What Are Stretch Marks and What Can You Do About Them?

By July 4, 2018Gynaecology

Whether we like them or not, stretch marks are a part of life. A common type of skin scarring, stretch marks (or ’striae’) will affect most people at some stage. The majority of women will develop this type of scarring throughout pregnancy.
Stretch marks

Stretch marks are very common during pregnancy, affecting almost anywhere on the body. Here’s what you can do about them.

Impacting more women than men, stretch marks develop from sudden overstretching of the skin. They can appear almost anywhere on the body, from your shoulders down to your calves. They can cause self-esteem issues. At worst they lead to anguish or anxiety.

Here is what you need to know about stretch marks, and what you can do about them. If you have any concerns, make sure you discuss them with your obstetrician.

What Are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are the result of the middle layer of skin (dermis) expanding faster than the layer above (epidermis). This reduces flexibility, preventing the formation of collagen and elastin fibres that keep skin tight. The marks tend to develop in different lengths, widths, depths and colours.

Most stretch marks are either purple, pink, reddish-brown or dark brown in colour. This will depend on your skin tone. While scarring fades over time, the streaks eventually take on a silvery hue.

Common areas affected by stretch marks include:

• Breasts
• Stomach
• Hips
• Upper arms
• Buttocks
• Thighs
• Calves

Whether through genetic or environmental factors, most women (and men) will develop stretch marks at some point in their life. Thinning, itchy or raised skin may indicate the emergence of these marks. There are a variety of factors leading to the marks, but the most common include:

• Pregnancy
• Puberty
• Quick weight gain
• Conditions such as Marfan syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome
• Corticosteroid creams (decreasing collagen in the skin)

Pregnancy and Stretch Marks

Pregnancy stretch marks refer to a specific form of scarring. During pregnancy, you may find marks develop in the last trimester across the stomach. This is due to the expansion of the uterus and increase in weight.

Between 50 and 90 percent of women will experience scarring during pregnancy. On top of possible bouts nausea, and constant trips to the toilet, stretch marks are just another sign of your changing body during this time.

It is important to remember that while you may regard stretch marks as unpleasant in appearance, they are normal and likely temporary. Marks will fade over time and in many cases, become hardly visible. For those who develop scarring with pregnancy, marks will start fading 6 to 12 months after birth.

If the appearance of stretch marks is causing extreme anxiety for you, it may be a good idea to have a chat with your family, friends or your obstetrician. The postpartum period can be an emotional rollercoaster for many mums. It is always worthwhile talking about what you’re feeling during this time.

Treatment and Prevention

Stretch marks are often unavoidable and cause absolutely no health risks. Many people are simply more susceptible to developing them. Steps which you can take to prevent their progression include:

• Maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle
• Eat foods rich in nutrients
• Gradual weight gain during pregnancy
• Stay hydrated with six to eight glasses of water per day

Stretch marks are often regarded as a cosmetic matter. Treatment is targeted at improving body confidence. These treatments range from creams, oils, lotions, and cosmetic surgery (such as laser therapy and abdominoplasty). However, these methods can be expensive with limited proof to show effectiveness.

At-home remedies recommend a daily application of aloe vera, Bio-oil, castor oil, coconut oil or topical vitamin A to affected areas. Some believe this minimises the appearance of scarring and hastens the fading process. At the very least, this practice softens skin while offering relief from irritation and dryness.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pregnancy or would like to book an appointment, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We will be more than happy to help and offer compassionate care in every way possible.