Stretch Marks: Causes, Prevention & Treatment
What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks happen when we gain weight or lose weight rapidly but the good news is that if we know this in advance, we can take steps to limit these stretch marks. The most likely scenario for gaining weight rapidly is when women become pregnant and or if overweight men or women go on a diet or take up lots of exercise to lose weight.
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What Causes Stretch Marks?
We develop stretch marks when our bodies are suddenly subjected to excessive stretching of the skin whether through rapid weight gain, growth spurts, bulking up muscle when in training or from being pregnant. Keep in mind that stretch marks occur when your skin grows at a significantly faster rate than normal. This causes the skin to stretch, tear and may cause unsightly violet colored marks on your body.
While it is possible to treat stretch marks symptoms once they have appeared, it is a good idea to prevent stretch marks from occurring in the first place.
Men also get stretch marks but these are often not so visible because they tend to be covered by hair. Apart from the usual causes, stretch marks in men can occur as a result of disease such as Cushing's Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome, Diabetes and even the overuse of steroid hormones.
Any area on the body from the knees upwards can be prone to stretch marks such as the stomach, waist, buttocks, lower back, hips, breasts and legs. Stretch marks are tears in the lower layer of your skin. This lower layer consists of elastic supportive tissue which helps the skin to stretch. When the skin is stretched to its limit, it tears slightly allowing blood vessels to show through. These stretch marks usually occur on the stomach. They are less common among people with a dark skin but depending on your skin color, these stretch marks start out as pink reddish brown or dark brown streaks. As the pigmentation in the stretch marks gradually fades, the ìstriae gravidarumî (which is the medical term) begins to look like glistening silvery lines of scar tissue. If you are pregnant and your mother or an older sister had stretch marks when they were pregnant, then I am afraid the chances are that you will too! Even if stretch marks don't appear with a first pregnancy, they can do so with a second and third pregnancy while if you did get them with a first pregnancy, they can be more severe in subsequent pregnancies. So it makes good sense to do what you can to reduce the chances or severity of stretch marks if you are pregnant.
Treatment & Prevention of Stretch Marks
- Start moisturizing your skin on a daily basis from the moment you discover you're pregnant. Your skin will need as much elasticity as it can get. Start a program of taking care of your skin as early as possible. And don't stop - keep moisturizing your skin right from the first trimester until well after you have given birth and returned to your pre-pregnancy weight.
- We always recommend the natural route and preventing and treating stretch marks is no exception. Oils that are specially formulated for stretch mark prevention and stretch mark removal will help enhance collagen production and support the dermis, keeping the skin intact, despite all that stretching, while guaranteeing a greater chance of preventing and/or eliminating those stretch marks – gently and naturally.
- Stretch marks are caused by rapid skin stretches so any physical exercises that tone the underlying muscles (such as swimming, sit-ups and abdominal crunches) will help them fade.
- Drink lots of water as staying hydrated is not only good for you and your baby, it's also good news for your skin which will be in better shape to stretch gently.
- Limit your weight gain to no more than the recommended amount of 25 to 35 pounds. Such a weight gain should be as gradual as possible to let your skin stretch at a steady rate.
- Good nutrition is vital for your developing baby but also contributes to the strength and health of your skin. Just the regular intake of plenty of fresh fruit, herbs and of course vegetables can improve the skin dramatically by increasing the objective markers of skin health.
- Your diet should include foods rich in zinc such as nuts and fish as well as those high in vitamins A, C and D such as carrots, citrus fruits and milk and those foods rich in protein such as eggs. Don’t forget to eat avocados whenever you can.
- Use a brush or wash cloth to massage the areas such as the breasts where you have noticed stretch marks or want to prevent them occurring. This will increase circulation to the area.
- Keep on taking your extra vitamins. Vitamins E, A and D are particularly helpful to encourage good skin health. The effect of Vitamin E both internally and externally is thanks to its regenerative effect on skin, penetrating deep into the skin to stimulate the growth of new cells while replacing the scar tissue found under stretch marks.
- Applying vitamin E will make the skin less likely to tear, significantly decreasing the chance of stretch marks. Although vitamin A is best known for its positive effects on vision, it is just as important to the skin with its stimulating effect on cell regeneration, improving the appearance of striae (stretch marks) and regulating epidermal (skin) cell growth. Vitamin D3 is necessary for new skin cell production and complements the function of vitamins A and E in the regeneration process of the epidermis as well as being an important all round “feel good” hormone.
Stretch Marks and Pregnancy
Research has shown that at least half of all women will have some stretch marks in varying degrees at some time during their pregnancy. During pregnancy, your body grows so rapidly that the skin cannot produce enough new tissue.
Some of the causes of stretch marks in pregnancy are age and suppleness, the hereditary aspect, as well as growth and speed of growth. If you are very young when you become pregnant, for example in the teens and early twenties, then your skin is very elastic and supple. As you grow older and into your thirties, you are much more likely to suffer from stretch marks. It also depends on how much and how fast your skin has to stretch during pregnancy. You might gain a lot of weight rapidly, you might be carrying twins or multiples or you may be carrying a big baby. Finally, you may have excess amniotic fluid which in turn causes the womb and the body to grow larger.
A woman who suffered from stretch marks during her first pregnancy is more likely to get them again during a second and subsequent pregnancies but having a first pregnancy without stretch marks does not guarantee a second pregnancy without them. Stretch marks can also appear on the buttocks, thighs, hips and especially the breasts which can become quite enlarged during pregnancy. Stretch marks on the breasts should definitely fade to a light white color. Stretch marks cause no pain but can be a cause of self consciousness in women.
Stretch Marks and Weight Gain
We all know that weight gain can lead to many medical problems including diabetes in children, adolescents and adults. Obesity, which can shorten the life span by at least a decade or more, may cause strokes and heart disease. However, one of the big problems with weight gain is stretch marks. When people gain weight, the skin becomes more like elastic and has to stretch to occupy the excess weight gain.
Stretch marks usually start in young teens going through puberty. As the body grows, many young woman experience stretch marks as breasts and hips grow in. The skin can only stretch so much. Weight gain and stretch marks are very closely related. When people gain weight the skin is overstretched and the collagen in the skin is changed. The result will be deep reddish purple or light shiny white lines.
These lines may fade with time but if the weight is kept on, the marks will only get thicker. When the blood vessels recover and go back in to the skin, they turn white but stay with the body. With the adding of pounds to the body, the blood vessels in the stretch marks get more thinned out and seem a deeper color. This is where the purple hue comes from.
Even though gaining muscle is not gaining weight, the large muscles of someone who is very muscular can stretch the skin. This can also result in unsightly stretch marks appearing on the arms, legs and buttocks. The most common areas for stretch marks to appear from weight gain are the sides of the legs or the hips in men and women. The sides of the arms (in both sexes) and the breasts in women are the main places that do not stretch well. Also the inside of the legs will show stretch marks if a person gains enough weight or is heavy enough to warrant it.
Lastly and probably the most embarrassing place for stretch marks is the buttocks. On the buttocks, or any visible area, stretch marks will appear as long purple lines, almost like thick spider veins. Many people try their best to hide these lines but even after losing weight, a person will not lose their stretch marks. Unfortunately, the skin is forever stretched. Surgery may be required to remove excess skin in someone who has undergone a major weight loss.
There is some good news
And that is that stretch marks will usually fade within 6 to 12 months of giving birth although their texture will remain the same. At least they will not be so noticeable. But why just leave it to nature when the statistics say that some 50% of all pregnant women get stretch marks and there is so much you can do to prevent the stretch marks in the first place or to improve those that do appear?