Lifestyle & Health : Dealing with stretch marks

August 30, 2016

Dear Readers,

University student Alysha, 23, is concerned about several stretch marks she sees on her skin since losing 30 pounds. She has been trying to improve her physical image and thinks that stretch marks are a poor reward for her efforts. She has also seen stretch marks on a friend who is pregnant, which stretch from under her breasts to her belly bottom. Alysha asks why stretch marks seem to form so easily and what can be done to prevent them forming and to tone down their appearance.

Stretch marks are indented streaks in the skin which are most commonly found over the breasts, abdomen, hips, buttock, thighs and upper arms. They usually appear dark when they first occur, but tend to fade over time and become less noticeable. Stretch marks commonly occur in late pregnancy in the majority of women. They are not painful or harmful, although when they occur during skin bleaching, it is a sign of advanced thinning of the skin in the area and is almost impossible to reverse.

Individuals who bleach their skin and see the stretch marks occurring need to stop their actions at once. They will very likely carry these stretch marks for life and, if they persist, more stretch marks will form. The only treatments which work with sustained results are expensive and still not a cure, although the marks can be made to fade.

New stretch marks are bright red, blue, purple or black. Older stretch marks fade. Stretch marks can cover extensive areas of the body, although this is a rare occurrence, and can happen after steroid medication or in the disease, Cushing's syndrome.

Stretch marks don't all resemble, but depend on where on the body they occur, skin type and genetic tendency. Users of steroidal preparations on their skin are reminded that steroids weaken the elastic fibres in the skin and they literally tear, resulting in stretch marks. Visualise a stretched-out elastic, panty waist as opposed to the panty waist when it is new and taunt and know that the stretch mark is the stretched-out elastic panty waist. In pregnancy, stretch marks often occur due to rapid weight gain, where the body expands faster than the skin can adjust. The elastic fibres under the skin break, resulting in stretch marks.

Risk factors for stretch marks include:

- Female gender.

- Family history of stretch marks.

- Pregnancy.

- Overweight.

- Rapid weight gain or weight loss.

- Bodybuilding.

- Steroid medication.

- Cushing's syndrome.

Stretch marks don't usually require treatment and they do tend to fade with time. Treatments can only partially restore the skin and won't remove the stretch marks completely. Treatment is best perused under care of a dermatologist. Some available treatments are:

- Retinoid cream, which is derived from Vitamin A and is best used on stretch marks no more than a few months old. It works by helping rebuild collagen in the skin, making the stretch marks appear more like normal skin.

- Light and laser treatment, which stimulates the growth of tissue collagen and elastin in the skin.

- Microdermabrasion removes a fine layer of skin and promotes the growth of new and more elastic skin.

Factors which will influence outcomes with treatment are:

- Skin type.

- Age of stretch marks.

- Cost of treatment.

- Individual expectations.

When pregnant, women are advised to gain weight slowly to minimise stretch mark formation. Where stretch marks are concerned, how quickly weight gain occurs is the main problem, not how much weight is gained overall. Statistics show that 85 to 90 per cent of women will see stretch marks after the sixth month of pregnancy. And if a woman's mother gained stretch marks in pregnancy, then that woman will also tend to become stretch marked in pregnancy, unless she takes great care to gain weight slowly and in regular increments over the pregnancy. Weight gain of over 25lb during pregnancy is invariably accompanied with stretch marks, so much discipline is needed. It is important to keep the skin well hydrated with lotions, creams and by drinking more water.

Alternative medicine suggests that Gels made with a mixture of onion extract and hyaluronic acid may help if applied to new stretch marks when they are still reddish in colour. Marks are said to fade after 12 weeks of daily use.

Prevention is in fact the only real cure:

- Eat a diet rich in protein, as elastin is made from protein.

- Avoid rapid weight loss or gain.

- Frequent applications of cocoa butter cream and vitamin E from the early stages of pregnancy and during weight-loss programmes.

- Always keep the skin well moisturised.

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