Stretch Marks on Men: The Complete Guide
Surely, you’ve seen the phenomenon. A guy finally gets gung ho about spending time in the gym. He’s starting to look cut. He might even be noticeably shedding weight. One day, he’s showing off his guns, and you notice some weird stripes on his skin. What you’re seeing is stretch marks, and they’re extremely common.
You’ve heard of stretch marks. A lot of guys seem to be under the impression that they only afflict women. They’re a common after-effect tied to getting pregnant and having babies. Unfortunately, there’s some misinformation wrapped into that though. While stretch marks are common after pregnancy, they’re common in a lot of other situations too. Guys absolutely can get stretch marks. So, today we’re going to bust some myths and completely demystify stretch marks. You’ll learn more than you bargained, but when we’re done, you’ll know how to avoid them and how to deal with them if they show up anyway.
What Are They?
Let’s get into the medical stuff first. A doctor might call a stretch mark “striae distensae.” That’s Latin for “your skin got stretched.” Technically speaking, a stretch mark is a type of scar. It happens when skin expands or contracts rapidly. The rapid change actually ruptures the collagen and elastin in your skin. Usually, this won’t even hurt, but when the skin heals, it can create a new scar in the process. So, when you see a stretch mark, you’re looking at scar tissue. If you don’t like the idea, then you’ll want to keep reading to learn what causes the marks and how they can be treated.
Causes of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks come in different shapes and sizes, and they can be caused by a number of issues. You’ve probably heard of a few, but there’s a good chance you don’t the full range of reasons you (or someone you know) might have the fun marks on their skin.
It turns out that the presence of stretch marks isn’t always the result of life decisions. Hormones can cause them to happen. More importantly, hormonal changes can create stretch marks. This makes them common on teenagers, menopausal women (yeah, this is supposed to be about men) and anyone dealing with hormone regulation issues. Thyroid problems, medications and a number of other hormonal influencers can all cause stretch marks.
What’s interesting is that these types of marks can appear in places you might not suspect. You can see them on the back, on joints, places on the arms and pretty much anywhere else. Isn’t that fun?
There’s another reason to talk about hormones. Sometimes, when you gain weight, it can mess with your hormones. That can be dietary, and it can also be your body adjusting to changes. In either case, that hormonal shift can cause stretch marks that aren’t directly related to the weight gain itself. That seemed interesting enough to mention.
This is the cause you probably had in mind before you started reading. It’s well-known that stretched skin can ultimately cause the marks in question. To be more accurate, most stretch marks are in fact caused by the stretching of the skin, but the overall cause can be a little more detailed.
Most of the issues on this list are explanations for why skin can lose elasticity. Once that happens, it’s easy to get stretch marks, even if you don’t gain or lose any weight at all. Hormones, for instance, can impact skin density and elasticity. If those numbers get off by enough, you’ll find stretch marks in weird places.
On the other hand, it’s possible to stretch health, normal skin far enough to create the marks. It’s not uncommon, and it usually happens in one of three scenarios.
The first is gaining weight. If you put on a lot of pounds, the outer layer of skin has to stretch to accommodate the extra . . . you. In guys, the most common places to see the marks are the belly and the chest. The belly can be particularly tough because there’s more than just weight gain at play. When you eat and drink, your gut distends anyways. Add some extra pounds to the mix, and you’re stretching the skin a little too far. It’s a normal thing, but you do have some control over it.
The second issue is weight loss. Sometimes, weight loss is really just revealing how far the skin was stretched before. Now that the tension is off of the skin, you get to see the scarred wrinkles that are left behind. In other cases, losing weight can actually cause your skin to stretch more. It’s weird to think about, but it happens.
The third common case that leads to stretch marks is muscle gain. You can gain muscle without necessarily gaining a lot of weight. In fact, a lot of fitness regimens try to help you do just that. Trading fat for pounds (or however they advertise it) will reduce the risk of stretch marks. It’s also a generally healthy way to go about fitness. That said, if you pack on a lot of muscle very quickly, you can get stretch marks, and you’ll get them right on top of your new bulk. Most commonly, this will hit a guy on his chest, but it can happen on the arms, legs and back as well.
In all of these cases, you can reduce the risk of stretch marks by slowing down. If you get bigger or smaller at a slower rate, your body has time to produce new skin cells that can keep up with the change, and your flesh doesn’t have to stretch as much to deal with your new level of fitness.
Changes to Cells
Of course, it’s not always up to you. While changing your physical size increases the chance of getting stretch marks, they can also show up if and when your skin cells change. That might sound a little cryptic, so let’s be blunt for a minute. As you age, your skin will lose elasticity. That’s just how the body works. As that happens, you’re probably going to stare down at some stretch marks. Working on fitness and taking care of your skin can delay this process, but everyone ages. Eventually, time will win this war. It’s probably best to start mentally preparing yourself for the inevitable.
