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Develop on various places on your body and for different reasons. Stretch marks appear when dermis, the middle layer of skin is stretched to a point where its elasticity reaches its limit. At this point, your skin cannot stretch any longer, and microscopic bleeding occurs together with an inflammation that causes purple lines, newly formed stretch marks.
The outer layer of your skin, epidermis, covers dermis and is transparent enough for the purple lines (stretch marks) to be visible. Stretch marks in dermis heal eventually, and when they do scars will appear, and you will have gotten new permanent stretch marks. With time, the stretch marks fade and become silvery or white, a colour that is a little lighter than your natural skin tone. The lighter colour is due to a loss of pigment cells.
Stretch marks and Body Stress
New research has tried to relate the development of stretch marks to a group of steroids called glucocorticoids. The most common glucocorticoid is cortisol. Research has shown that increased levels of cortisol in the body make it easier to gain weight. This is because your body can feel it when you are under stress and starts to produce more cortisol. Things that cause your body to produce more cortisol include negative stress in your everyday life, for example at work. Also pregnancy, an unhealthy diet and too much caffeine and nicotine affect the stress level in your body.
When your body is exposed to stress, it puts itself into survival mode in order to manage the stress. In these situations, the body tends to store fat more easily and more quickly than normal as a kind of instinctive, natural protection against future threats/insecurity. This can lead to a steadier weight gain over a short period of time, which leads to stretching of the middle layer of your skin, which in turn can cause stretch marks.
Who gets stretch marks
People who are more susceptible to stretch marks are pregnant women, bodybuilders and adolescents. Pregnant women usually get stretch marks during the late stages of pregnancy when the baby grows fast. More than 75% of pregnant women get stretch marks on their belly, and it is completely normal that the body cannot adapt itself to the weight increase in time. Other places where stretch marks commonly appear are breasts, thighs and buttocks.
Bodybuilders have a tendency to develop stretch marks on their skin that generally appear on upper arms and shoulders. Adolescents are often affected by stretch marks due to the enormous change their bodies go through over a short period of time during puberty. Stretch marks that occur in young people fade with time and often disappear completely or are much less visible than stretch marks that develop later in life.
Prevent the development of stretch marks on your skin
The most important thing you can do to prevent stretch marks is to maintain a healthy skin. Below you can find some advice on how you can prevent new stretch marks from occurring.
- Consume a varied diet that promotes a healthy skin, for example foods high in zinc, vitamin A, C and D, and be sure to eat sufficient amounts of protein.
- Drink at least 1,5 liters of water daily. You need to drink a lot of water especially if you also drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, which have a diuretic effect. Water helps you to maintain a healthy body and keeps your skin moisturised (hydrated) and thereby makes it more elastic so that it can prevent the development of stretch marks.
- An exercise program keeps your whole body healthy, which in turn promotes a healthy skin and reduces the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body.
- Do not scratch or stretch your skin too much. If you stretch the outermost and the middle layers of your skin, it can lead to the formation of additional stretch marks. Massage is good for your skin, not only for preventing stretch marks, but also because it improves your blood flow and helps it to stimulate cell growth, both of which are important for the prevention of stretch marks.
- If you are pregnant, try to keep your weight gain within healthy bounds, between 10 and 18 kg during the pregnancy. Even more importantly, try to gain weight slowly during your pregnancy. A sudden and steady increase in weight is a common cause of stretch marks on the skin.
- Use cream or ointment at least once a day on skin areas that tend to develop stretch marks. Creams contain ingredients that can contribute to improving your skin’s condition, which reduces chances of developing stretch marks.