Male Stretch Marks Symptoms and Causes

Treatment Options

Stretch Marks

 

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We tend to think of stretch marks, also known as striae distensae (SD), as something that affects women much more than men, but that is actually not true. Men can—and do—get stretch marks and for many of the same reasons as women.

Although the skin is incredibly flexible, it does reach a point where it can no longer stretch (or stretch fast enough) without causing the tears and scarring we recognize as stretch marks.

Symptoms

Stretch marks develop when the skin stretches faster than it can grow. It takes place in the middle layer of skin, called the dermis, which is responsible for retaining the overall shape of the skin.

Stretch marks develop when the underlying tissues grow faster than the dermis, causing the dermis to tear. These tears leave linear striations on the upper layer of skin (epidermis) where the tissue has visibly thinned.

The tear will also cause tiny blood vessels in the skin to break, giving the stretch mark its characteristic pinkish or purplish hue. When they first develop, stretch marks may cause a burning or itching sensation. Over time, the normal pigmentation of the skin may return, although the tissues themselves may appear slightly shiny.

While stretch marks are not harmful, they are generally unpleasing and may cause emotional distress. Tanning tends to enhance rather than diminish their appearance.

Causes

While the causes of stretch marks in men are not all that different than women, they are primarily associated with three physiological conditions:

  • Rapid growth during puberty which primarily manifests with horizontal stretch marks on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and back
  • Rapid weight gain and obesity in which the accumulation of subcutaneous fat causes vertical stretch marks on the abdomen
  • Bodybuilding, in which the rapid growth of muscle will trigger stretch marks along the perimeter of a muscle (such as the outer edge of the chest muscle or in tandem with the striations of the shoulder muscle)

Beyond this characteristics, some men may be more predisposed to stretch marks than others. This is especially true in men with health conditions that cause the overproduction of hormones known as corticosteroids.

Among their many functions, corticosteroids regulate the production of skin cells known as keratinocytes in the epidermis and fibroblasts in the dermis.

Fibroblasts are especially important as they produce collagen that the body uses to keep the skin supple. If there is an overproduction of corticosteroid, less collagen is produced and the skin is less able to flex.

Corticosteroid overproduction is often associated with disorders of the adrenal glands. Diabetes, Cushing's disease, Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danos syndrome, and scleroderma are just some of the disorders associated with this effect.

Corticorticosteroid drugs used to treat a wide range of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders can also lead to a loss of collagen and an increased risk of stretch marks. Even topical corticosteroids can cause a thinning of the skin if overused.

Anabolic steroids used by some bodybuilders can also contribute.

Treatment

Stretch marks can have a profound effect on a person's self-confidence, particularly if they are extensive or severe. To this end, many men and women will resort to products which claim to prevent stretch marks and/or reduce their appearance. To date, there is little clinical evidence to support these claims.

With that being said, there are some over-the-counter and natural products that are believed to provide some relief compared to no treatment at all. Among them:

  • Topical tretinoin cream is widely used to treat acne. A small randomized study conducted in 2014 suggested that a 0.05% tretinoin cream may treat stretch marks as well, lessening the appearance of early (rather than established) scars.
  • Centella asiatica, also known as Gotu Kola, is a perennial herb used in topical preparations to prevent SD. While some older studies have suggested that it is more effective than a placebo (56 percent versus 34 percent), the studies were poorly designed and explored no other possible explanation for the results.
  • Microdermabrasion and laser treatments may help by improving the overall appearance of the skin, especially if the stretch marks are deep. A small study conducted in 2016 suggested that the procedures delivered better results than topical tretinoin creams.

If you have stretch marks, you may be able to prevent the further spread by losing weight. You can also reduce their appearance by using sunscreen and avoiding tanning and tanning beds.

Despite what some people may tell you, there is no diet that can reduce the risk of stretch marks or mechanical techniques, such as heat application or massage, that can prevent or treat the condition. Collagen supplements appear to have little if any, impact.

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