Stretch marks form when the skin expands and the underlying elastic tissue tears. These tears occur deep in the skin and manifest themselves as stretch marks – reddish, thinned outlines. They can occur anywhere, but most often appear on the abdomen, thighs and arms. Pregnant women get them when their skin expands. But pregnant women aren't the only ones affected. Teenagers can develop stretch marks during periods of rapid growth. Similarly, people who gain or lose weight rapidly can develop them. There are certain medical conditions that can cause stretch marks, as well.
The goal for pregnant women is to prevent stretch marks from forming in the first place. Several studies have shown that about 70 percent of women will form stretch marks during pregnancy. Younger women have a slightly higher rate of stretch mark formation during pregnancy than older women.
Cocoa butter has been used for many years to prevent stretch marks. One brand of cocoa butter, Palmer's, has been around almost 100 years! However, a recent study in medical literature showed that cocoa butter had no better results than placebo in preventing stretch marks.
More recent products such as Strivectin have put forth claims to treat existing stretch marks. Strivectin retails for $135 and is available online and in select stores.
Prescription strength Retin-A is a cream that was originally developed to fight acne. Over the years, it has developed other uses, such as reversing wrinkles and improving stretch marks. Studies show that Retin-A does, in fact, help existing stretch marks but can be very irritating. Do not use Retin-A if you are pregnant because it could potentially be toxic to the fetus. A 45-gram tube of brand name Retin-A costs almost $300.
Lasers can actually improve existing stretch marks. They are minimally painful, but take several sessions and cost a few hundred dollars each treatment. Of course, you should not use laser treatments if you are pregnant.
A brand new product, Vivaplex, is a non-prescription crème and lotion that has been shown to prevent stretch marks and improve the appearance of existing ones, as well. Only 14 percent of women who used it during pregnancy developed stretch marks (as opposed to the national average of 70 percent). Their independent clinical studies also showed that Vivaplex worked better than Retin-A on existing stretch marks without the irritation. The Vivaplex crème and lotion set is available online for $79.
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