What Exactly are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks, or striae, as dermatologists call them, are reddish, purple or white lines that form because of the damaged dermis, the resilient middle layer that helps to maintain the skin’s shape and elasticity.
Stretch marks fade in time and tend to become paler in color. More exactly, they turn into white, even silvery lines that mark the upper layers of the skin. They rarely disappear without a specific treatment, and the sooner the treatments are administered the higher the chances for them to be effective.
When they are older and with a white tone, stretch marks can be hard to treat and require more radical solutions, such as laser treatments. In the early stages, various natural OTC stretch mark creams based on collagen and vitamins can be used to revive the skin’s flexibility
The Causes of Stretch Marks
Although many people consider the main cause of these marks to be the skin stretching, due to the name they have been given and because they look like scars, their origin is much deeper. Hormonal fluctuations are considered the primary factor that influences their appearance.
Therefore, people suffering from hormonal imbalance face greater risks of dealing with stretch marks. Among them, there are the teenagers, the pregnant women, people with the Cushing’s syndrome, the Marfan syndrome or suffering from adrenal disorders, but also people using corticosteroid medication.
1. Sudden Gain/Loss of Weight in Adolescence
Very often, during adolescence, individuals face intense hormone fluctuations associated with sudden gain or loss of weight that affect the skin’s elasticity, overstretching it and disrupting the normal collagen production.
That is when stretch marks appear, not only in women, but also in men, although the affected areas may be different. They tend to be a normal part of puberty, as they are caused by the rapid hormonal changes in the body and by the associated weight fluctuations.
2. Stretch Marks during Pregnancy
In pregnant women, the significant hormonal changes that take place in the body and the gain of weight can cause the development of stretch marks, especially on the abdomen. The stretching forces that act on the skin’s elasticity are an important factor, as they affect the creation of the protein that is the base of the connective tissue in the skin. This results in the formation of scar-like marks in the dermis that are very hard to hide and even harder to repair.
As 80 to 90 percent of the pregnant women tend to develop stretch marks by their third trimester of pregnancy, some studies focus on finding solutions to prevent stretch marks formation.
In 1991, the “International Journal of Cosmetic Science” published a study according to which the risk of developing pregnancy stretch marks could be diminished if women applied an OTC stretch mark cream made of a combination of vitamin E and Gotu Kola extract on the affected area (generally the abdomen).
Moreover, a study published by the British Journal of Dermatology in 2006 titled “Striae Gravidarum in Primiparae” showed that young mothers, especially first time mothers are more likely to suffer from stretch marks. The formation of stretch marks is also influenced independently by the age of the mother, her body mass, the neonatal birth weight and the overall weight gain. Furthermore, it appeared that teenagers face greater risks of developing severe stretch marks.
3. The Influence of Corticosteroid Hormones
The appearance of stretch marks can also be influenced by the corticosteroid hormones, which can damage the skin. Another study published in the “Clinical and Experimental Dermatology” in 2006 showed the ability of the corticosteroids hormones to weaken the dermal tissue and increase the risk for the developing of stretch marks. Bodybuilders, for example, are also prone to developing stretch marks due to the rapid changes that their bodies undergo.
4. The Cushing’s Syndrome, the Marfan Syndrome and Adrenal Disorders
4.1 Cushing’s Syndrome – The Cushing’s syndrome, also known as hypercorticism or hyperadrenocorticism, refers to the high level of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands and that can be induced by the intake of glucocorticoid drugs or by some diseases known to cause the excessive production of cortisol. The symptoms include fast weight gain and changes in the thickness of the skin, all these encouraging the appearance of stretch marks.
4.2 Marfan Syndrome – Unlike Cushing’s, the Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue and that has no cure. People who suffer from this disease tend to be very tall and have long limbs and fingers. They also develop unexplained stretch marks on the skin, probably related to the development of the skeleton.
4.3 Adrenal Disorders – The adrenal disorders can also contribute to the development of stretch marks, as individuals with variable hormone levels generally have elevated glucocorticoid hormone levels. This hormone affects the dermis in a negative way, by preventing the fibroblasts found at its level to create collagen and elastin. Without these substances, the skin can no longer provide the necessary support of its structures, and that is how the so hated micro-tears appear. The skin reacts to the small tears under discussion by swelling, and that is how the detested stretch marks appear.
Overall, anyone can develop stretch marks at a certain point in his/her life, be it on the way to adulthood, to motherhood or to a well shaped body. The more changes one’s body faces, the higher the risks for that person to develop stretch marks.
What is worse, depending on their density and prominence, stretch marks do not always heal completely, and, either red stretch marks or white stretch marks, they have the undesired effect of ruining the skin’s aspect.
That is why, it is very important for people to stay alert and treat their stretch marks as they appear or even prevent them, because, otherwise, what could be solved with a simple collagen based stretch mark cream in the early stages may require surgery and costly and painful laser treatments later on.