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Stretch marks are easily recognizable, especially when they're brand new. They tend to be red or purple in color, and they create parallel lines across areas of your body such as your stomach, buttocks, back and arms. Although people who are overweight can get stretch marks, there are other reasons stretch marks appear.
How Stretch Marks Form
Stretch marks tend to form when the middle layer of your skin, the dermis, is stretched over time. This disrupts the skin's normal production of collagen, and the dermis breaks down along stress lines. The blood vessels in the dermis begin to show through the upper layer of skin, called the epidermis. This gives stretch marks their initial dark color, although the blood vessels retreat back into the dermis over time so the color fades. Because the epidermis doesn't have strong support from the dermis along the stretch mark lines, the lines tend to be raised and look wrinkly.
Any increase in your body's size can lead to stretch marks, not just an increase from a buildup of fat. When you lift weights and your muscles get bigger, the skin around those muscles gets stretched. This can lead to stretch marks, often seen on the backs of your arms or the tops of your thighs. Genetics also plays a factor; if you have a family history of stretch marks, regardless of the reason for marks, you're more likely to develop them.
Some medications can increase your chances of developing stretch marks. Steroid skin creams, such as hydrocortisone, can reduce the amount of collagen created in your skin. So can oral corticosteroid pills, if taken over a period of several months. Stretch marks that appear when you're not gaining weight or muscle size might be a sign of a medical issue such as Cushing's syndrome or Marfan syndrome. Check with your doctor if you're concerned about the sudden appearance of stretch marks.
Helping Stretch Marks
When you're pumping up your workout and want to try to avoid stretch marks, keep your skin well moisturized so it stays more elastic. Products containing cocoa butter or shea butter work well to help prevent stretch marks, although no lotion can combat genetics over the long term. When stretch marks appear, taking vitamin C or rubbing vitamin C creams over the area might help, or you can check with your dermatologist about glycolic acid treatments.