Most people consider a stretch mark as a taint on the skin and would go to any length to get rid of them. This is because the skin condition creates a less-than-pleasant look and feel.
The skin appears to have lost its firmness, aesthetics and has a worn-out appearance. Although this skin condition is very rampant, a large number of people are in the dark regarding why it occurs and it’s health implications. This article seeks to shed more light on this common skin problem.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A STRETCH MARK?
Stretch marks are indented coloured streaks or stripes that appear on the skin. They are also called striae and can affect different parts of the skin such as the stomach, thighs, hips, abdomen, buttocks, upper arms, breasts and the lower part of the back. Stretch marks often become diminished in appearance over time without treatment and they do not pose any serious health concerns.
In fact, they are generally considered harmless and do nothing other than changing the appearance of the skin. The major reason why people seek treatment for stretch marks is that they are not comfortable with its an unsightly appearance on the skin.
WHAT CAN CAUSE A STRETCH MARK?
A stretch mark majorly occurs because of the extreme stretching or shrinkage of the skin as a result of rapid body growth, pregnancy, weight gain or certain medical conditions like Marfan’s and Cushing’s syndrome. The rapid growth that is characterized by puberty can cause the skin to stretch beyond its limit.
A vast majority of pregnant women experience stretch marks. Gaining excess weight within a short period of time can also lead to stretch marks. Marfan’s syndrome can reduce the elasticity of skin tissue which makes the skin more susceptible to stretch marks.
Cushing’s syndrome, on the other hand, can stimulate the excessive production of cortisol which causes weight gain and encourages stretching of the skin. Cortisol is converted to cortisone a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that can cause the weakening of the connective fibres of the skin which can bring about stretch marks.
Excessive and prolonged use of corticosteroid creams which are used to reduce inflammation in skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis can also cause stretch marks as a side effect. Long-term use of these creams and lotions can decrease collagen levels in the skin. Collagen is important for skin elasticity and strength. A dip in collagen levels can easily expose one to the risk of developing stretch marks.
The skin is made up of three layers namely, the dermis (outermost layer), dermis (middle layer) and the subcutaneous tissue (hypodermis). Stretch marks originate from the dermis which is made of connective tissues, hair follicles and sweat glands.
Stretch marks form when the connective tissues of the dermis stretch beyond its the elastic limit. This stretching is due to the rapid expansion and contraction of the skin. The connecting fibres of the dermis stretch in unison with body growth.
They naturally stretch in response to slow and gradual body growth, however, a rapid and sudden body growth will cause these fibres to stretch quickly and tear down the dermis, thereby exposing deeper layers of the skin to the outermost skin surface. What we see as stretch marks are simply the inner layers of the skin showing through.
Over time the blood vessels showing through the skin will be replaced by a pale fat underneath the skin causing the stretch marks to fade and become off- coloured in appearance. Some factors that can contribute to incidents of stretch marks include:
- Family/genetic history
- Cortisone level of the skin
- Gender (females are more prone to stretch marks than males)
- Disease (Cushing’s or Marfan’s syndrome and genetic disorders)
- Surgery (such as breast enlargement surgery).
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?
Stretch marks are usually preceded by skin itching, irritation and skin colouration. Indented parallel lines or streaks usually form on the skin that may feel like a ridge when touched. These streaks usually vary from the normal colour and texture of the skin. Depending on skin type, the streaks maybe purple, bright pink, pale grey, red, or dark brown. As stretch marks fade, the colour also takes on a paler appearance and becomes less noticeable.
HOW CAN YOU TREAT STRETCH MARKS?
Stretch marks are not usually a cause for health concerns, it is only in extremely rare cases that it denotes an underlying medical condition. Most people seek treatment for stretch marks because of it’s unsightly nature. It can negatively impact a person’s self-image and maybe a cause for anxiety in some people.
Some people can tolerate stretch marks on the skin, while most are eager to get rid of them at the mere sight of them. Stretch marks can fade on their own with the passage of time, but it can take years.
If you are impatient and can’t wait for time to diminish its appearance, there are several available treatments you can use in improving the appearance of stretch marks. Bear in mind that there are no treatments backed by scientific proof that can completely erase stretch marks on the skin. Some available treatments for stretch marks include :
TOPICAL PREPARATIONS: Topical creams, gels, oils and lotions are being used to treat stretch marks, but there is no sufficient scientific evidence to prove that these cosmetics are effective in completely erasing stretch marks from the skin or improving its appearance.
However, there are numerous cases of highly effective stretch mark remedies which have produced authentic results from statistics. some remedies have multipurpose functions such as stretch mark, acne, and cellulite cure. These topical creams and lotions are made with active ingredients that may function differently depending on skin type.
An example of a topical preparation is the tretinoin cream or Renova. The cream is functioned by restoring collagen levels on the skin to give it a better elasticity. The cream is usually applied to recent coloured stretch marks and it may cause skin irritation. Pregnant women are advised not to use this cream.
Another example of a topical preparation is Centella Asiatica. It is a herbal oil that promotes collagen production and the growth of skin tissue. Centella Asiatica is a common active ingredient used in a number of over-the-counter stretch mark creams.
It can also be used to heal wounds. There is barely any evidence to show that this oil is effective in fading stretch marks.
NATURAL BODY OILS AND BUTTER: Natural body oils and butter-like almond oil, Shea butter, and cocoa butter can reduce and fade the appearance of stretch marks. Almond oil is said to reduce stretch marks in pregnant women. This body butters undoubtedly make the skin softer, but there is no proof to show they can help in the treatment of stretch marks.
STRETCH MARK MEDICAL PROCEDURES: Dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons can make use of certain procedures that can boost collagen production and help fade the appearance of stretch marks. Some of these procedures are
Pulsed dye laser therapy: This involves the use of a painless form of light on a new stretch mark. It helps in the production of more collagen and elastin. When used on dark-skinned people, skin discolouration may occur.
Fractional polythermolysis: This is another laser treatment that works in a similar way with the pulsed due to laser therapy. However, it targets only the specific areas where stretch marks are located, hence reducing the risk of skin damage. It can also fade old stretch marks.
Microdermabrasion: This involves the use of crystals to rub the top layer of the affected skin in order to expose new skin that is beneath the stretch marks. It polishes the skin and can fade the appearance of an old stretch mark.
Excimer Laser: This helps to induce skin colour production that evens the colour of stretch marks to match the natural skin colour.
Cosmetic surgery: Cosmetic surgeries can be used to remove the area of skin that has a stretch mark, but it is usually very expensive and may be painful. This procedure can also leave scars.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT STRETCH MARKS?
It is difficult to prevent stretch marks from developing on your skin even if you use topical creams and lotions frequently. You can prevent stretch marks by discouraging extensive skin stretching through weight loss. You can lose weight by maintaining a healthy balanced diet and by exercising on a regular basis.
This can reduce your chances of gaining weight suddenly. During pregnancy, you can control weight gain by consulting your doctor to help you decide a healthy weight range that is good for you and your unborn child.
Keeping a healthy weight during pregnancy can reduce the appearance of stretch marks on your skin and it is also necessary for the well-being of you and your baby.