Stretch marks, also sometimes referred to as battle scars, are a common side effect of pregnancy. We take a closer look at why these occur, whether it’s possible to prevent these marks and how topical treatments can help your skin.
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch marks, or "striae" as they are known in the medical world, occur when the body grows too quickly for the skin, which tears, causing scar-like white or silver lines usually on the breasts, thighs, abdomen and buttocks. The most common causes of these marks are puberty, sudden weight gain, pregnancy, bodybuilding and even certain hormone replacement therapies(1).
50%of women are thought to
suffer from stretch marks
While stretch marks are not painful or dangerous, some women may consider them to be unsightly, and can be a cause of anxiety for body-conscious women (and men).
Moreover, mothers are reported to find post-pregnancy stretch marks particularly hard to deal with psychologically(2).
Why are stretch marks common during pregnancy?
Stretch marks that show during pregnancy are called "striae gravidarum" or "SG". These marks in particular have an extra factor behind their development. Not only is the dermis (skin’s thickest layer) pulled apart by the sudden growth of the stomach, but it is believed that the skin, with its increased levels of hormones, attracts more water. This in turn relaxes the bonds, making it easier to tear(3).
If the pregnant woman is younger, the baby tends to be bigger in size, which means more stretching of the skin
Dr. Nina Roos, Dermatologist
In fact, studies have shown that more than 50%(4) of women are thought to suffer from stretch marks, with multiple factors affecting a woman's risk. According to some of them, the most significant risk factors identified for striae gravidarum were:
● If the mother-to-be is younger(5)- “If the pregnant woman is younger, the baby tends to be bigger in size, which means more stretching of the skin”, describes dermatologist Dr. Nina Roos
● Maternal and family history
● Increased pre-pregnancy and pre-delivery weight
● Increased birth weight(5)
Is it possible to prevent stretch marks?
It is not generally believed that topical treatments can get rid of stretch marks(6) entirely, as the damaged skin is deep within the dermis, whereas most skincare only reaches the epidermis (skin’s top layer). That said, certain topical treatments have shown positive effects in diminishing the appearance of stretch marks, not just post-pregnancy. Ingredients that are effective in topical formulae include hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, oils and centella asiatica extract(7). “It is important to start applying specific skincare products at the beginning of pregnancy, preferably by the end of the 1st trimester”, says Dr. Roos.
According to the dermatologist, the real key to reducing stretch marks lies in prevention. She explains that the first step is to pay attention to your weight gain every month during and to care for the skin before stretch marks develop, or as you start to show signs. “Treatments will be more effective if applied during the early stages of stretch marks - when they are a pinky-red or reddish-purple color, and not white/silver”, she explains.
Likewise, massaging your skin with topical treatments won't remove existing striae, but can help with elasticity and prevent them from developing further. Laser treatments, on the other hand, can be more effective when it comes to removing them, however they are not recommended during pregnancy. “The procedure is safe after delivery and while breastfeeding”, suggests Dr. Roos.
1. Oakley, A. M. et al, 'Stretch Marks (Striae)' in Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing (2018). [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436005/]
2. Yamaguchi, K. et al, ‘Quality of life evaluation in Japanese pregnant women with striae gravidarum: a cross-sectional study' in BMC Res Notes. (2012) Aug 21;5:450. [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22905939]
3. The American Pregnancy Association, ‘Are Pregnancy Stretch Marks Different?’ (2018). [Accessible at: http://americanpregnancy.org/your-pregnancy/are-pregnancy-stretchmarks-different/]
4. Atwal,G.S.S et al, 'Striae gravidarum in primiparae' in British Journal of Dermatology (2006) Vol 155, issue 5, pp.965-969 [Accessible at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2006.07427.x/abstract]
5. Farahnik, B. et al, 'Striae gravidarum: Risk factors, prevention, and management' in International Journal of Women’s Dermatology (2016) Dec 6;3(2) pp.77-85. [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28560300]
6. Ud-Din, S. et al, 'Topical management of striae distensae (stretch marks): prevention and therapy of striae rubrae and albae' in Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (2016) Feb;30(2) pp.211-22. [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26486318]
7. Ash, K. et al, 'Comparison of topical therapy for striae alba (20% glycolic acid/0.05% tretinoin versus 20% glycolic acid/10% L-ascorbic acid)' in Dermatologic Surgery (1998) Aug;24(8) pp.849-56. [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9723049]