneous stratum, or deepest layer. Stretch marks (also known as stria atrophica and striae distensae) occur in the dermis, the elastic, resilient middle layer that allows skin to retain its shape. If stretch marks formed on the skin's surface, they'd be much easier to treat. When the dermis is constantly stretched over time, the skin becomes less elastic and the connective fibers break. The result is the markings we know as stretch marks.
Depending on your natural skin coloring, stretch marks begin as raised pink, reddish brown or dark brown striations that then turn a brighter violet or purple. Gradually these bright marks flatten and fade to a color a few shades lighter than your natural skin tone. They usually become less noticeable over time.
Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body where the skin has been stretched (often as a result of weight gain). They're most likely to appear in places where fat is stored: the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, thighs and buttocks. They pose absolutely no health risk and don't compromise your body's ability to function healthily; they are purely a cosmetic issue and need to be treated accordingly.