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Stretch marks, medically termed striae distensae, are a form of scar tissue that affects the dermal layer. They initially appear as pink, reddened, or purplish lesions that over time whiten. Affected areas include the breasts, abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, and upper arms.
Stretch marks are most commonly associated with pregnancy, developing to some degree in approximately 75 percent of women prior to delivery. Contributing factors include weight gain and hormonal changes. Stretch marks can also occur in men, especially those who rapidly gained muscle mass as a consequence of weightlifting with or without illicit steroids.
Prevention is difficult. Avoidance of rapid weight gain or loss is prudent. Steroids taken to gain muscle mass are potentially dangerous and may induce not only striae but more serious medical conditions as well. Pregnant women may benefit from a combination of moisturizers and massage.
Treatment of stretch marks is best undertaken at an early stage when the lesions are discolored. Indeed, a goal of therapy is to hasten the conversion of reddened or purplish patches to lighter, less visible hues. Nonprescription remedies include topical vitamin C preparations as well as those containing glycolic acid. The theory is that such products will stimulate collagen.
Retinoids such as Retin-A (tretinoin) promote production of collagen and can improve stretch marks, an effect that has been documented in clinical studies. Glycolic acid peels, applied in a doctor’s office, may be of benefit as well. Several studies document improvement following laser, IPL, and fractional photothermolysis. Multiple treatment sessions are usually required.