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The Best Cure for Stretch Marks: Your Genes

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 12/2/2010

Stretch marks are thin pieces of stretched skin. They are a common form of scarring created when the middle layer of the skin expands faster than the inner layer. Supermarket shelves are stacked with stretch mark creams and treatments, but many individuals will find that they won't work. Why?

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    Stretch marks are scars. They are formed when fibres such as elastin and the connective tissue collagen tear as the middle layer of skin is stretched beyond its capacity. Though more often associated with pregnant women, stretch marks can appear on anyone whose skin undergoes a period of rapid expansion. For example; body builders, adolescents, and people who suddenly put on weight.

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    Stretch Mark Prevention

    When skin has been stretched beyond its limit it is not able to bounce back and recover its former vigour and glory. So it needs a helping hand. Small wonder then that stretch mark prevention treatments, and stretch mark removal products represent a multi-billion dollar industry. There are a wide variety of treatments such as creams, laser surgery, moisturizers, and vitamin supplements, but there is no miracle cure, because stretch marks are scar tissue.

    If you are looking for a stretch mark treatment that will completely zap your scars you will be out of luck. At the time of writing there is no treatment that can completely eradicate stretch marks. However, some stretch mark prevention treatments can reduce their appearance. For example, early use by pregnant women of 0.1% tretinoin cream for six month has been shown to cause significant fading of the scar tissue (Kang S et al. Topical treatment (retinoic acid) improves early stretch marks. Archives of Dermatology 1996; 132 (5): 519-526).

    The scientific literature also reports some success with laser surgery (Suh D et al. Radiofrequency and 585-nm pulsed dye laser treatment of striae distensae: A report of 37 Asian patients. Dermatol Surg; 33 (1):29-34). In this study 89% of patients with stretch marks on their abdomen reported improvement in the appearance of their skin.

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    Getting Rid of Stretch Marks for Free

    There is not yet a large and significant body of scientific literature to support the efficacy of stretch mark prevention treatments, though the area is rich with anecdotes from women supporting the claims made by manufacturers that their products work.

    It appears that the biggest factor in determining whether or not you will have stretch marks, and how drastic they appear will be down to your genes. If your mother or sister experienced stretch marks during pregnancy then it is more likely that you will too whilst you are carrying. Your genes will also affect how well you respond to some stretch mark treatments

    Nature, in the form of genes, offers the best cure, in that women who do not experience stretch marks are likely to come from a family with little or no history of the condition.

    Gene manipulation may one day be of benefit to people who are prone to stretch marks, and the fruits of any gene-based research into wound healing may be applicable to the treatment of stretch marks. It may also tell us more about scarring and the wound healing process. For example, in 2008 researchers at Bristol University in the UK, demonstrated that by suppressing a gene known as OPN -which is one of the genes involved in scarring - wounds healed faster and scarring was reduced.

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    Understanding Scarring

    When skin is damaged an inflammatory response is triggered. White blood cells known as macrophages rush to the site of the trauma to protect it from infection by microbes. They also guide the production of collagen which helps the wound to heal, but the connective tissue also stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the skin. OPN and chemical signals are involved in the body's repair system and they are all targets of various research groups to see if they can be manipulated to reduce scarring, whilst still conferring their protective benefits.

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    Ryoichi Mori, Tanya J. Shaw, and Paul Martin

    Molecular mechanisms linking wound inflammation and fibrosis: knockdown of osteopontin leads to rapid repair and reduced scarring

    J. Exp. Med., Jan 2008; 205: 43 - 51.