Women or men, 18 or 38, most of us have stretch marks. The good news is these marks are not injurious to health. The bad news is it still doesn’t comfort most mothers who can’t lay by the pool in their bikinis with poise.
Does motherhood translate to goodbye-bikinis? Does losing weight instantly mean no more sleeveless tops? And does weightlifting signify a fitter body with scarred skin? Do we have to live with these unattractive scars forever or are there ways to avoid and get rid of these unattractive scars?
WHAT ARE STRETCH MARKS?
Stretch marks are an orange peel like appearance you see on parts of your skin. Also known as striae, these scars on the skin with an off-colour hue occur when the middle layer of the skin, the dermis, is stretched too much too fast. What happens is this extra stretch disrupts the collagen production in the skin causing elasticity breakdown and bleeding giving a reddish purplish mark. As these marks heal, scars are formed and you have a stretch mark. During the process, the epidermis also stretches, becomes translucent, giving visibility to the stretch marks formed on the dermis.
WHEN DO THEY DEVELOP?
Stretch marks are most commonly caused during the third trimester of pregnancy. About 75% of women develop stretch marks in this period because the skin is subjected to higher levels of stretching forces. But it isn’t limited to pregnancy. Anything that stretches your skin too fast such as adolescent growth spurts, instant weight loss and weightlifting, are common causes of striae. Improper nutrition, hormonal changes, excessive caffeine intake and smoking also contribute to these unsightly scars.
Can stretch marks be averted?
Prevention techniques are always easier and preferred to treatments. The idea is to try and maintain your average weight or at least avoid any kind of yo-yo experience for your skin. However, stretch marks prevention is not full proof, especially in the case of pregnancy, because you can’t stop the stretching. So you’ll have to prepare the skin for reduced tearing. Some helpful prevention measures you could adopt are:
– Drink plenty of water. Hydrated skin is usually more elastic allowing the skin to stretch without much tearing.
– Exercise regularly. You should perform mild exercises such as walking or low impact aerobic activities to keep your weight on the average range. For pregnant women, consult your doctor for an allowable exercise regime. Through regular exercise, blood circulates effectively within your body keeping your skin healthy
– Avoid scratching the areas where you are likely to get stretch marks. It stretches the skin and can cause more damage. Instead, massage the area with oil or moisturiser to stimulate blood circulation and new cell growth. If you don’t have a cream at the time of itchiness, divert your attention with television or instant messages.
– Use stretch mark creams or ointments more than once daily. These agents keep the skin moist and also have ingredients which can help improve your skin’s condition.
HOW TO TREAT THE SCARS THAT HAVE ALREADY FORMED?
There are choices of treatments for stretch marks, but the efficacy depends on the skin of an individual, the age of the scar and the depth of it. Stretch marks are easier to deal with in the early stage.
– Try massaging the skin. This not just helps with prevention, but can also treat new scars. It may not be as effective as other treatments, but it’s easy, saves money and can be done at home. For maximum results, massage four times a day with stretch mark oils or olive, flaxseed as well as cod liver oil.
– Stretch mark removal creams can be used on new and old scars. When choosing your cream, look through ingredients for collagen producing components since collagen is a primary ingredient in the removal process of stretch marks. Amongst over-the-counter creams, those with pentapeptide active ingredients are most popular for stimulating collagen production. For medicated creams, Vitamin A acid seems to work best. Your cream should also contain Tretinoin which helps in the reduction of stretch mark size, centella asistica, vitamin E, retinoids retinol and retinaldehyde which are needed in cellular rejuvenation to relieve stretch marks.
– Chemical Peels works through removing several layers of the skins and stimulates the production of collagen. It’s quite efficient but comes with temporary side effects such as a burning sensation, redness as well as dark spots.
– Laser treatment used depends on the age of the scars. In early phases when the marks are red, pulse dye or yag laser are common, while for older scars fraxel or other laser resurfacings are used. In laser treatments a beam of light is shone to increase the body’s collagen production. It can take several minutes to an hour with repeated sessions. Blisters and bruises may form, but they only last a few days.
Other than the above recommendations, some new techniques that can be employed are Ulthera and Thermage. These still cannot be claimed to treat stretch marks but they work on tightening the tissue around the stretch mark which also help to improve the mark.
WILL THE MARKS DISAPPEAR AFTER TREATMENT?
Unfortunately, even with the right treatment, the stretch marks may not disappear completely, but are likely to go down by 50%. Always consult a doctor to find out the most suitable therapy for you, as each of them work differently on different skin type.