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Stretch marks and weight loss: Causes, prevention and treatment

We're rounding up all the facts about stretch marks and weight loss.

Stretch marks and weight loss: Causes, prevention and treatment
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Losing weight is a huge milestone to work towards. But something that you might be concerned about is whether you'll find stretch marks on your body after losing weight.

The truth is stretch marks are an unavoidable part of life but they are more common after extreme weight loss.

That's why when you're trying to lose weight the best thing you can do to avoid stretch marks is to sustainably lose weight.

If you're worried about possibly finding stretch marks on your body after your weight loss, we're rounding up all the facts about stretch marks and weight loss, the causes, how you can prevent it and your treatment options.

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks are a type of scar that appears when the skin stretches or shrinks rapidly.

Having stretch marks on your body is completely normal and about 90% of people have stretch marks somewhere on their body [1]. After all, our body experiences lots of changes throughout our lifetime and it doesn't always stay the same.

Stretch marks are pretty common after gaining weight, losing weight as well as during or after pregnancy. The common thread? Stretch marks usually occur when our body size increases or decreases rapidly.

What do stretch marks look like?

The appearance of stretch marks differs from person to person and the stretch marks located on your body may look different from one another.

The appearance of stretch marks can also vary based on what caused them, how long the stretch marks have been on your body, their placement on your body and what type of skin you have.

Stretch marks can look pink, red, purple, brown, black or silver [2]. Typically they start off looking darker and fade over time. For example, stretch mark formation may start off purple or brown and appear white or silvery as time passes.

The most common areas stretch marks form are on the breasts, chest, stomach, upper arms, legs, bum, hips or on your back [2].

What are the causes of stretch marks?

There are various reasons why stretch marks develop on your body. Skin tears and skin stretching is a normal part of life and happens because the body is changing.

Let's run through some of the causes of stretch marks.

Muscle gain

If you're hitting the gym often and rapidly gaining muscle mass, stretch marks can start to form because collagen in your skin can't keep up with the changes when your skin is stretching. Stretch marks that are caused by rapid muscle gain typically appear on the arms, thighs and bum [3].

Excess skin

Excess skin because of massive weight loss can cause stretch marks as the excess skin weighs down the healthy areas of your skin [4].

This causes the skin to stretch and scar, which is why it's so common for people to develop stretch marks and excess skin after losing large amounts of weight in a short space of time.

Weight loss or weight gain

Weight fluctuations, including rapid weight loss, can cause a lot of changes to the body and the skin too. A disruption to the collagen and connective tissues can cause stretch marks after weight loss and weight gain. And, as a result, stretch marks typically appear purple and blue [5]. These stretch marks tend to fade over time to a lighter skin colour.

Just like rapidly gaining muscle, rapid weight gain can cause stretch marks because the skin stretches in order to make up for the body's rapid growth. When the skin is stretched too much, the dermis tears (the middle layer of the skin) and can give the appearance of stretch marks on the body [6].

Pregnancy

Hormonal changes from pregnancy can cause changes to the skin, meaning you're more likely to get stretch marks because the dermis is stretched too much. Pregnancy stretch marks can appear pink and purple on your stomach, upper thighs or breasts.

Stretch marks typically occur in the last 3 months of pregnancy as the skin stretches to make room for the baby [7].

Can you get stretch marks from both losing and gaining weight?

Yes, stretch marks can come from rapid weight loss and weight gain because of tears to the dermis from changes to your body weight. The dermis contains fibres that stretch your skin when your body experiences growth like weight gain [8].

Rapid weight gain can essentially break those fibres which causes blood vessels to appear on the skin. This is why stretch marks often look red or purple when they first appear.

Essentially any major change in your weight (either gaining or losing weight) can cause stretch marks, especially if this weight change is rapid.

Do stretch marks go away when you lose weight?

In general, stretch marks from weight loss fade or disappear completely on their own. Sometimes rapid weight loss can actually cause stretch marks because of excess skin weighing down on the healthy skin.

