Everything changes at that moment when a tiny new human emerges from within your own body. While many of these changes are nothing short of incredible, a few are less welcome. Stretch marks often top the list as the most unwelcome.
Appearing pink, red or purple at first, these marks often fade to white or silver. They may even become almost the same shade as the rest of your skin but have a shiny appearance.
If you are interested in reducing the appearance of your stretch marks, you may find yourself wondering if hitting the tanning bed a few times could be the answer. While it may give you a sun-kissed look, it may not be the most effective method for helping you feel good in your own skin again.
Learning a little bit about how stretch marks come about in the first place may help you understand what you can most likely expect from tanning and why other options may be a better choice.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Skin is an amazingly elastic organ, but when it is stretched too quickly its internal layer tears and stretch marks are the result. In fact, stretch marks are considered to be a type of scar tissue.
Human skin contains three layers.
- The epidermis is the visible top layer.
- The next layer is the dermis, which contains the elastic components of collagen and elastin.
- The hypodermis is the deepest layer and contains fat.
Stretch marks occur when the collagen and elastin fibers in the dermis are stretched too quickly and tear apart. Older stretch marks owe their white or silvery color to fat from the hypodermis showing through these tears.
Since a woman’s body has to go through a massive change in order to grow a child in only nine months, stretch marks are an almost universal experience among mothers. In fact, as many as 90% of moms report at least a few marks, typically on the stomach, breasts, buttocks and thighs.
Though a strong consensus among physicians is still lacking, a new theory suggests that pregnancy hormones might also be partly to blame. These hormones can cause collagen and elastin bonds to weaken, making it easier for stretch marks to form.
How Does Tanning Effect Stretch Marks?
Freckles, moles and other skin discolorations are often camouflaged by a tan, so it is easy to assume that your stretch marks would also be harder to see on tanned skin. The opposite usually proves true, however.
No matter how much time you spend in a tanning bed or laying in the sun, stretch marks will not change color. The skin surrounding the marks will tan, though, and you will likely find that your stretch marks are significantly more visible in comparison.
Melanocytes are the cells that give the skin its color, and they are located at the very bottom of the epidermis. When the dermis is over-stretched and tears form, the melanocytes are damaged and will no longer function normally.
Additionally, exposing your skin to significant amounts of sunlight over the long term tends to cause several signs of aging to show up earlier than they would otherwise. Wrinkles, brown spots and uneven texture are a few of the most common issues related to prolonged tanning.
Don’t let this discourage you from getting healthy amounts of sunlight, though. Vitamin D is a critical element for your health, and your skin has the marvelous ability to synthesize this element from sunlight exposure.
Roughly 15-20 minutes of direct sun without sunscreen daily is enough for most people to make the amount of Vitamin D they need. If you are concerned about getting a sunburn or other sun damage, try going outside in the early morning or late afternoon hours when the burning rays are not as strong.
What are Some Alternatives to Tanning?
While getting a traditional tan may not be the answer to reducing your stretch marks, there are some other tricks you can try.
Self-Tanners or Spray Tans
These products produce the look of a tan by using colorants to stain the skin temporarily.
Self-tanning products are readily available in stores and online. They are easy to use and come in a wide range of formulas and price points.
Since self-tanner will tint all the skin surfaces it touches, you will need to use care to properly and evenly apply the color. One of the best things about using a self-tanner at home is your ability to apply as few or as many layers as necessary to match your stretch marks to your overall skin tone.
You can get a spray tan either by using a spray booth or having the application done by a technician.
A booth spray tan couldn’t be easier to do: You simply stand in a booth and the tanning solution is sprayed evenly over your body.
A spray tan performed by a tech will take a little more time and will cost more, but you may find that the custom application justifies the extra time and expense. Using a handheld spray nozzle, the technician applies the amount of tanning solution each area needs to achieve a smooth coat of color.
Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E is a fat-based vitamin found in cell walls. It works to restore some of the elastic properties in your skin and can be applied topically or taken orally in capsule form.
When applied to the skin’s surface, the Vitamin E can work directly on the area you want to target. Pure coconut oil is an ideal complement to Vitamin E, and the two can be mixed together and applied where needed.
Taking an oral Vitamin E supplement can help improve overall skin elasticity as well as support various systems throughout your entire body.
A word of caution: Since Vitamin E is fat-based, your body stores excess amounts of it in fat tissue rather than eliminating it, leading to a possible toxicity. Consult your doctor to determine the amount of Vitamin E that is right for you.
Choices abound for products that claim to reduce or even eliminate your stretch marks. Many creams are available at mass merchandisers at affordable prices, while those that contain more powerful ingredients are typically available at specialty stores or online. These options can be considerably more expensive.
Common ingredients in products like these are:
- Cocoa Butter
- Collagen and Elastin
- Natural Acids
Many creams, lotions or serums also contain moisturizers. While a lack of moisture is not the cause of stretch marks, they may appear less glaring on well-moisturized skin. Also, just taking the time to apply the cream helps you slow down and can be a great way to care for your mind while caring for your skin.
Professional laser treatments can be remarkably effective at stimulating new tissue growth and can significantly reduce the look of stretch marks. Depending on whether your marks are red or white, different types of lasers can be effective at encouraging the production of new collagen and elastin.
While the services offered at a dermatologist’s office may be the most helpful in actually reversing the look of stretch marks, they are also quite expensive. Plan to make a sizable investment if this is the route you choose to take.
How Does Lifestyle Effect Stretch Marks?
Fortunately, you have control over some factors that can influence the look of your stretch marks. Daily choices in your level of activity and what you eat and drink can all have either a positive or a negative effect.
While exercise will not cause your stretch marks to disappear, they will typically be less noticeable on skin that has a good tone. Additionally, just leading an active lifestyle may go a long way towards helping you feel stronger and more confident in your body overall.
A Balanced Diet
Making the effort to prioritize good nutrition is another choice that may not directly impact your stretch marks but absolutely impacts your body overall. Certain foods are known to promote healthy skin, especially fruits, vegetables and healthy fats.
Eating mindfully can also be a fantastic way to practice self-care while giving your body the nutrients it needs.
Skin that is dehydrated is typically sluggish in shedding dead skin cells. When skin looks dry and rough, stretch marks are likely to be more noticeable.
Drinking an adequate amount of water every day can help your skin maintain a fresh and supple look. The amount of water each person needs will vary by individual, but the most common recommendation is about 64 ounces of liquid daily.
Is There Another Way?
Getting back to that idea of change, maybe one of the best approaches to dealing with stretch marks is to change how you think about them. What if you could see those red or white streaks as a badge you have earned rather than simply a flaw you are doomed to live with?
If you stop and really think about it, your post-baby body has done something your pre-baby body never did: it produced a human being. As a mother, your body will never be truly the same again, but that change is for the immense better.
Anything less than perfection often flies in the face of modern beauty culture. However, learning to appreciate what your body has accomplished rather than focusing on what society says you have lost may be one of the healthiest ways to deal with your stretch marks.