What is stretch mark?
Stretch mark, also known as stria or striae, is a type of scaring on the skin that occurs when the dermis (middle layer of the skin) is torn. It is related to rapid weight gain or loss, growth during puberty, pregnancy and muscle building. When the stretch mark first appears it has a red or sometimes purple tone with a narrow and elongated line emerging on the surface of the skin, with time is tends to fade away acquiring a silvery-white tone, but is does not disappear completely.
Stretch marks tend to appear on parts of the body that store fat, including the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, underarms, thighs, hips and buttocks. The dermis, where the stretch marks occur, is the layer of the skin that gives support and helps the skin to keep firm and in shape, while the support within the dermis is in place it prevents the skin from tearing and avoids stretch marks from occurring.
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch of the skin on its own does not cause marks. Although it is connected to the rapid stretch of the skin, stretch marks are caused by changes in the level of the glucocorticoid hormone in the body. This can inhibit the skin cells from synthesizing collagen and elastin fibers. As a result the growing skin loses the support it needs to maintain its firmness and flexibility. This lack of support compels the dermis to break in places allowing the inner layer of the skin to become apparent, creating the stretch marks.
How to prevent and remove stretch marks?
It is very common for women to get stretch marks during pregnancy due to the changes in hormone levels that take place through out the pregnancy. Over 75% of women get some stretch marks during their pregnancy, mainly around the sixth and seventh month of gestation.
Although it is not scientifically proved, some moisturising creams and oils have shown effective results in lessening the appearance of stretch marks during pregnancy.
Trofolastin is an anti-stretch-mark moisturising cream marketed by Novartis in Spain, which has been through a controlled scientific study. It has shown to prevent and effectively reduce the appearance of stretch marks when applied daily to the skin. Trofolastin contains centella asiatica extract, vitamin E and collagen-elastin hydrolysates.
The moisturising cream Verum containing vitamin E, panthenol, hyaluronic acid, elastin and menthol, has been through a study, but without placebo control. It is more effective against stretch marks than having no treatment.
Sweet almond oil is an effective moisturiser, helping to smooth the skin, keeping it supple and soft. It is rich in vitamin E, which is has antioxidant properties, helping to protect the skin’s collagen and elastin from the effects of free-radicals. It also helps to heal scars and maintain the skin healthy. The emollient properties of almond oil help to keep the skin flexible and silky smooth, as it is easily absorbed into the skin, trapping moisture underneath the deeper layer of the dermis. This prevents the skin from becoming scratchy and dry, reducing the chances of developing stretch marks. Although this is not scientifically proven, almost oil has been used as an anti-stretch mark moisturising for many years.
Other types of treatments that are available to improve the appearance of stretch marks include:
- Prescribed Retinoids
- Laser resurfacing – uses dotted pulses of light to create a microscopic wound on the skin, over a period of time, to encourage the skin to produce new collagen and epithelium, minimising the appearance of stretch marks.
- Pulsed dye laser treatment – can be used in individuals with darker skin to increase pigmentation of the skin with stretch mark to match the rest of the skin tone.
- Surgical procedure – such as tummy tuck can be used to remove stretch marks located on the lower abdominal area. This procedure removes the stretch marks by removing the excess skin below the navel region.
It is worth emphasising that stretch marks are purely cosmetic in nature and they cause no threat to health and no compromise to the skin’s capability to repair itself.