Stretch marks, also known as stria or striae, are small lesions on the surface of the skin which appear when the skin has been stretched. They are very common and anyone can get them, but they usually afflict men more than women.
What causes them?
The skin is made up of three layers – the epidermis, dermis and subcutis. The subcutis is the deepest layer, the dermis the supporting middle layer made up of strong fibres allowing the skin to stretch and contract as the person grow and the epidermis is the outermost. Sudden stretching of the skin damages the dermis. At the point where the fibres in the dermis break, tiny tears develop and the blood vessels that lie underneath show through. This is why stretch marks are often a reddish or purple colour when they first appear. With time, the blood vessels shrink and leave only the fat under the skin visible, and the marks on the surface fade to a silvery white or grey colour.
Some people are more likely to develop stretch marks than others if their bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol, which decreased the amount of collagen produced by the body. Collagen helps keep the skin stretchy and without it sudden changes in body size are more likely to break the dermis.
Common instances of sudden growth include:
- Sudden weight gain
- A family history of stretch marks
- Certain health conditions such as Cushing’s Syndrome, whereby the body produces excess cortisol or Marfan Syndrome, whereby a faulty gene affects the body’s connective tissue and reduces elasticity
Common places to get stretch marks include the abdominal area, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms, lower back and shoulders in body builders.
How are stretch marks treated?
There is no known way to get rid of stretch marks, although there are plenty of treatments available to help towards reducing their appearance.
Over-the-counter creams and gels are essentially moisturisers. It is good to apply these when the marks are still at an early stage, but there is little evidence to suggest that they will prevent or get rid of them.
Laser treatment will also not remove stretch marks completely, but can help make them fade and look less obvious
Plastic surgery can also be an option in severe cases and in those involving large amounts of loose skin. It is important to consult a qualified plastic surgeon as well as a doctor before embarking on such a procedure.
Can they be prevented?
It is impossible to prevent stretch marks, but some home remedies may decrease the chances of them appearing, such as maintaining a healthy weight (especially avoiding yo-yo diet). Eating a healthy, balanced diet and massaging the skin with moisturiser can improve the skin’s general health.
Weight gain during pregnancy should be slow and gradual, it is a myth that a mother-to-be should “eat for two“ and should instead stick to eating around 2,500 calories a day.
Images: Wikimedia Commons