What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks (also known as striae) are extremely common and affect a vast majority of women during their pregnancy. They appear as raised red, pink, purple or dark brown lines or streaks in the skin. In the beginning, stretch marks are quite visible but over a period of time they fade into flat, silvery lines.
The skin is made up of three layers – the epidermis (top layer), dermis (middle layer) and subcutaneous layer (inner layer). The dermis consists of elastic fibers of tissue that allow the skin to stretch to a certain point. When the body expands rapidly over a short period of time, the fibers weaken and break and stretch marks begin to develop.
Stretch marks generally appear on a woman’s belly during pregnancy from the end of the second trimester onwards. The abdomen expands quickly to accommodate the baby growing inside and as a result the skin is stretched on parts of the body where fat is stored.
Women may also develop stretch marks on the breasts, thighs, hips, buttocks, upper arms and lower back. Stretch marks also affect women who are not pregnant, men, adolescents, athletes and body builders who have gained excessive weight or experienced rapid spurts of growth.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are caused by the loss of elastic tissue in the skin due to overstretching during periods of rapid weight gain such as pregnancy and adolescence. Several factors may also contribute to the development of stretch marks and these include:
- Family history
- Ethnicity – African American women are less likely to develop stretch marks
- Production of the hormone, corticosteroid
- Poor nutrition
- Weight gain or weight loss may also worsen stretch marks
- Multiple pregnancies
- Stretch marks may develop after a previous pregnancy and become temporarily darker or a lighter extension of the stretch mark
Help for Stretch Marks
Over time (about 6 to 12 months) stretch marks do eventually fade and become less noticeable. This is because the pigmentation fades and lightens. In cases where the appearance of stretch marks is more severe, you may need to consult with a dermatologist where topical creams such as Retin-A and glycolic-acid may be prescribed. Keep in mind that these creams should not be used during pregnancy or nursing as they may cause some negative side effects.
Cosmetic treatments such as laser treatments and microdermabrasion may also help to improve the appearance of stretch marks and restore the skin’s elasticity. These treatments are however quite costly and can be harsh treatments on the skin – so consider whether you absolutely need to have them done.
Alternative treatments may contain elastic, collagen as well as vitamins E and A, cocoa butter extracts, wheat germ oil or lanolin to help maintain the skin’s elasticity and also keep it supple. Simply massaging moisturizers into the skin daily helps increase circulation and promote the rejuvenation of the skin’s layers.
People with stretch marks may feel very self-conscious regarding their ‘scars’. A variety of moisturizers, creams and oils containing natural ingredients are available to reduce and prevent the appearance of stretch marks. More and more women are choosing to use natural and holistic treatments during their pregnancy because they are gentle on the body and support healthy skin from the inside out.
Biochemic salts such as Calcium Fluoride, Natrium Muriaticum and Calcium Phosphate restore tone and elasticity to muscles, connective tissue and skin and help to maintain the body’s water balance. Keeping your belly well moisturized throughout your pregnancy will help to reduce dryness and itching that often accompanies stretch marks. There are also many natural ingredients to promote healing of the skin, if such as Rosehip oil that has the ability to rebuild damaged skin tissue and can reduce the appearance of current stretch marks.