Also referred to as striae, stretch marks occur when the affected skin expands or stretches excessively, beyond its elastic limit. The formation of stretch marks has been attributed to excessive weight gain, and these marks are commonly observed during pregnancy. In general, people who are highly obese or overweight are likely to show stretch marks. Rapid weight loss and frequent use of corticosteroid creams can also cause excessive tension in the skin and lead to the development of stretch marks.
Did You Know?Stretch marks can develop due to hormonal changes. These hormonal changes prevent or reduce the formation of elastin fiber and collagen in the skin. This diminishes the skin's ability to withstand rapid stretching and makes it susceptible to develop stretch marks.
Depending upon the color, there are two types of stretch marks―red or white. Although they do not vary in their appearance (both appear as irregular lines), there is a significant difference in how early they have formed. This is discussed below.
How recently have they developed?
The color of the stretch marks indicates the amount of time the marks have appeared on the skin. So, by examining the color of stretch marks, one can determine how long these marks have been present on the skin. To put it simply, red stretch marks are fresh or newer marks that exhibit a reddish or purplish color. When we say that these marks are still fresh, it means they are less than 6 weeks old.
On the other hand, white stretch marks indicate that they are 'older' marks and have been present on the skin for quite some time now. These stretch marks, when formed, were actually red in color but, over time, their color diminished and changed to silvery white. This change in color from red to white is a slow process and may take more than a year to complete. One can also say that this transition of stretch marks' color from red to white is a part of the healing process, and the appearance of older, white stretch marks suggest that they have completely healed.
What are the treatment options?
The treatment options for removal of red and white stretch marks are not the same. White stretch marks are older, stubborn marks that do not respond to methods that are usually used to remove red stretch marks. So, skin creams, or other home remedies such as application of lemon juice or aloe vera gel, that are commonly recommended to eliminate red stretch marks, unfortunately, do not work in eliminating white stretch marks. To get rid of these stubborn marks, the doctor may recommend laser surgery or microdermabrasion―a minimally invasive cosmetic treatment. In most cases, surgical removal is necessary to remove these mature stretch marks.
Is melanin present?
The absence of pigmentation in white stretch marks is yet another factor that differentiates them from red stretch marks. As we all know, the color of the skin is determined by melanin―a pigment secreted by the melanocyte cells in the skin. Initially, as the skin expands, the affected skin exhibits red or purple marks. However, these reddish stretch marks still contain melanin, but over time, the melanocyte cells are lost. As a result, the color of stretch marks begin to fade, eventually resulting in white or silvery striae. This lack of pigmentation is primarily responsible for formation of white stretch marks.
The appropriate time to treat stretch marks is when they are red in color, because their transition into lighter, white, silvery marks can make them less receptive to conventional treatment. So, initiating treatment as early as possible, rather than late, can improve the chances of eliminating these stretch marks.