Stretch Marks and Pregnancy

Motherhood is difficult to attain as pregnancy is usually accompanied with unpleasantries of nausea, fatigue, backaches and frequent urination. Another distinct possibility is development of stretch marks. About 90 percent women acquire stretch marks during the second half of pregnancy.

What are ‘Stretch Marks’?

Stretch marks are fine lines on the body, which are reddish or purplish in color in its early stages and become devoid of color or hypopigmented on maturity. They are considered to be the most common types of skin lesions. Medically known by different names as striae distensae, striae atrophicans, striae rubra and striae alba, stretch marks cause no significant medical problems but certainly arouse cosmetic concerns for some.

Causes of ‘Stretch Marks’

In the course of pregnancy, expectant mothers rapidly gain weight and their abdomen also distends to accommodate the growing baby. These changes induce excessive stretching of skin. Although, skin is fairly elastic, but ovestretching weakens the underlying support structure that is dermis, by damaging its collagen fibers and proteins. Shattering of collagen leads to dilation of blood vessels and this results in red or purple colored early stretch marks. These colored scars mature into white or hypopigmented stretch marks when either the pigment-producing melanocytes are destroyed or the melanin pigment is obscured due to inflammation and collagen re-modeling.

Studies have revealed that increased secretion of ‘Glucocorticoid’ hormones by the adrenal glands during pregnancy prevent the fibroblasts from forming collagen and elastin fibers. These are required to keep the skin taut. Due to the lack of this supportive material, whenever the skin is stretched, the dermis easily breaks down to create a stretch mark. Besides glucocorticoids, it is hypothesized that other hormones such as estrogen and relaxin may also play a role.

Other factors, which are responsible for the development of stretch marks, are as follows:

1. Genetic History – Tendency to acquire stretch marks may be inherited.

2. Ethnicity/Skin Tone – Fair-skinned women are more susceptible.

3. Nutritional History – A sensible diet helps the skin to stretch better.

4. Skin Conditions – Dryer skin is less elastic than oily skin and hence more prone to stretch marks.

5. The amount of weight gained during pregnancy.

Treatment of ‘Stretch Marks’

Stretch marks are usually a cosmetic problem, but it is always beneficial to get them treated because in rare cases they may ulcerate and tear easily in an accident.

Some remedies for stretch marks are as follows:

1. Red stretch marks, medically known as striae rubra, provide the best opportunity to make an impact upon the ultimate demise of stretch marks. For their treatment Vitamin E oil, which assists in general skin healing and conditioning, Vitamin A, a good emollient, Tretinion or Retin-A, which attaches itself to the receptors on the skin cells and helps to exfoliate the skin and form healthy new cells, Vitamin C-Serum and cocoa butter, are found to be effective.

Many physicians are finding IPL approach successful in reducing the appearance of striae rubra. This non-invasive, gentle approach uses targeted flashes of light to treat dilated and broken blood vessels without injuring the surrounding healthy skin. On an average four to six treatments sessions of 20 minutes produce natural improvement with excellent long-term results.

2. Creams containing Alpha Hydroxyl Acids (AHA) derived from fruit juices and hence, also called fruit acids, are beneficial for stretch marks reduction. AHAs remove the top layer of cells, which allow the healthier cells to come to the surface, thereby causing improvement in the appearance of stretch marks. This cell regeneration process also improves skin texture and color.

3. Chemical peels are another option for stretch marks treatment. A peel removes several layers of damaged skin cells, leaving a fresh skin, which has a more even surface and color. Glycolic acid and Jessner’s peel are well suited for superficial peels, which reduces pigment and surface dryness. Trichloracetic acid (TCA) is a common chemical used for medium peels, which produce impressive improvement in skin texture, but this method is painful and the treated areas are swollen, red and crusted for the next few days. A nurse or beauty therapist may perform superficial peels. A dermatologist or plastic surgeon usually performs deeper peels.

4. For older white stretch marks, new N-Lite laser therapy is more effective. The N-Lite is a non-ablative laser, that is, it does not burn the skin. It stimulates the fibroblasts to produce collagen fibers. This therapy continues to improve the appearance of stretch marks over a period of time ranging from six months after the initial treatment.

5. The ‘Endermologic’ technique, in which exfoliation is performed in conjunction with the stretching of the fibers, help reduce the stretch marks by increasing the blood circulation in the treatment area by up to 200 percent.

6. The new technique ‘Microdermabrasion’, in which fine sand is blown across the affected area to gradually remove scarred or discolored epidermal tissue, is a helpful procedure for reduction of stubborn older white stretch marks. This technique induces new collagen formation in the stretch marks and reduces them. Microscopic studies have also supported the effectiveness of microdermabrasion.

Prevention of ‘Stretch Marks’

To prevent stretch marks from appearing, pregnant women should try to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Expectant mothers should eat a balanced diet so that the weight gain during pregnancy is within the recommended range of 25 to 35 pounds.

2. They should drink plenty of water and exercise regularly to enhance blood circulation.

3. Intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc and Silica prevents stretch marks.

4. The skin should be liberally and effectively moisturized from the beginning of first or second trimester through the remaining pregnancy to the recovery period. Moisturizers contain various vitamins and oils, which help to enhance collagen production and support dermis, to keep skin intact despite rigorous stretching.

5. Researchers from Biotechnology company, Human Matrix Sciences, LLC in California and The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, have recently discovered a method for predicting whether a particular woman will develop stretch marks during pregnancy or not. In this test, the lazy skin cells, which are the cells that do not multiply or make structurally important proteins at a normal rate, are compared to cells from a woman with no history of stretch marks. Extensive studies reveal that all women with stretch marks possess lazy cells. A tiny skin biopsy can be used to determine the predisposition to stretch mark formation. This test is important because the current non-invasive treatments for stretch marks are fairly limited and surgery is the only effective way for removing them.

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