Introduction to stretch marks

 

What are stretch marks?

Pregnancy stretch marks are lines on the skin that may develop on the abdomen, as well as on other areas of the body during pregnancy. While they pose no risk at all to mother or baby, many women have concerns about their appearance.

What causes stretch marks?

The skin adapts to continuous movement of the body by expanding and contracting, but during pregnancy it may have insufficient time to adjust, causing internal tears in the skin tissue. When these tears repair themselves, they form the scar tissue that we know as stretch marks. A second factor causing stretch marks, which is still a subject of debate, involves the priming of the skin by increased levels of hormones. These hormones attract more water into the skin, which relaxes the bonds between collagen fibres. This makes it easier for the skin tissue to tear when it is stretched, causing stretch marks to form.

When do stretch marks form?

While stretch marks generally become visible during the last trimester of pregnancy (around the sixth or seventh month), some women will start to see them forming as soon as their bellies start growing. Most lighter-skinned women tend to develop pinkish stretch marks, whereas darker-skinned women tend to have stretch marks that are lighter than the surrounding skin.

Stretch mark formation

  • Stage 1: Early stretch marks will appear pale in colour, and may also be itchy. The skin immediately around the stretch marks may also look flattened and thin.
  • Stage 2: Gradually, the stretch marks will enlarge in length and width, and become darker and more pronounced.
  • Stage 3: Once the stretch marks have matured, and when the skin is no longer under tension, they will start to fade and become paler. They may also appear slightly depressed and irregular in shape or length.

Who develops stretch marks?

It is estimated that up to 90% of women are prone to developing pregnancy stretch marks.1

Where do stretch marks form?

Most women develop stretch marks on their abdomen in pregnancy, however it is also common to get stretch marks on the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back and buttocks.1

Can stretch marks be prevented?

The best defence against stretch marks is to ensure that skin maintains its maximum elasticity throughout pregnancy. This is achieved by keeping skin well-hydrated and supple at all times.

Collagen and elastin fibres in the skin are necessary to keep rapidly growing skin taut, and the stronger they are, the less likely they are to break and leave resulting stretch marks. It therefore makes sense to eat foods that are rich in Vitamin E and C, zinc and silica, which help to form collagen. Vitamin C in particular is an important antioxidant that helps protect tissue from damage. Vitamins B2 (Riboflavin) and B3 (Niacin) are also said to help promote and maintain healthy skin. In addition, drinking sufficient water (approximately two litres a day) is seen to be essential in order to help strengthen and renew the skin.

Exercise

In addition to boosting energy levels, reducing mood swings, improving sleep patterns and enhancing one’s overall self-image, exercise can also help prevent stretch marks forming. Exercise improves circulation, which keeps the skin elastic and more able to stretch as it grows. This improved circulation also reduces the possibility of varicose veins and swollen ankles in pregnancy.

Keeping skin supple

In addition to ensuring that skin is kept supple through eating the right foods and getting enough exercise, a topically applied product that is specifically formulated to maximise the skin’s elasticity can also be used. By applying a product twice daily throughout pregnancy, skin will remain well-hydrated and better able to stretch.

 

Reference:

  1. The truth about pregnancy stretch marks. Available at: www.webmd.com/baby/features/stretch-marks.

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