Purple stretch marks, also known as purple striae and “striae caerulea” are scars that form exclusively within the skin, as opposed to on the skin. When stretch marks form, the structure of the skin’s dermis layer is disrupted, leaving behind the classic linear, stretched appearance. An increase in the size of the blood vessels in the stretch-marked skin is what makes some striae appear as purple stretch marks.
Who Gets Purple Stretch Marks?
People at risk for stretch marks have generally undergone some physical or biological event that has caused severe stretching of the skin’s dermis. Women more frequently develop stretch marks compared to men. Stretch marks often result from:
- Rapid weight gain followed by weight loss
- Cushing’s syndrome and disease
- Pregnancy (younger women more than older)
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Liver Disease
- Medications: steroids (oral and topical), chemotherapy, oral contraceptives, anti-seizure medications
Which Body Areas Get Purple Stretch Marks:
The most common areas for purple strecth marks to form are:
- lower back
- upper arm
What’s Actually Going On?
When a stretch mark forms, a substance called elastin that gives skin its durability and pliability gets broken down. This happens when one of the causes of stretch marks (listed above) provokes the release of biological chemicals called elastases. Other features of stretch marks are enlargement of the size of the blood vessels in the skin and thinning of the upper (epidermal) skin layer.
How To Get Rid Of Purple Stretch Marks:
Creams And Ointments For Purple Striae
A plethora of over-the-counter products are on the market purported to prevent and/or treate stretch marks. These include products that contain:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Aloe Vera
- Hyaluronic Acid and Collagen
- Coconut Oil
- Silicone Gels
- Shea Butter
- Almond Oil
- Cocoa Butter
There is a lack of good quality medical research with respect to how well over-the-counter products actually work and whether the effects are temporary or longer-lasting. Products containing vitamin A seem to have the greatest level of evidence, but should not be used during pregnancy due to their association with severe birth defects.
Other Treatments For Purple Striae
- Ultraviolet light treatments
- Lasers such as pulsed dye laser to decrease redness/purple discoloration
- Fractional lasers (eg. Fraxel) to promote collagen and elastic build-up and even improve pigmentation
- Chemical Peels and Microdermabrasion to promote the rebuilding of the skin’s structure
- Radiofrequency Devices promotes tightening of the dermis by apply heat to the deep skin layers
- Microneedling and Dermarolling to improve skin structure
- Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) seems to be a promising new treatment for stretch marks
Camouflage tattoos for stretch marks make use of customized tattoo pigments to match your skin’s normal tone. This treatment is much like the normal tattooing process in which a needle injects pigment into the dermal layer of the skin to provide a permanent pigmentation. Most camouflage tattoo experts want the stretch marks to have been present and stabilized for around 2 years prior to starting these treatments. Unfortunately, this type of treatment really only works for stretch marks that are lighter than the surrounding skin and is likely not suitable for purple stretch marks.
Purple stretch marks are the result of the combination of stretching of the skin dermis and an increase in blood vessel size. It’s the increase in the size of the blood vessels in the skin that gives purple stretch marks their characteristic color. Getting rid of purple stretch striae is challenging. Over-the-counter products are plentiful but not backed up by good scientific data. Amongst these, products with vitamin A seem to show the greatest level of evidence but should never be used during pregnancy. Treatments such as laser, chemical peels can be used to both rebuild the skin and decrease purple discoloration. Camouflage tattoos are usually not an option for purple tattoos.
Oakley AM, Patel BC. Stretch Marks. [Updated 2021 Feb 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.
Ud-Din, S et al. “Topical management of striae distensae (stretch marks): prevention and therapy of striae rubrae and albae.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV vol. 30,2 (2016): 211-22. doi:10.1111/jdv.13223