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Stretch marks

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 26 September 2008

Stretch marks are visible scars on the skin which usually occur during the big hormonal changes that mark a woman’s life (puberty, pregnancy and the menopause). Stretch marks are often unsightly, but they do eventually smooth out. Here’s our advice on how to deal with them.

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks are scars of the skin caused by the rupture of elastic and collagen fibres in the dermis. They are purplish in light-skinned people and more pigmented in dark-skinned people. With time they become pearly white and smoother. They mainly affect the stomach, hips, breasts and thighs. They don't affect any type of woman in particular (the same stretch has different effects on different women).

How do they form?

Stretch mark are usually caused by two things, most often linked:

- Sudden stretching of the skin. Rapid changes due to growth, pregnancy or significant weight gain increases the tension on the skin and pulls on the collagen fibres. The fibroblasts don’t have the time to produce enough elastin to deal with the huge tension, so the network of elastic fibres tears in places.

- Hormonal change. The production of fibres of the dermis is influenced by a hormone called cortisol. Excess cortisol inhibits the production of collagen and elastin by the fibroblasts. During pregnancy, puberty or hormonal variations cortisol is overproduced, and this weakens the network of fibres, making them less resistant to tension.

How to prevent stretch marks
The best prevention is, of course, not to gain weight too quickly, especially during pregnancy. Aside from the regulation of cortisol production (which is impossible), you can take care of your skin by nourishing it intensely and softening it so it resists stretching better. The best prevention is special creams with silicium, Vitamin F, ivy, soy extract, etc. Even if they aren't 100% effective, they reduce your chances of getting prominent stretch marks. To make them as effective as possible, apply cream twice a day from the first few weeks of pregnancy, before your skin starts to stretch.

How do you get rid of stretch marks?

Stretch marks become white and lessen over time but they never completely disappear. To reduce their appearance, there are several medical solutions. All consist of exfoliating the superficial layers of the skin to stimulate the regeneration of the deeper layers: Vitamin A cream, acid peels, microdermobrasion and laser treatment. Creams sold in chemists also help to improve the appearance of stretch marks.

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