If your skin is blemish free, then you’re one of the lucky ones. Stretch marks are one of the most common forms of skin blemish, affecting men and women from teens, and around 8 in every 10 pregnant women.
Stretch marks are, of course, those streak-shaped blemishes that occur on skin. Many of us are already familiar with them, and for others they are yet to come. Fears that stretch marks are bad for you are completely unfounded. Most people go to lengths in order to cover them over, but things are starting to change. There’s a whole body positive movement around where top models are actually showing off their stretch marks. More about that in a moment.
They appear when the skin is stretched out and causes a type of scarring that generally shows up on the belly, the thighs, upper arms and breasts. Anyone can have these scars, however they tend to appear on women more than men.
This particular form of scarring is not dangerous. In fact it is so common as to be considered normal. However, the extent and location of stretch marks can be unsightly and embarrassing. Therefore, the only real problem is that they lead to anxiety and issues with self-image related to cosmetic concerns.
The first sign that stretch marks are about to appear is thin and pink skin that may be itchy as well. Once the skin has stopped stretching, the scarred tissue becomes less pronounced and turns into bright pink or dark streaks across the skin. The discolouration does fade over time, but it can take many years.
Why & When They Occur
Stretch marks are caused by over-extending the skin as the body grows. The human body’s natural growth cycles means that a person is likely to develop stretch marks at multiple points in life however there are some situations which will increase your chances. These situations include:
- Puberty which is when a person experiences rapid growth.
- Pregnancy which causes up to 90% of all mothers to develop stretch marks over their expanding bellies.
- Misuse or prolonged use of corticosteroid creams which cause the skin to lose collagen which is a protein that keeps skin strong.
- Rare medical conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome which causes the body to go through fasts cycles of weight gain and weight loss, and Marfan syndrome which reduces the elasticity of a person’s skin.
- Putting on a lot of weight in a short period of time.
The skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. The scars appear in the middle layer, the dermis, when it is pushed beyond its elastic limit. This section then tears and allows deeper sections of the skin to show through. The farther past the elastic limit the dermis is pushed, the larger and more prominent the stretch marks will be.
The body is designed to handle a changing size in skin however rapid changes cause stretch marks because the body can’t keep up. Stretching is a form of applied stress therefore stretch marks generally coincide with high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which damages the elasticity of skin even farther.
Preventing Stretch Marks
The best ways to prevent stretch marks from forming are by maintaining a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables which provide quality nutrients for the skin. Try to maintain a steady weight rather than yo-yoing. Drinking plenty of water to help the skin maintain its elasticity. None of these measure can guarantee a complete lack of stretch marks, but they may reduce the risk. If you stick to this list of preventative methods then you are less likely to get stretch marks however if you do, they will be smaller and harder to notice.
Treating Stretch Marks
Stretch marks do not cause any harm to your health, so the focus of treatment is always cosmetic in nature.
Gels, lotions and in some cases cosmetic surgery are the preferred treatment options for stretch marks, however they experience mixed results, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If you are opting to get treatment for stretch marks then your doctor will make a recommendation for the best course of treatment based on the severity of your stretch marks and your skin type. No one method has been developed that works well for all cases. Cocoa butter cream is said to help soften scars.
Many creams, particularly collagen cream, and some ointments claim to help with stretch marks however there is no strong evidence to support this claim. Many people still use them anyway and some do say they see and feel a difference. In the case of pregnancy, stretch marks tend to fade over time although many mother’s still use bio oil which they feel aids the process. Some mothers claim that they see big improvements up to twelve months after they have given birth.
What’s great about many current ad campaigns is their refusal to airbrush the stretch marks off their models. Yes, models have stretch marks too. ASOS, for example, recently put down the spray and revealed their models ‘as is’. Check out this article from The Independent for more info on how the body positive movement is starting to shake things up.