Referred as striae in dermatology, stretch marks are scarring on the skin often with a different color from that of the normal skin. Stretch marks mainly occur deep in the skin in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin. The dermis plays a vital role in helping the outer skin retain its shape. With pregnancy however, the dermis becomes stretched as the baby grows, the stretching of the dermis leads to the outer skin losing its shape in certain parts. This results in patches on the skin, commonly known as stretch marks.
Although occurring on teenagers in puberty and overweight individuals, stretch marks are very common in pregnant women because of the severe pulling force on the skin that overcomes elasticity of the dermis. There are varied categories of stretch marks, depending on their causative factor. Those that occur due to pregnancy are medically referred to as striae gravidarum. Others including striae atrophicae, distensae, albicante and vergetures amongst others occur due to such causative factors as hormonal replacement therapy (HRP), body building activities and puberty amongst others.
In general, stretch marks do appear as lines on the skin, which can be either purple or reddish in color. They later become lighter in color with affected areas of the skin becoming soft. Although stretch marks can appear on any part of the body, the most likely areas are those with large amounts of fat deposits. Such areas include on the abdomen, breasts, thighs, back, underarms, hips, buttocks and upper arms. Although they can be unsightly, the formation and appearance of stretch marks on the skin does not present any health risk. As a matter of fact, some do disappear on their own several months after delivery. However, some can remain on the skin for as long as it takes.
Although pregnancy plays a major role in the occurrence of stretch marks, there are other factors that have been noted to encourage the formation of stretch marks during pregnancy. Women who give birth at a young age, those with high body mass index, those who gain weight during pregnancy and those who give birth to babies with higher weight develop stretch marks during and after delivery. Hormonal changes also play a major role in the formation of stretch marks. In particular, the glucocorticoid hormone has been singled out as the hormone responsible for the formation. The hormone prevents the formation of collagen and elastin fibers that stop the dermis from tear. In addition, such factors as genes and lack of adequate water have been linked to the formation of stretch marks.
Treatment of Stretch Marks
Various treatment methods for eliminating stretch marks are available. It includes topical creams that are applied on affected areas of the skin. Dermatologists do prescribe certain creams for use by non-breastfeeding women. Prescription medications particularly of retinoids are also commonly used in treating stretch marks. For severe stretch marks, laser and dermabrasion treatment options are available. The use of certain creams has of late been promoted as a way of preventing the formation of stretch marks during and after pregnancy. Such creams are those that contain vitamin E, herbal creams containing Gotu Kola as the active ingredient and applying cocoa butter on the skin during pregnancy.