The Truth about Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are long, narrow scar-like streaks that develop on the skin. They usually occur when the skin cannot resume normal form after a period of being stretched or shrunk quickly. This includes:-

  • A growth spurt during puberty
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight gain
  • Bodybuilding- Rapid development of muscle mass

Stretch marks result from:-

  • The tearing of the dermis (middle layer of skin).
  • The normal production of collagen (which makes up the connective tissue in our skin) being disrupted when the skin is overstretched.

Stretch marks can also be called striae, striae distensae (SD), striae atrophicans, and striae gravidarum.

There is some evidence to suggest that genetics can sometimes play a role in susceptibility to stretch marks. 

Approximately 75% of women experience stretch marks from pregnancy.

Early stretch marks are usually red or purple. Over time, stretch marks lose their colour and become white or silvery in appearance. 

Although less common, stretch marks can also be caused by:-

  • Certain Medical conditions: such as Marian Syndrome, and Cushing’s syndrome. Marfan syndrome can cause decreased elasticity in the skin tissue, and Cushing’s syndrome can cause an over production of a hormone (cortisol) that leads to rapid weight gain and skin fragility.
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid creams and ointments (such as hydrocortisone)- which can decrease levels of collagen in the skin.
  • Also -people who have to take high doses of oral corticosteroids for months or longer.

Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to stretch marks. Especially low levels of Zinc, Vitamin C and Essential Fatty Acids. A diet high in processed foods can often cause a deficiency in these nutrients.

Foods that can help

A diet high in essential fatty acids (EFA’s) help maintain a healthy skin cell membrane. Fish rich in EFA’s include salmon, sardines, mackerel (& other oily fish). Certain nuts & seeds, avocados, and flaxseed oil are also good forms of EFA’s.

Vitamin C is an important nutrient for the development of collagen. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables. Eg Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, berries, cherries, papaya, peppers (capsicum) kale, broccoli etc.

Protein is required to make Collagen. Good sources include lean red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dairy & lentils.

Zinc is also important for collagen production, as well as skin repair and healing. Zinc rich foods include nuts (especially brazil nuts), fish, meats (such as beef, lamb, pork & turkey), eggs, dairy, quinoa and legumes. These zinc rich foods are important to help keep your skin healthy.

Vitamin A protects skin health and also encourages the formation of new skin cells. Liver and cod liver oil are excellent sources Of Vitamin A. Other good sources include bright orange vegetables and fruits (such as carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos and apricots) and leafy greens such as spinach and kale.

What else can help

Staying hydrated

Drinking enough water can help keep our skin supple and hydrated. As does applying topical hydrating and moisturising products. Soft hydrated skin tends to be more elastic and does not to develop stretch marks as easily as dry skin does.

Hyaluronic acid

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD),  two large studies showed that applying hyaluronic acid to early stretch marks made the stretch marks less noticeable.

Retinol 

Another study showed that people who applied a good strength Retinol cream every night for 24 weeks had less noticeable stretch marks. Those who didn’t apply the cream saw their early stretch marks grow. Other studies have found similar results.

Sunless self-tanner

While tanning can make stretch marks more noticeable, a good quality sunless self-tanner can camouflage stretch marks.

The following procedures can decrease the look of stretch marks:-

  • Fractioned Laser Therapy – helps stimulate the skins collagen and elastin. There are various types of laser therapy. C02 Laser Therapy is another. See more here
  • Skin needling .  See more info here
  • Chemical peels – resulting in peeling off the top layers of damaged, dead skin to activate new skin cell production. 

Other

Oder stretch marks that are white or shiny silver in appearance, are much harder to treat. On the other hand, if they are redish or pink in colour, there is a better chance of improvement.

 Victoria Isherwood (Registered Nurse / Dermatology)

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