Stretch Marks

It is not only pregnant women who can get stretch marks as they can affect both men and women and people of all ages. You will get stretch marks at one point or another in your life, whether it’s from gaining or losing weight, due to age or because you just gave birth to your first child! The key is to remember that these marks can be healed and reduced both in size and in colour, pregnancy stretch marks, in particular, can be treated over time as the skin goes back to normal. Whether it’s keeping a good workout plan, committing to a healthy diet or sticking to creams and lotions that help make the marks less prominent, some methods help, especially if you abide by all of them.

Stretch marks are a scarring of the body which can appear anywhere on the body, with the more common places including:

  • The tummy (abdomen)
  • The bottom
  • The thighs
  • The breasts
  • Upper arms

Skin is made up of three layers, the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer. The dermis is made up of entwined, strong fibres that allow your skin to stretch and move as your body grows. However, if the skin is extensively and quickly stretched, the dermis may become thin, over-stretched and may break in areas which causes the deeper layers of skin to show causing stretch marks.

The following are all possible reasons for the skin to become over-stretched and therefore cause stretch marks:

  • During pregnancy
  • During puberty
  • After a weight gain
  • If there is a family history of stretch marks
  • If a corticosteroid medication has been used too long or misused
  • Certain health conditions such as Marfan syndrome may also cause stretch marks.

Stretch marks and Pregnancy
Stretch marks are very common during the third trimester of pregnancy and affects up to 80% of pregnant women. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing whether or not you may be affected by stretch marks as it depends on your skin type and how much elasticity your skin has.

Pregnant women are so often affected because during the later stages of pregnancy, your body produces hormones which soften your ligaments and pelvis in preparation for the labour and birth. However, these hormones can also affect the protein balance in your skin which makes it thinner and therefore more prone to stretch marks.

What do they look like?
Skin that is stretching may look thin and pink before any marks appear. The area may also be quite itchy. Stretch marks usually appear as red or purple lines or streaks across the area although may also appear to be pink, a red/brown colour or even a dark brown colour. These are referred to as striae rubra during pregnancy.

At first, the stretch marks may feel wrinkly and slightly raised, however, gradually they will flatten and change to a white or silvery colour. These are now referred to as striae alba. They will soon start to look almost like scars which travel in lines across your body.  These scars will very gradually fade over time, although this can take several years.

What can I do if I have stretch marks?
When you look at your stretch marks, it is possible that you see them as ugly, big and very noticeable scars across your body. However, for most women, their stretch marks are not as bad as they see and many people would not even notice them. If you are not happy with how your skin looks after child-birth you could try discussing the matter with your Health Visitor or Doctor who will be able to talk to you about your options. They will most likely advise that you use a daily lotion, gel or cream on your skin and they should be able to offer you current and up-to-date advice on which brand or version is the best. However, it is important to remember that although these may help with the appearance of your stretch marks that they will not magically disappear.

Can I prevent getting stretch marks?
There are no scientifically proved ways of definitely preventing stretch-marks from appearing on your body during pregnancy, however the following are ways which may help to minimise them:

  • Ensure you eat healthy during pregnancy
  • Ensure you drink plenty of water
  • Try not to over-eat so that weight gain is as slow as possible
  • Take part in a gentle or of exercise
  • Rub a moisturiser cream into your skin once or twice a day to help keep your skin soft.
  • Using almond oil may also help your skin stretch more easily
  • You could try taking a Vitamin E supplement – however you should discuss this with your midwife before taking as not all vitamin supplements are suitable for use in pregnancy.

 

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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