While doctors use the term striae distensae, most people call them stretch marks. These jagged red or white marks can be a source of irritation.
Stretch marks are a totally normal occurrence that many people have, including men. There are treatments that may help reduce the appearance of these marks.
A common misconception about stretch marks is that only women get them. This may be because many women get stretch marks in pregnancy when their skin rapidly grows to accommodate a baby. But men get stretch marks as well, and there are some causes that may make them more likely to get them.
Doctors haven’t pinpointed one cause for stretch marks. Instead, they think stretch marks are a combination of several factors that cause changes to occur in the skin. These include:
- physical stretching of the skin
- changes to skin cells
Doctors do know there are life events that’re more likely to cause stretch marks. These include puberty and weight gain. Both factors may be influenced by hormones, as well as stretching of the skin.
Stretch marks also have a genetic component, so if someone in your family has stretch marks, you’re more likely to get them.
Some of the potential causes of stretch marks in men can include:
- adrenal diseases, such as Cushing syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or Marfan’s syndrome
- growth spurt in puberty
- rapid weight loss or gain
- weight training with rapid muscle growth
If you use corticosteroid creams for an extended time period, such as prescription-strength hydrocortisone to treat eczema, you may be more likely to see stretch marks.
Stretch marks can occur anywhere on the skin. In men, they’re more likely to occur in areas of weight gain or where muscle is put on quickly. For adolescent men, this is usually in the buttocks, calves, back, or thighs. For adult males, this is usually the buttocks, according to a 2014 review.
Stretch marks are a form of skin scarring that occurs when a person’s skin gets stretched or shrinks very fast. The changes affect components of skin called collagen and elastin that become damaged. Stretch marks can appear due to the way the skin heals itself.
Stretch marks tend to have a two-fold development. First, a person may notice red or purple jagged lines on areas of skin that have been stretched. The skin may feel raised and is often itchy. Over time, the marks fade to the second stage. These stretch marks usually have no color to them and may feel lower than the skin around them.
There are many anecdotal home remedies that promise to reduce or prevent stretch marks in men and women. Many are highly moisturizing topical applications. Some home remedies include:
- almond oil
- cocoa butter
- olive oil
- vitamin E
While these may be moisturizing, there’s no evidence that they prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. According to an article looking at several randomized controlled trials on women, cocoa butter, vitamin E, and olive oil were not effective in reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
The same article did report one older study from 1996 that found massage with vitamin E oil for pregnant women reduced the incidence of stretch marks somewhat. However, the sample size was very small and likely not significant enough to say the results were applicable to a larger group of people.
Even if lotions and creams haven’t been scientifically proven to reduce stretch marks, you’ll still hear and read about lots of people who swear by them. If you do give them a try, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a few tips for effective use:
- Use the product when you first see stretch marks or notice the signs of itching. Topical products don’t usually work well on old stretch marks.
- Massage the products in. Massage seems to help the products work more effectively.
- Apply the product consistently over the course of several weeks to months.
While lotions and creams may not treat stretch marks, they can reduce some of the itching that occurs when they develop. You can also conceal them using self-tanner. However, actual tanning may make stretch marks appear more prominent.
Dermatologists also may prescribe treatments, such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin A, to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there were two large-scale studies that showed applying hyaluronic acid to new stretch marks helped make them less noticeable.
The same was true for retinoid creams, which are forms of vitamin A that encourage skin cell turnover. However, a person had to apply the creams frequently and over the course of 24 weeks to reduce or fade their stretch marks.
Medical treatments that may help to reduce stretch marks include:
- chemical peel
- laser therapy
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of high-level, evidence-based studies that have tested stretch mark treatments. Studies tend to be on a smaller scale, which makes it hard to conclude that a certain treatment will definitely work to reduce stretch marks.
Since genetics and hormones play a role in stretch mark development, it isn’t always possible to prevent stretch marks.
One way you could reduce the likelihood you’ll develop stretch marks is to maintain a healthy weight without rapid fluctuations. This reduces the skin stretching that can increase your risk for stretch marks.
If you’re concerned about the appearance of stretch marks, talk to your dermatologist about possible treatment options and preventive measures. They can take your specific health needs into account and make recommendations.