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Identifying stretch marks
Stretch marks are the white to red lines that you might see on your abdomen, hips, thighs, or other parts of your body. Aside from the appearance, you might also notice extreme itchiness, which is more likely to occur with newly developed stretch marks during pregnancy and other weight fluctuations.
While stretch marks can occur anywhere on the body, they tend to develop on areas where you’ve gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time. This includes both pregnancy and nonpregnancy weight gain, such as in puberty.
Stretch marks aren’t medically harmful. The key is to properly identify the stretch marks and then alleviate the itch.
Stretch marks are caused by the stretching of your skin that causes tearing at the dermis, the layer below the epidermis. This tearing allows what’s in the layer below the dermis to fill in and cause stretch marks.
This usually occurs when you gain weight in a short amount of time, and your skin has to compensate for the rapid growth. Such weight gain may be attributed to pregnancy, puberty, or certain medical conditions.
At first, new stretch marks are pink, red, or purple in color. Fresh stretch marks are also more prone to itchiness. As stretch marks heal, they can turn white. Most stretch marks run vertically along your body, though they can sometimes be horizontal, too.
Healing skin tends to be itchy. With dermal tearing, your nerves respond by creating the itchy sensations. This is also why your stretch marks might itch after you’ve lost weight.
Pregnancy may cause rapid weight gain in some women, especially in the hip, thigh, and abdominal areas. Some women are more prone to stretch marks in these areas, and they may itch as they heal.
It’s also possible that the itchiness is attributed to more than just pregnancy-related stretch marks. Some pregnant women develop a rash called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). In some cases, PUPPP may develop directly on top of your stretch marks, causing extreme itchiness.
Itchy stretch marks are also related to other causes. While anyone who experiences weight fluctuations may get stretch marks, you’re more likely to get them if you:
- are female
- have a family history of stretch marks
- experience rapid muscle growth while weight training
- have a history of rapid weight gain or loss
- are undergoing puberty
- have a history of systemic or topical corticosteroid use, such as regularly using topical hydrocortisone on your skin, as these can stretch out the skin and make it thinner
Certain medical conditions not related to pregnancy may also lead to stretch marks. These include:
- being overweight or obese
- frequent hormone fluctuations
- Cushing syndrome
- Marfan’s syndrome
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
As stretch marks develop and heal with any of the above causes and risk factors, you might experience on-site itchiness. And, look out for dry skin, as this can make your stretch marks itchier.
The key to getting itchy stretch marks under control is to treat the underlying itchiness. Try not to scratch, because it makes you more prone to cuts and infections. Instead, try these home remedies to stop the itch.
This is one home treatment that’s especially soothing for your skin during pregnancy. The thick, ultra-moisturizing cream help keep your skin hydrated while also decreasing itchiness.
Moisturizers and other topicals
Itchiness that’s caused by PUPPP may benefit from a moisturizer as well as topical corticosteroids or antihistamines. However, be sure you don’t use the corticosteroid for longer than recommended, as this can cause thinning skin over time, and an increased risk for future stretch marks.
Coconut oil and vitamin E
Coconut oil and vitamin E capsules and creams may also help alleviate itchiness. Other plant-based oils, such as almond and olive oils can also reduce the itch in your stretch marks. If your skin is on the oily side, try jojoba oil instead — this may help to cause less oil accumulation from your skin.
No matter which home remedy you try, it’s important to use it as early and often as possible for the best results. It can also take several days — even weeks — for any stretch mark home remedy to work. Massaging the product in your skin can make it more effective. Stick with your treatment until all signs and symptoms of itchy stretch marks have improved.
There are also professional-grade procedural treatments, which are typically performed by a dermatologist, for reducing the appearance of stretch marks. Some of the options include laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels. You may consider seeing a dermatologist for more information on these options.
You can help prevent itchiness by properly moisturizing your stretch marks and the surrounding skin. Drinking an ample amount of water every day can also keep skin hydrated and reduce itchiness.
While it’s nearly impossible to prevent weight fluctuations during the course of a lifetime, you can help to make sure you’re in control of some of the causes of rapid weight gain, such as steroid use or a sedentary lifestyle.
Keeping up with your annual health exams will also give your doctor an opportunity to diagnose possible underlying causes of rapid weight gain that may be controlled with prompt treatment.
Just as most stretch marks fade to a less noticeable appearance with time, you’ll also likely see a gradual decline in the itchiness. However, if your stretch marks continue to itch severely despite home treatments, you may want to see your doctor for an evaluation. You should also call your doctor if your stretch marks are accompanied by a rash.