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The loss of skin's elastin and collagen is responsible for causing stretch marks. This loss can occur due to hormonal changes caused by such things as prolonged steroid use or Cushing's syndrome. Perhaps the most common reason these marks form, however, is because the skin is stretched more than normal, leading to a breakdown of the tissue fibers. When this happens, a stretch mark develops and can be seen in the top layer of the skin.
Often, individuals are surprised to learn that stretch marks are actually a type of scarring. When the skin is overstretched and collagen production is disrupted, a type of scar forms. Initially, they appear as lines that have a red or purple coloring, but after a while, the color changes, ending in a light, faded look.
Rapid growth frequently causes stretch marks. If an individual gains weight rapidly, he or she may develop them. After losing weight, the skin is no longer overstretched and the marks may become less obvious, but like all scars, they do not disappear completely.
Pregnant women can also develop stretch marks due to the rapid increase in weight and girth that a woman undergoes during pregnancy. Even if a woman's size doesn’t increase enough to overstretch her skin, she can develop the marks due to the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. If neither the physical nor hormonal causes are present, a woman may survive a pregnancy stretch mark free.
Pregnant women are not the only people who get these marks. Anyone who experiences weight fluctuations may develop them, and individuals struggling with obesity are also prone to this scarring. Teens may develop them as the result of growth spurts, and bodybuilders may get from them as well when increasing muscle mass.
Although stretch marks can develop on any part of the body, they are most common in areas that have the most stored fat and are the most likely to stretch. These areas include the abdomen, breasts, and buttocks. They are also common on both the inner and outer thighs, as well as the upper arms and the underarms.
Most people find the marks to be aesthetically unpleasant, especially on their own bodies. They do not pose a health risk, however. The scars typically have a soft texture and a slightly empty appearance.
Many individuals have tried creams, lotions, and other products intended to prevent stretch marks. Most health care professionals agree that moisturizing lotions and creams cannot hurt, but, unfortunately, are unlikely to help. Some cosmetic treatments, such as microdermabrasion, may be helpful in improving their appearance. Tretinoin cream, commonly known as Retin-A, may also be helpful in making them less noticeable.