Can you erase stretch marks?

Cristen Conger

Did you know anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of adults, depending on age and ethnicity, have stretch marks?

Did you know stretch marks are a common part of puberty?

Did you know genetics play a large role in whether people develop stretch marks?

If not, it's probably because most of what we're told about stretch marks is how "unsightly" they are and how to "get rid" of them. What's commonly left out of all the stretch mark-related panic is the actual science behind how they form, how perfectly common they are and how they're virtually impossible to erase completely. And no wonder we aren't better informed about them since stretch mark "treatments" fuel a multiBILLION-dollar industry. A profit-driven case for keeping people in the dermatological dark, huzzah!

When it comes to how these striations form, even the "stretch" in stretch marks is misleading since hormones actually play a more incremental role than just overtaxed skin. Duke School of Medicine's Zoe Diana Draelos told Real Simple that during periods typically associated with forming stretch marks -- puberty, pregnancy and weight gain -- the adrenal glands kick up production of hormones called glucocorticoids that then cause the collagen and elastin breakdown that leads to stretch marks.

So what to do about them? The Mayo Clinic calmly explains: "Although they may be a cosmetic concern, stretch marks are harmless and often fade over time." The red and purplish appearance of newly-formed stretch marks (striae rubra in doctor speak) is caused by swollen blood vessels that show through the collagen-damaged dermis. Over time, they'll constrict, and the striations will fade. Creams and lotions enriched with vitamin A and retinol can help reduce the appearance of those early stage striae rubra, and expensive laser treatments can further promote fading. Oh, and the often-cited cocoa butter regimen to reduce stretch marks? Not effective. And as any honest dermatologist will attest: stretch marks are impossible to completely avoid or erase.

But here's a radical thought: it's OK that stretch marks are permanent. Instead of constantly describing them as "unsightly," what if we just called them "perfectly normal" and saved ourselves collectively a few billion dollars per year on treatments that won't work as promised in the process? It's not a stretch to see which is the wiser option.

Related Stuff Mom Never Told You: 5 Fat Truths About Cellulite