Picture the scene: sick of your gut straining against your t-shirt, you decide you need to lose some weight. You look forward to dropping the pounds and unveiling the trim man inside and revelling in your newfound attractiveness. But to your horror, instead you see unsightly stripes and slashes appear: you have developed stretch marks. Stretch marks, or striae as they are sometimes called, can happen to any of us, and one of the most common questions we get here at MAN v FAT is how you can swerve becoming more rippled than ripped. Here’s everything you need to know about stretch marks, including the essential things you can do to help avoid them and reduce them if you get them.

Extreme stretch marks

Extreme stretch marks

What are stretch marks?

Just as it says on the tin, they’re marks that are left over from when the skin stretches. They can appear pretty much anywhere, but are most common locations are on the stomach, thighs and other places that store the most fat.

They can appear as angry red lines, purple slashes or silvery threads. This depends on your skin colour, how far the skin has stretched and how old the marks are. They usually only look bad and don’t have any negative effects on your health but they can be itchy and annoying as well as being an eyesore.

They can also really knock your confidence and make you feel self-conscious. MAN v FAT football coach Dan says his stretch marks make him feel uncomfortable, “I avoid any topless times – even going into the swimming pool.”  

Why do they happen?

Stretch marks appear whenever the body goes through periods of rapid change, hence why they’re so common in teenagers going through growth spurts and women who have been pregnant. Unfortunately, if you’re a man who has been overweight it’s also very likely that you’ll get some stretch marks from where your skin has stretched over excess fat. 

Striae are caused by the tearing of the middle layer of the skin, which then allows the deeper layers of skin to show through. This middle layer tears when it’s stretched too far and the stretchy fibres break, then the skin loses elasticity. This means it can’t bounce back as easily and stretch marks are formed.

They’re not a given and some men can gain and lose weight without seeing a single stretch mark appear: these are the men who have won the genetic lottery. On the whole they are extremely common so if you do get them don’t worry, they should fade over time.

If you head over to our forum you’ll see that stretch marks is a common worry from those who have lost weight, even if it’s not something that we tend to talk about much. Even one of our most impressive Amazing Losers has them, but they don’t stop him from making the most of his newfound energy and zest for life.

Is there anything I can do to avoid them?

The biggest help is losing weight slowly so that the skin has time to adjust and heal. The recommended rate of weight loss is up to 2lbs a week, which if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose sounds like a terribly slow process, but it’ll be worth it to give yourself a fighting chance against stretch marks and loose skin.

You can also help yourself by keeping your skin hydrated by drinking lots of water and keeping it healthy and protected by wearing sunscreen when you’re outside. Moisturising your skin after bathing will help too. All very boring advice, but sometimes simple advice is the best advice. You’re probably not going to dodge stretch marks completely, but looking after your skin definitely helps.

Older stretch marks

Older stretch marks which are starting to fade

What can I do to make them go away? Do they actually go away once I’ve got them?

If you go into any branch of Boots you’ll see that the market for oils and lotions that claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks is huge. They won’t actually repair the skin or make stretch marks disappear completely but oils like Bio Oil do help to reduce the appearance of them, or so say most of the 4,000 reviews on Amazon, make up your own mind on that one. So if you’re the type to be swayed by anecdotal evidence give it a go, but don’t expect it to perform miracles.

If you’ve got new stretch marks that are very noticeably red and annoyingly itchy, in a few months they’ll bother you a lot less as your skin starts to heal. These stretch marks will eventually turn a silvery colour as in the picture above, although the skin will still be thin and will probably have a puckered appearance. So they don’t really go away once you’ve got them, but they do become less of a pain as time goes on.

What if I’ve bathed in a gallon of Bio Oil every night and I still resemble a tiger?

Bad news: a study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that actually, despite the claims that those creams and oils make about reducing stretch marks, most treatments available are not evidence-based. Dermatologists still don’t completely understand stretch marks, so they also don’t fully understand what will make them go away.

But if you want to do something about them, there are a few options available.

Option one is camouflage make-up, a heavy duty foundation which gives an airbrushed look to the skin. This does a great job of hiding any skin impurities but it’s temporary, not water-resistant and well, it’s make-up, and we don’t know about you but we don’t much fancy doing that rom-com thing of jumping out of bed in the morning to apply our make up before our bedfellow wakes up.

Stretch marks on a back

You can get laser surgery to stimulate collagen production in affected areas, but again, this isn’t something that will completely get rid of stretch marks, it’s more like an extreme version of the lotions and potions you can get in the supermarket and it can take many expensive laser sessions to get any kind of effect.

If you were hoping that there was a good way of getting rid of your stretch marks completely, the short answer is that there isn’t. The only way of truly getting rid of them is to have an abdominoplasty, AKA a tummy tuck, but as this is literally removing your skin it’s probably a step too far unless you also have a lot of loose skin bothering you too, and even then it’s not a decision to take lightly.

Where can I go for support if they’re really getting me down?

It’s all well and good us telling you not to worry about them, but we know from experience how horrible it is to look at your stomach after losing weight and see a stripy stomach or silvery marks all over your legs, especially when you were looking forward to enjoying your trim new figure and wearing shorts on warm days.

Sometimes knowing that you’re not the only one going through this helps, so join our forum to talk to other men going through the same thing – believe me, they’ll all know what you’re talking about.

If they’re affecting your everyday life, it’s worth mentioning to your GP so they can give you advice and refer you on to someone who can help – whether that’s going down the surgical route or talking to someone who can help you come to terms with your new body.

You should try and think of them as battle scars as forum user Fil does. Mikese13 has also learned to love them, saying “I don’t want to lose my stretch marks. They’re a constant reminder of what I go through, and I’m used to them.” After all, your body is an amazing machine that puts up with whatever rubbish you throw at it, maybe a few stretch marks is a small price to pay.