STRETCH MARKS: IMPACT AND SOLUTIONS
Stretch marks (striae gravidarum) are long, thin streaks or striped patterns that appear on areas of the skin that have been repeatedly stretched or stressed—most commonly the breasts, stomach, buttocks, upper arms and thighs. Although stretch marks are frequently believed to be a problem primarily affecting women, they occur in both genders and for a variety of reasons. Rapid weight gain, hormonal imbalances, pregnancy, puberty, prolonged steroid use, and other equilibrium-disrupting events are all major causes of this unsightly, confidence-wrecking problem. Genetics and the presence of health conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome are also considered precipitating factors.
Stretch marks occur due to the stretching or tearing of the dermal layer of the skin, the middle layer that contains fibers naturally supportive of growth. However, excessive growth in short bursts or other causes of rapid stretching causes these fibers to break. The torn fibers, in turn, cause underlying blood vessels to surface, leading to a reddish or purple color in the newly developed stretch marks. Over time, the exposed blood vessels shrink and reveal sub-dermal fat—a process that results in the stretch marks fading and taking on a pale, scar-like appearance.
Unfortunately, stretch marks are as emotionally and psychologically devastating as they are visually unappealing. In some people, stretch marks occur in highly visible areas such as the legs and upper arms making them extremely difficult to conceal on a consistent basis. Although the impact of stretch marks is sometimes minimized—especially by those with attractive, blemish-free skin—many people suffering from them become anxious and depressed, while others become socially withdrawn or avoidant.
Ours is a society which undeniably fetishizes beauty and cosmetic perfection. Unrealistic, unattainable images of perfect symmetry, impeccable skin tone, and star-quality sex appeal are dangled before us with merciless frequency. For those not fitting the desirable, fictional model of perfection, a wide variety of emotional and psychological problems can arise, some of which are debilitating. Stretch marks, like acne scars, surgical wounds, and other common skin injuries are not only problematic—they are the scourge of many people’s existence. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
Fortunately, stretch marks can be prevented to a certain degree. Especially during pregnancy, when excessive weight gain cannot be controlled, the following precautions can be taken to help minimize the chances of developing stretch marks:
- Keeping skin well-hydrated—regular fluid intake is one of the very best things you can do to support skin health and elasticity. Dry skin has been clinically linked to stretch marks and various other problematic skin conditions, and can be avoided in most cases. When using creams and moisturizers, be sure to use those deemed safe during pregnancy for maximum stretch mark reduction.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine—by maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet during pregnancy and following a disciplined exercise routine, weight gain will occur more steadily and be better controlled. By sticking to a predetermined daily caloric intake based on the specific stages of your pregnancy, you will dramatically lower your chances of rapid weight gain and the likelihood of developing stretch marks. Always consult a dietician or nutritional consultant if you are unsure of where to begin or need help implementing a plan.
- Removing dead skin cells—regular exfoliation of your skin helps promote collagen growth and the production of elastin—both of which help reduce the risk of developing stretch marks.
Other Natural Solutions
A variety of natural vitamins, minerals, creams, ointments, and oils are all available to help support cellular turnover, skin reparation, and increased skin health. Vitamin E, Zinc, and anthocyanidins—the antioxidants found in dark pigmented berries—all support greater elasticity, collagen production, and help reduce the visibility of stretch marks. Ideally, look for 100 percent natural and/or organic formulas from ethically-sourced companies to find the highest quality selection. For more information, check out these natural stretch mark remedies:
Professional Stretch Mark Treatment
Although many stretch marks fade away over time, some are severe enough to seriously impact emotional and psychological help and may require surgical treatment. Like other scars, surgery may also be required in cases where stretch marks are stubborn and deep enough to noticeably restrict movement and limit activities. In such cases, referral to a cosmetic dermatologist or surgeon may be a viable option. No one deserves to be haunted by the burden of scarred, unsightly skin when modern medical advancements have provided so many effective treatments.