For most people, stretch marks are a burden, with around 50-80% of women developing stretch marks during pregnancy. However, this is something that it not confined to pregnancy, and can affect teenagers going through puberty or individuals who rapidly gain or lose weight.
What causes stretchmarks?
Stretch marks are caused by changes in the elastic supportive tissue that lies just beneath the skin. Effectively scar tissue caused by excessive stretching of the collagen fibres within the skin, stretch marks start out pink, reddish brown, purple, or dark brown, depending on your skin colour.
The good news is that stretch marks usually become considerably less noticeable about 6 to 12 months after childbirth. The pigmentation fades and they generally become lighter than the surrounding skin (the colour will vary depending on your skin colour), but their texture will remain the same.
Stretch marks and pregnancy
Women develop stretch marks during pregnancy from the skin stretching on the abdomen and also the breasts because of rapid gains in size. Stretch marks because of hormonal changes within the body. Hormones attract water to the skin, which causes the collagen fibers to relax. This makes it easier for skin to be damaged, although the theory needs more study for confirmation, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
It is impossible to predict who will get stretch marks during pregnancy and who won’t. However, these are a number of factors which increase the chance of getting stretch marks.
Research suggests that genetics plays a role: If your mother or sister developed stretch marks during pregnancy, you are more likely to suffer from them too. Also some studies show that younger mum’s, in particular teens, are also more prone to stretch marks during pregnancy. In addition, the more your skin has to expand during pregnancy and the more quickly this happens, the more likely you are to develop stretch marks. Therefore you are more likely to develop stretch marks if:
- you gain a lot of weight rapidly
- you’re carrying multiples e.g. twins or triplets
- you’re carrying a big baby
- you have excess amniotic fluid
Preventing stretch marks
Ensuring you have a healthy diet should help you to gain weight during pregnancy naturally. Ensuring that you are consuming enough vitamins and minerals, particularly foods which are rich in vitamin e such as sunflowers, almonds, blueberries, papaya and olives can also help to prevent the development of stretch marks.
Recommendations within The Foundations of Nursing suggest that pregnant women should obtain 15mg of vitamin e daily. It is also recommended that pregnant women should apply vitamin e oil into parts of the body which may be prone to the development of stretch marks e.g. around the stomach,as this can benefit the skin and also prevent the development of stretch marks.This is supported by recommendations from within the Maternity & Pediatric fields.
Treating stretch marks
Expensive laser treatments and creams are marketed as ways to diminish stretch marks. Vitamin e, also called alpha-tocopherol, consumed in your dietor used topically as oil has been shown to help reduce the appearance and even prevent stretch marks. Young Jewell (2010) reviewed two scientific studies involving women and found that compared to a placebo, massage with a cream containing vitamin e, prevented the development of stretch marks.
According to P. Kim Phillips, doctor of dermatology at the Mayo Clinic,stretch mark treatment is most effective when vitamin e is applied as early as possible, before fading occurs.
Other skin health benefits
Vitamin e can also improve the strength, condition and elasticity of skin and help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin e can accumulate in the epidermis and serve as a barrier to moisture evaporation, which helps keep the skin hydrated and healthy.
Research also suggests that when vitamin e is applied topically before and after surgery for at least 30 days, this can help to improve surgical wound healing and also help to improve the cosmetic appearance of scars. In addition to surgical scars, vitamin e may also help to improve the appearance of acne scars.
Note: Supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any medications, please consult a doctor before use. Discontinue use and consult a doctor if adverse reactions occur.
- American Pregnancy Association: Stretch Marks
- ‘Foundations of Nursing’; Lois White, Gena Duncan and WendyBaumle; 2010
- ‘Introduction to Maternity Pediatric Nursing’; GloriaLeifer; 2010
- Journal of Plastic,Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery: A Prospective Study in Children: Pre- and Post-surgery Use of Vitamin E in Surgical Incisions
- Young G, Jewell D. Creams for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1996, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000066. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000066.