What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks are long, narrow streaks, stripes, or lines that develop on the skin. They occur when the skin is suddenly stretched. They can occur on a range of body parts, including the stomach, thighs, hips, breasts, upper arms, and lower back.

Stretch marks are scars or disfiguring lesions. They are also called striae, striae distensae (SD), striae atrophicans, and striae gravidarum. Stretch marks are not physically dangerous but can cause problems with self-image and anxiety. For some people, stretch marks are a significant cosmetic concern that can affect day-to-day living.

What are the signs of stretch marks?

Before stretch marks begin to emerge, the skin can appear thin and pink. It may also feel irritated or itchy. The marks initially develop as wrinkly, raised streaks that can be red, purple, pink, reddish-brown or dark brown, depending on skin color.

What are the risk factors?

  • Pregnancy
  • Puberty
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Corticosteroid use: Prolonged use of corticosteroid creams and lotions can decrease levels of collagen in the skin. Collagen strengthens and supports the skin, and a reduced amount can increase the risk of stretch marks.

The skin consists of three key layers. Stretch marks form in the dermis, or middle layer, when the connective tissue is stretched beyond the limits of its elasticity. This is normally due to rapid expansion or contraction of the skin. As the body grows, the connecting fibers in the dermis slowly stretch to accommodate slow growth. However, rapid growth leads to sudden stretching. This causes the dermis to tear, allowing deeper layers of skin to show through.

How to reduce the risk of having stretch marks?

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid yo-yo dieting.
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Consuming a suitable amount of vitamins A and C can help support the skin, as well as the minerals zinc and silicon.
  • Aim for slow and gradual weight gain during pregnancy.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water every day.

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