Last Updated December 20th, 2021
What are stretch marks?
A good many of us, women more than men, have stretch marks somewhere on our bodies. Stretch marks are particularly common in women who have undergone pregnancy. These are striations or lines that form in certain areas of the skin that have suffered sudden stretching. These marks are actually scars that result from the breakage of the middle layer of the skin when it is forced to stretch without being adequately prepared for it. Normally, the skin has the natural ability to stretch to a certain extent. Stretch marks appear when the stretching forces exceed the normal capacity of the skin or when the person has a medical condition that compromises the elasticity of their skin.
The medical term for stretch marks is ‘striae’. Those that appear as a result of pregnancy are known as ‘striae gravidarum’. The marks themselves are entirely harmless and will not cause you any further problems. However, if there is an underlying medical problem that is responsible for the marks, then you may suffer from symptoms as a result of that disorder.
What causes stretch marks?
Our skin is composed of three layers. The outermost layer is known as the epidermis while the middle layer is called the dermis and the innermost one is known as the hypodermis.
When you gain weight rapidly or when, for a range of possible reasons, the skin is forced to stretch beyond its natural capacity, the dermis develops tears in certain areas.
This is what shows up in the form of stretch marks.
A pregnant woman will most likely develop stretch marks around her midsection. This is an outcome of the rapid expansion that her midsection undergoes over a relatively short period of time as the fetus develops and grows larger in the womb. The pressure exerted on the skin from within forces the dermis to tear in certain areas to be able to cope.
However, pregnancy is not the only reason for stretch marks to appear. In fact, even men can have them. The general rule is that any condition that involves significant changes in weight can potentially be a cause for stretch marks to form. So, even if you are a young person with normal body weight, the rapid growth spurts that your body underwent during puberty may have resulted in stretch marks in a few different areas. A rapid gain of weight is another common cause.
Additionally, having elevated levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol alters the elasticity of the skin and makes it more prone to developing stretch marks. Cortisol is converted into a form known as cortisone which has the tendency to weaken elastin fibers that impart stretchability to the skin. Hence, endocrine disorders that affect the activity of the adrenal glands are known risk factors for stretch marks.
What factors increase the probability of developing stretch marks?
There are quite a few factors that may be responsible for the formation of stretch marks. You are more likely to develop these marks in the following instances:
- Adolescent growth spurt.
- Rapid weight gain or loss.
- Being obese.
- Having a familial tendency to develop stretch marks.
- Your baby is particularly large, causing your skin to stretch more.
- Being older at the time of pregnancy is a risk factor because your skin loses elasticity and suppleness as you age.
- Corticosteroid abuse or prolonged use of corticosteroid-based medications.
- Cushing’s disease.
- Marfan syndrome.
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
What do stretch marks look and feel like?
Stretch marks usually appear in the form of clusters of long and short striations across a certain patch of skin.
This is usually an area that has undergone rapid stretching.
The marks may be lighter in color or reddish in comparison with the surrounding skin.
Sometimes, they may itch and feel irritated. They may fade with time but it is rare for them to go away entirely on their own.
Such marks are usually present in areas such as the hips, breasts, thighs or buttocks.
When you touch them, they may appear slightly ridged or different in texture as compared to the normal skin surrounding them. The exact pattern of arrangement of these scars differs depending on the cause. For instance, pregnant women often develop stretch marks around the base of the belly or in the form of lines radiating outward from the bellybutton.
I have stretch marks. Should I be concerned?
The marks themselves are benign and you should have no concern about that account. Most people have some stretch marks and this is very common and natural to a certain extent. The marks may remain as they are or they may fade slightly with time. You are not going to develop any health problems or skin disorders as a result of your stretch marks.
However, if your marks were actually caused by an undiagnosed medical disorder affecting the functioning of your adrenal glands, then you will likely develop some symptoms as a result of the disorder itself and not because of the stretch marks. In your case, the marks are an outward indicator that there is something wrong with the endocrine system. They are not the problem in themselves but they are one of the symptoms of the problem.
What should be done about them?
Assuming you are not actually suffering from an endocrine disorder or any other problem affecting cortisol production in your body, then you do not need treatment for the stretch marks. However, many women often feel embarrassed by their stretch marks and attempt to take steps to correct existing ones and prevent new ones from appearing. Many companies advertise creams and topical applications designed to prevent stretch marks or fade existing ones. Do not use these without consulting a dermatologist first.
There exist several different options for cosmetic removal of stretch marks. You could use tretinoin applications to improve collagen production in the skin in order to restore its elasticity. Other options include laser treatment and microdermabrasion. The efficacy of each method varies and it is best to consult a dermatologist on which would best suit your needs and your budget. A much simpler and economical option is to merely cover up the marks with foundation and makeup, should you feel the need to hide them.
On the internet, you will find dozens of home remedies or advertisements for creams and lotions that claim to smooth over and eliminate your stretch marks. Take these with a pinch of salt. If you have sensitive skin, do not implement these methods without prior approval of a dermatologist. However, you should know that stretch marks are harmless and, to some extent, nearly everyone has them. You could even choose to let them remain as they are. However, if you are also experiencing symptoms indicating an endocrine disorder then it would be best to get yourself checked.
- Hormonal fluctuations are largely responsible for the creation of stretch marks. Collagen and elastin fibers keep the skin tight and supple. Due to hormonal issues, the production of these substances is hampered.
- It is not necessary that only obese and over-weight people will have the issue of stretch marks. Even slim-bodied people can develop stretch marks.
- It affects both genders equally.
- Certain illnesses such as Cushing’s syndrome and Marfan syndrome lead to the formation of stretch marks on the skin.
- Almost 75% to 90% pregnant women will develop stretch marks.
- Stretch marks can appear on the skin even because of steroid intakes.
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Dos and Don'ts
- Keep yourself well-hydrated.Moisturising the skin regularly will help prevent stretch marks.
- Include more of vitamin A and vitamin C in your diet (not through supplements).
- If the stretch marks are too deep, you can follow up with microdermabrasion and chemical peel treatments. Laser treatments are also quite helpful as they heal the collagen under the skin.
- Count on these to provide a permanent visible solution.Topical ointments are not significantly helpful for treating this condition.
- Start exercising vigorously and abruptly.It is better to have regulated exercising routines.
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