What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, called striae, are depressed lines on the skin that appear predominantly on the thighs, hips, buttocks, and breasts. They are a form of scarring caused by the tearing of the dermis, or the middle layer of the skin. Left untreated, they will not disappear completely but will diminish in appearance over time.
Anyone can get stretch marks, but they are more common in pregnant women. This is because expectant mothers’ skin stretches during pregnancy to make way for the developing baby inside their body. People who have undergone rapid weight gain or loss, as well as those who have gone through rapid growth cycles during puberty, are also susceptible to getting stretch marks, as well as those who have medical conditions that can cause decreased elasticity in body tissues.
Stretch Marks Signs and Symptoms
Stretch marks start out as raised creased lines that may be pinkish or reddish in color. The skin around it also appears stretched thin and feels itchy. The raised lines will eventually sink and look like depressed white or brown streaks, depending on the person’s skin color.
Although they fade in time, becoming less noticeable over the years, they don’t fully disappear. They are, in essence, permanent scars.
Stretch Marks Causes and Risk Factors
What Causes Stretch Marks
The skin can accommodate the body’s growth or reduction. However, if the body grows or reduces faster than the skin can cope, that’s when the skin undergoes tremendous stress and is rapidly stretched. When that happens, the connecting fibers in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin, is stretched beyond its natural elasticity. This causes tears in the dermis, allowing the deeper skin layer to show through. When the tears heal, they leave scars in the form of stretch marks.
Risk Factors of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks can happen to anyone, but the risk of getting them is greater for some people. The following have higher chances of getting these dermatological scars:
- Pregnant women
- People who have had rapid weight gain or loss
- Those who are undergoing puberty
- People who are overweight
- Those who have a family history of having stretch marks
- Those who have certain medical conditions, like Cushing’s syndrome and other genetic disorders
- People who do heavy weight lifting or are into bodybuilding
Treatment Options for Stretch Marks
As they do not pose any threat to the body and they fade after some years, stretch marks do not require medical treatment. They feel itchy only when they are starting to develop. Immediately after that, stretch marks don’t feel itchy or painful. However, for some people, stretch marks look unappealing and therefore must be eliminated.
The following are treatment options for stretch marks. Keep in mind that no treatment is known to fully eliminate stretch marks, just reduce their appearance.
Also known as abdominoplasty, tummy tuck is done on the abdomen for patients with large amount of loose skin in the area. It removes excess fat and skin from the abdomen to get rid of the stretch marks. It is a costly procedure that can take hours, although some patients are required to stay in the hospital overnight following the surgery.
Recovery is expected to take weeks, with the patient basically unable to do anything strenuous, like walking for long minutes or even driving.
Laser therapy surgery comes in different types. The most popularly used for freshly formed stretch marks is pulsed dye laser treatment, which reduces the redness of the new scars. Fractional laser treatment is preferred for older stretch marks.
Also used to treat other skin problems like acne and acne scars, microdermabrasion is a popular stretch mark treatment that “sands” the skin to exfoliate it. It uses a handheld device that sprays crystals (aluminum particles, salt, or baking soda) onto the skin’s epidermis, or the outermost layer, to smooth out the rough and uneven surface.
The sanding of the skin induces collagen production, which therefore stimulates rejuvenated skin layer.
This treatment involves using a chemical solution to the skin. Applying the solution causes the outer skin layer to separate and be damaged in a bid to trigger the healing process. When the skin heals, a new layer will emerge.
Tretinoin creams help rebuild collagen production as they contain high contents of vitamin A. Collagen increases elasticity of the skin and makes stretch marks retain a more “normal” look.
Tretinoin is the topical form of retinoic acid, which is strictly advised against use by pregnant or nursing women.
Topical Creams and Lotions
Topical treatments such as creams, lotions, and gels are more like skin moisturizers than stretch marks solutions. They help the skin hydrated with water, which in turn helps improve its elasticity and reduce the possibility of incurring stretch marks.
Popular creams and lotions used for stretch marks include vitamin E, cocoa butter, olive oil, bitter almond oil, and emu oil.
Also called derma-rolling, micro-needling is a minimally invasive technique that uses handheld needle-studded rolling device to puncture the skin. The device is passed over the skin to create micro piercings, triggering the dermis to new collagen formation.
Stretch Marks Prevention
There is no known way to truly prevent stretch marks from appearing. However, there are ways on how to diminish the chances of getting stretch marks.
- Body Weight Changes Must Be Gradual
As stretch marks occur when the skin is stretched abruptly, the solution to keep them from appearing is by preventing rapid weight changes in the body as much as possible. Should you need to gain or lose weight, concoct a healthy dietary plan that will allow the skin to adjust with the changes more gradually.
- Hydrate with Water Often
A well-hydrated body means optimal skin elasticity. Drink water and fruit juices and avoid carbonated drinks.
- Exfoliate the Skin
Get rid of dead skin cells and reveal fresh layer of skin by exfoliating. Exfoliation helps stimulate circulation. You can scrub during bath with a loofah or a wet scrub solution, or even try dry-brushing.
- Exercise Regularly
Exercise is good for overall health. Also, it helps nourish the skin by promoting circulation, therefore improving skin elasticity.
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