At least you can’t say that no one ever warned you about this particular joy of aging.
Sadly, you have even less control over your body than you might realize. Scientists have identified genetic links to stretch marks. Anyone who has these genetic markers is likely to see stretch marks even if they’re super careful about how they take care of their body. On the other hand, you might be lucky. You could be genetically predisposed to not getting stretch marks. You can pull a Thor from the last Avengers movie without a single stretch scar. That’s pretty exciting, right?
Specific Medical Conditions
Last on our list is the inclusion of some specific medical issues. Adrenal diseases (like Cushing Syndrome) can cause stretch marks regardless of any of the above factors. That might seem unpleasant, but medical conditions tend to come with unwanted side-effects. If you’re dealing with adrenal disease and are worried about the issue, have a chat with your doctor. There are things that can help you deal with stretch marks (some of which will be covered in a moment).
Dealing With Stretch Marks
Considering there are a lot of sources of stretch marks that you might not be able to control, it’s probably worth learning a few tricks to deal with them. The first thing you have to accept is that you’re dealing with scar tissue. Left alone, it will remain forever. But, like any other scars, there are things that can make them less overtly visible. Remedies range from maybe-kind-of-works home stuff to visiting a dermatologist. You can decide for yourself what seems like the most promising route.
Let’s start with the cheaper, gentler, easier options. Before that, we should probably kill some myths. Tanning is not a solution to stretch marks. Because they're scar tissue, they won’t tan. That can make them pop and be even more noticeable. That’s not a good plan for dealing with scars.
Myths aside, some people treat scars with common oils. Mostly, those would include almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, and even Vitamin E. These won’t eliminate the scars, nor will they shrink them. But, skin oils and treatments of this nature can make the scars less visible. Mostly, when you make your skin as healthy and good-looking as possible, scars become less distinct. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a harmless method to try, and you’ll get smooth, soft skin in the process.
Now, even though we said tanning is bad, chemical tanners actually can hide the scars. Self-tanners supply the pigment needed to change your outward color. Because of that, they work on scars, too. Basically, you can use a tanner to act as a concealer for the stretch marks. Just make sure you’ll look good in the new color before you go nuts.
If the home stuff isn’t cutting it, and you really want to get rid of the scars, there are medical options. Before we get into them, read the disclaimer: these remedies should only be tried under the direction of a medical professional. Some of this stuff can be pretty intense. If you try them without a doctor, some seriously bad things can happen.
Ok. First on the list is hyaluronic acid. It’s only available through a prescription. Basically, it’s the medical version of the stuff mafia members use to get rid of bodies. Well, maybe it’s not quite that strong, but it is designed to cause reactions in your skin. Technically, this acid occurs naturally in your body, but for the medical-grade stuff, you’re using a concentrated extract. Basically, it draws and holds tons of moisture to the skin at the spot where it is applied. By ultra-hydrating scar tissue, it can cause the striations to contract and shrink, thus leaving you with smaller visible stretch marks.
The other popular topical treatment is Tretinoin. This is a retinoid, which is a fancy way of saying it is a vitamin pack for the skin. It can be applied regularly to any scar, and most people see scars shrink over time. It’s usually a harmless treatment (although side-effects do exist, and you definitely don’t want it in your eyes), but you still need a doctor to be involved. The good Tretinoin is only available through a prescription.
When topical treatments don’t work, there are proverbial big guns that a dermatologist can employ. These start with chemical peels that literally remove layers of the scar tissue, and they progress quickly. Laser treatments can remove scars (that will typically be naturally replaced with smaller scars). Microdermabrasion is the same concept as laser therapy, but it uses a physical, abrasive applicator instead of a laser. Radiofrequency and ultrasound treatments also try to physically reduce the size of the scars, but they use radio waves and sonic bursts, respectively.
If you’re going this hard on your stretch marks, it should be noted that you might want or need more than one treatment method. Obviously, it will depend on the case, but don’t be surprised if your dermatologist has an entire treatment regime, rather than just one method they want to try. Overall, the science of scar treatments is both developed and advanced. If stretch marks are a problem for you, help is available
Leave Them Be
With all of that said, most stretch marks are harmless. They don’t inhibit your ability to do anything. As long as they aren’t causing you psychological distress, it’s ok to leave them be. You can wear them with pride (especially if they’re lasting proof that you got your act together and did the hard work to get in shape). The world is changing, and body positivity is a thing for men too. You can own your stretch marks and not worry about them.
Of course, that shouldn’t come at the cost of your mental health. If they seriously bother you, don’t feel bad about seeing a doctor. It’s all about doing what’s best for you. That’s why we manscape. It’s why we work out. It’s why we do all of these things for self-care. Take the path that will make you happiest. Really, no advice other than that matters.