What causes stretch marks? Like homegrown lightning.

What causes stretch marks? Like homegrown lightning.

A common insecurity among many are the long, narrow streaks, stripes, or lines that develop on the skin - stretch marks. So let’s break it down, what are they and what causes them? A stretch mark is a type of scar. Scars occur when skin is injured and it repairs itself. The skin is made up of three layers. Stretch marks form in the middle layer. As the body grows, the connecting fibers in the dermis slowly stretch to accommodate the growth. When this layer of connective tissue is stretched beyond its limits of elasticity - normally due to expeditious expansion or contraction of the skin this layer will tear, allowing deeper layers of skin to show through.

Areas most commonly affected by such scarring are the abdomen, breasts, hips, flank, buttocks and thighs, and are usually silvery, white, or glossy in appearance due to the pale fat beneath the skin becoming visible instead of the usual blood vessels. Some people develop a few long, thin lines, while others have stretch marks that appear in bunches. The lines can also be thick and angry looking. For lighter skinned people, the lines are usually reddish or purple at first, fading over time. For darker skinned people, stretch marks tend to look lighter than their usual skin color.

In contradiction to the amount of distress they generate, stretch marks are extremely common especially among women. Stretch marks are not physiologically dangerous but can trigger self-esteem issues and anxiety. For some people, stretch marks are a significant cosmetic concern that can affect day-to-day living.

Here are some of the most common causes of their materialisation. First and foremost, 50-90% of stretch marks occur during or after pregnancy. Apart from that, rapid growth that is typical in young people ie: puberty, can also lead to stretch marks! Also, rapid changes in weight whether it be loss or gain are common causes for the stretching of skin as well.

On top of that, sometimes stretch marks can be a symptom of medical conditions such as the Marfan syndrome which decreases elasticity in the skin tissue, and Cushing’s syndrome which leads the body to produce too much of a hormone that leads to rapid weight gain and skin fragility.

Also, if you’re a frequent corticosteroid user - which is an anti-inflammatory drug, you may develop more stretch marks than the average person because they decrease levels of a protein called collagen in the skin which strengthens and supports the skin. Keeping along this line, exercising and using anabolic steroids is also another reason for the development of stretch marks. So is having breast enlargement surgery!

They can also be caused by an increase of cortisone in your system. Cortisone is a hormone naturally produced by your adrenal glands. However, having too much of this hormone can make your skin lose its elasticity. A surprising reason could be that you have inherited it. If it is common among your family the chances are higher for you to develop them.

Stretch marks cannot always be prevented as it comes with natural growth and life. However, it may be possible to reduce the risk of developing more scars than necessary. One way will be to maintain a healthy weight which reduces the stretching and contracting of the skin. In relation to that, it is highly recommended to avoid yo-yo dieting. Slowly but surely wins the race. Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals plays a part in this point as consuming a suitable amount of vitamins A and C can help support the skin, as well as the zinc and silicon. Apart from that, if you’re pregnant, ask your doctor how you can aim for slow and gradual weight gain.

If stretch marks still seem to be an overwhelming physical trait of yours, there are a few less natural ways of improving their appearance. For example, Tretinoin cream (Retin-A, Renova) works by restoring collagen. Apart from that, pulsed dye laser therapy or fractional photothermolysis are methods that encourage the growth of collagen and elastin. There is also microdermabrasion which involves polishing the skin with tiny crystals to reveal new skin that’s under the more elastic stretch marks. And finally, the excimer laser stimulates skin color (melanin) production so that stretch marks match the surrounding skin more closely.

However, before jumping to the decision of undergoing any of these methods of improvement or “removal” one must remember that such skin marks are natural and common. These medical procedures and prescription medicines aren’t guaranteed to cure stretch marks, and they can be expensive.