What is a stretch mark and how is one formed?
Stretch marks, otherwise known as Striae Gravidarum, occur in the middle layer of the skin matrix, which is the layer that helps skin retain its shape. Skin is composed of three layers: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the subcutaneous stratum (innermost layer). These marks will develop when the middle layer of the skin or dermis is constantly stretched beyond its capacity. This constant tension on the skin results in it becoming less elastic and the connective fibres (collagen and elastin), within the skin matrix, tear and or become thinner. In response to this situation, the body forms scar tissue and a stretch mark treatment becomes necessary.
A newly formed stretch skin mark is pink, red, brown, or purple in colour. The actual colour depends on the skin tone of the individual. An early sign of the development of this skin problem is an area of the skin that becomes flattened, thin, pink in colour, and possibly itchy. The colour of the stretch mark is due to the transparency of the skin in its stretched state showing small blood vessels underneath it. As time passes, without any treatment being used, the colour of the stretch skin mark fades to white or a colour lighter than the individual’s natural skin colour. In the end, a stretch mark is best described as thin, stretched, and indented tissue in the form of glossy or silvery lines. Stretch skin marks are usually several centimetres long and in the range of 1 to 10 mm wide.
What are the factors that determine whether stretch skin marks will occur?
Before discussing treatment options for this skin care problem, it is worthy to discuss the factors that make individuals more susceptible to these marks on the skin. By understanding the causes, preventative actions may be put into place.
When an individual grows very quickly this marks can appear on the skin. Also, large and rapid weight gain or frequently fluctuating weight can lead to this skin problem. People who are obese often have these stretch skin marks and people who are constantly on or off weight loss diets have them as well. Body builders can develop them, because bodybuilding usually results in rapid body changes. As the body gets larger the skin gets overly stretched and the marks appear.
Pregnancy is a major cause of stretch skin marks in women because of the large and fairly rapid gain in weight. Also, hormonal changes bare some of the blame. Hormones soften the collagen ligaments and skin collagen in the pelvic area so that the tissues are able to stretch easily during childbirth. Thus, when you combine softer collagen and skin stretching, stretch marks will easily form.
If a woman is carrying multiples, is carrying a large baby, or has an excess amount of amniotic fluid, then the stretch skin marks may be even more significant. On average, 75 to 90 per cent of women will develop stretch skin marks as a result of pregnancy. With such a high percentage, it is no wonder that having a stretch skin mark treatment available is very important.
An individual is likely to be more susceptible to stretch skin marks if there is a family history of the problem. Skin structure and skin properties are genetically determined and therefore individuals may be predisposed to the development of these marks.
Women or men with greater amounts of melanin (skin pigment) are less prone to these marks.
Prolonged use (a few months or more) of oral corticosteroids or more or the use of topical corticosteroid creams or ointments such as hydrocortisone for several weeks, can lead to the formation of these marks on the skin.
Cushing’s Syndrome is a condition characterized by an increase in adrenal cortical activity in the body. This results in an excessive amount of cortisol circulating in the body. Cortisol can lead to the increased likelihood of stretch mark formation.
Before discussing treatment options, below is a quick summary of body areas that frequently are affected by the marks.
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