Advice on why stretch marks develop during pregnancy, who is likely to be susceptible to them plus information on stretch mark prevention, treatment and removal.
The vast majority of women develop stretch marks at some point during their pregnancy, usually sometime within the 6th or 7th months. The appearance of stretch marks varies considerably between individuals, as does their colour and severity. Initially, stretch marks may appear as raised red or purple lines on the skin although over time they usually fade to much less noticeable flat, silvery lines.
Stretch marks are medically known as "striae" and appear anywhere on the body where skin has been stretched greatly over a short period of time, although they are usually more prevalent on parts of the body where fat is stored. During pregnancy, stretch marks are most likely to appear around the stomach area, due to its expansion, although they may develop on the breasts, thighs, buttocks and upper arms as a result of natural weight gain during pregnancy.
Stretch marks develop due to a loss of elasticity in the skin as a result of over stretching. The skin comprises 3 layers, the top layer (epidermis), the middle layer (the dermis) and the inner layer (the subcutaneous layer). The dermis layer's function is to support the skin and keep it firm; it also houses the blood vessels that transport nutrients to skin cells.
The dermis is made up of a network of elastic fibres that enable the skin to stretch with our bodies, however when the body expands greatly over a short period of time (such as during pregnancy), the fibres weaken and may break, resulting in the thinning of the skin. The appearance of stretch marks may be attributed to the exposure of the blood vessels in the dermis layer through the thin top layer of skin.
75-90% of pregnant women develop stretch marks (NHS Direct) and although the factors contributing to their development is not known for sure, current thinking suggests that it is due to a combination of genetics, production of the hormone corticosteroid, hydration and nutrition. For instance, those with naturally darker skin are less susceptible to stretch marks, possibly due to the higher melanin content of their skin. Those whose bodies produce higher levels of corticosteroid, a hormone which decreases levels of collagen in the skin will be more susceptible to stretch marks as they will have less naturally elasticated skin.
Pregnant women who drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious, balanced diet will also be less susceptible to stretch marks as hydrated, healthy skin is more elastic and therefore more equipped to stretch as the body grows.
Stretch marks are not harmful and should begin to fade within 6 months of the birth, however for more serious occurrences of stretch marks, there are several treatment options that may help although none should be undertaken without consultation with a doctor first.
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