BODYBUILDING STRETCH MARKS: CAN THEY BE ELIMINATED?
The good news?
You’ve stayed consistent to your training and nutrition plan, put in weeks and months of solid hard work, and have packed on some significant muscle size and strength as a reward for your efforts.
The bad news?
All that new muscle has forced your skin to quickly expand along with it, leading to the all-too-common “bodybuilding stretch marks” that many serious lifters encounter in the beginning phases of their lifting journey.
Although I personally couldn’t care less about the various sets of stretch marks that cover my pecs, arms, lats and quads (I like to think of them as “battle wounds”) this is definitely something that many guys out there are self-conscious about and want help with.
But is it really possible to get rid of stretch marks from lifting? Are there any stretch mark treatments out there that can make a noticeable difference?
Well, sort of.
Let’s go over it…
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks (or “striae distensae” as they’re usually referred to in dermatology) are linear bands or streaks that show up on the surface of the skin.
As the name implies, they’re caused by rapid stretching of the skin beyond its elastic limit due to a relatively quick increase in muscle mass and/or body fat.
As the skin expands, the dermis (the middle layer of skin as seen above) begins to tear, causing the deeper layers of skin to show through.
In most cases where the body is “left alone” to grow at a more steady pace, the connective fibers in the dermis are able to gradually stretch out over time.
However, when growth occurs more quickly (such as during your “newbie” phase of lifting where muscle size is gained relatively fast), the fibers can over-stretch and break.
There also appear to be genetic factors at play as well, as some people’s skin simply contains less protein and elastin than others, increasing the chances that stretch marks will occur.
Newer stretch marks will usually appear red or purple at the start due to blood vessels that show through the dermis, and over time as the blood vessels constrict they’ll fade to a white or silvery color.
Stretch marks don’t pose any sort of health risk on their own, but are simply a “cosmetic nuisance” for those who don’t like the look of them.
Can Bodybuilding Stretch Marks Be Eliminated?
Just as the bodybuilding supplement industry is chock-full of shady marketers peddling all sorts of pills and powders that promise dramatic results, the “stretch mark industry” is really no different.
Run a Google search for “stretch mark cures” and you’ll find no shortage of different creams, gels, lotions and supplements that promise to eliminate your bodybuilding stretch marks in a matter of weeks.
Unfortunately, the simple truth is that most of these products just flat-out don’t work.
Plenty of studies have been conducted looking at the effects of common stretch mark treatments (such as cocoa butter, almond oil, silicone gel, olive oil etc.) and most of the results show very minor benefits at best.
This is probably because creams or lotions don’t penetrate deeply enough into the skin in order to increase collagen production or repair the skin in any significant way.
Remember, stretch marks from gaining muscle are not a “surface area” problem; they actually occur in the middle layer of skin as a result of actual tears in the connective tissue.
This basically means that your skin has scarred from the inside out, which is much different than a typical scar that might show up on your skin from an external wound.
For these reasons, I really wouldn’t recommend going out and spending your cash on any stretch mark creams or lotions, as there’s a very good chance that they won’t do much of anything for you.
The Only Way To Truly Reduce Stretch Marks
If your bodybuilding stretch marks are something that really bother you and that you absolutely want treated, then the only reliable way to go about it is by visiting a dermatologist.
Direct hands-on methods such as microdermabrasion, laser therapy or IPL (intense pulsed light) are the only treatments that have actual concrete research behind them showing real benefits.
This is a popular technique that is used to treat a variety of skin problems, and research has shown that it can effectively reduce stretch marks as well.
The treatment involves a device that shoots small crystals onto the skin surface, “polishing” away imperfections while a vaccuum tube removes the crystals and skin cells.
With the top layer of skin removed, the growth of new elastic skin underneath is stimulated.
Using different wavelengths of light, laser therapy aids in the production of new collagen and elastin, which are the two main connective tissues found in the skin.
Pulse dyed lasers are typically used to treat newer stretch marks, while fractional lasers are used to treat older ones.
IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)
As the name implies, this treatment uses a high-powered light that “pulses” onto the skin in order to stimulate the break down and regrowth of the connective tissues.
If you’re truly serious about dealing with your bodybuilding stretch marks once and for all, then you’ll likely need to look into one of these methods.
Setup an appointment with your dermatologist to explore the available options and to find out which one is most suitable for you.
However, keep in mind that these sorts of treatments are often quite pricey and require multiple sessions in order to be effective.
In addition, they don’t guarantee the complete elimination of your stretch marks depending on how severe they are.
1 Tip To Prevent Stretch Marks Before They Happen
One last piece of practical advice I’d give for those concerned about stretch marks from lifting is to always go the “clean bulking” route rather than the “dirty bulking” route when trying to put on muscle.
With clean bulking, you’ll focus on maintaining a smaller calorie surplus over time and gaining muscle at a steady, gradual pace.
Those who use the dirty bulking approach and simply cram down huge amounts of calories every day trying to get “as huge as possible” are at a much higher risk for stretch marks due to the rapid fat gain they’ll inevitably experience along with their muscle growth.
Clean bulking will still allow you to build muscle at or near your maximum potential, but while staying relatively lean in the process and allowing your skin to gradually expand rather than tear from excessive stretching.
I always recommend a clean bulking approach regardless of the issue of stretch marks, but this is yet another reason why it’s almost always the best way to approach things.
It’s still entirely possible that you might develop stretch marks even with a clean bulking program, but this will at least help to reduce the chances.
(You can check out this article for more information on how to carry out an effective clean bulk.)
The Bottom Line On Stretch Marks From Lifting
Unless you’re willing to pay for hands-on treatment from a dermatologist, there really isn’t much you can do to reduce the appearance of stretch marks from lifting.
Creams, lotions and supplements aren’t likely going to produce any noticeable benefits at all, and the best stretch mark treatment for most people is simply time.
Although bodybuilding stretch marks will start out as a harsher red or purple color, keep in mind that they will noticeably fade over time into white or silver and become a lot less noticeable.
I’ve personally never had a problem with stretch marks and don’t think they look all that bad anyway, and unless you’re going to dish out the cash for microdermabrasion or laser therapy, my advice is to just think of them as “battle wounds” and wear them proudly as a symbol of the progress you’ve made.
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