If you want to prevent stretch marks after weight loss, make sure you're losing weight gradually and not dropping the weight too quickly. This lowers the chance of developing both excess skin and the appearance of stretch marks.

Losing weight won't make stretch marks go away. Instead, time is one of the best tools you have to reduce the appearance of stretch marks (along with some of the treatments we've rounded up below).

How do I prevent stretch marks?

Unfortunately, there is no way you can prevent stretch marks entirely. They are a normal part of life and a visible reminder that your body is changing. But, there are some preventative measures you can take if you want to lessen your chance of getting stretch marks.

Get enough vitamin D

There is some research suggesting that vitamin D can help prevent stretch marks so make sure you're getting healthy levels of vitamin D in your system [9].

The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun, but you also want to prevent skin damage so make sure you're wearing your SPF+50 — this is especially important if you're using topical creams with retinoids as they increase the skin's sun sensitivity.

Maintain a healthy weight

We've already talked about how rapid weight loss and rapid weight gain can cause stretch marks. If you're navigating weight loss make sure you're doing it the healthy way to prevent stretch marks.

Juniper's Weight Reset Program is designed for healthy, sustainable and long-term weight loss designed by medical experts, health coaches and dietitians. Our Weight Reset Program combines breakthrough medication that regulates digestion, decreases appetite and ultimately shifts your relationship with food.

Plus, we use health coaching to help you make habit and lifestyle changes and a support system from other women on the weight loss journey with you. You also get weekly check-ins with your doctor to track your physical, mental and biometric health to make adjustments to your individual needs.

Stay hydrated

Dry skin has less elasticity than hydrated skin. If you want to keep your skin healthy and look after skin elasticity, keep your skin hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day, and moisturising the skin, especially after the shower.

Eat a nutritious diet

To prevent stretch marks you should also eat a balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals to boost your collagen production. Collagen is a protein that's naturally produced by the body and it keeps the skin soft and supports skin elasticity and flexibility [10].

Collagen production also regenerates skin when it's damaged so if you've got existing stretch marks, collagen can help fade stretch marks so they aren't permanent.

If you're looking to stimulate collagen production here are some of the foods to include in your diet:

  • Lean proteins including turkey, salmon and tuna
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Green, orange and red vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts [10].

Plus, a balanced diet with foods rich in vitamin E, vitamin C and zinc can ensure healthy skin [8].

Treatments for stretch marks

If you've got existing stretch marks or older stretch marks and you're not sure how to get rid of them, there are plenty of options out there. It is important to remember that stretch marks are completely normal (so be kind to yourself if you do spot them).

But if you feel self-conscious about changes to your body, here are some options to consider.

Topical treatments

Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A and come in topical treatments that can reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Prescription retinoids can be used on stretch marks as it works to stimulate collagen fibres, making the stretch marks fade.

It is worth noting that most topical treatments advertised as stretch mark creams aren't clinically proven to prevent new stretch marks or treat stretch marks. Prescription retinoids are the only topical treatment that has produced effective results in treating stretch marks [11].

Microneedling therapy

Microneedling to treat stretch marks uses a device with tiny needles to create micro-wounds in the dermis to stimulate collagen production. If you've tried stretch mark creams and they don't seem to be producing effective results, your stretch marks can be treated with microneedling.

Studies have shown that microneedling therapy is a safe and effective treatment for stretch marks with 43.8% of patients noticing an excellent improvement in stretch marks and 37.5% were highly satisfied with the treatment [12].

Laser therapy and other procedures

Laser therapy targets the stimulation of collagen and elastin in the dermis where stretch marks are formed. Research shows that laser therapies can reduce the depth of stretch marks which can improve the appearance of stretch marks by 20-60% [13].

However, laser therapy as a stretch mark removal treatment is generally not advised for people with darker skin tones due to the risk factors of hyperpigmentation [14].

Ultimately, stretch marks are one of those things everyone will experience in their lifetime and there's nothing wrong with it. The best thing you can do to prevent stretch marks is to look after your skin and body by maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your skin hydrated.

Image credit: Getty Images

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