Stretch marks are something every pregnant woman encounters. Yashmitha Padayachee chats to homeopathic doctor Colette Kell, who is expecting her first little bundle, about how to prevent and treat stretch marks.
Stretch marks – or striae gravidarum if you speak Latin – are synonymous with rapid fluctuations in weight, be it weight gain or weight loss, and no one knows this better than a new or expectant mom.
The science behind the striae
Your skin is made up of three layers, the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. Stretch marks form when the middle layer, the dermis, tears. They are most commonly found in areas that have a higher fat content, such as the abdomen or belly, hips, thighs, buttocks and breasts, but can also form when there is rapid muscle growth.
The dermal layer is responsible for the support and structure of our skin. Within it we have collagen and elastin fibres, which are necessary to keep skin firm as it grows and stretches. Usually the dermis is able to produce enough of these structural components to keep our skin elastic and happy. However, in times of stress, our body produces cortisone, which will negatively affect the body’s ability to produce the supportive material necessary to keep the skin supple and stretchy.
When they first appear, stretch marks are reddish or purple and may burn or itch slightly and be sensitive or tender to touch. However, over time, they will settle, lose part of their pigmentation and become pale and soft.
Pregnancy stretch marks are formed by both the rapid expansion of the uterus as well as any possible weight gained by the mom-to-be. Almost 90% of expectant moms are affected, but it is important to remember that stretch marks pose no health risk. They can, unfortunately, cause emotional and self-esteem issues in both males and females.
Tiger stripe prevention and treatment
During pregnancy, it can be difficult to attempt preventing stretch marks. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, keeping active and ensuring your skin is well moisturised, will help to minimise any damage done by stretch marks.
As beautiful and as precious as pregnancy is, it can also be a stressful and trying time. And because there’s a link between cortisone and stretch mark severity, the mom-to-be must take into consideration her stress levels throughout her pregnancy. If available, make good use of your support system to assist with older siblings or stressful tasks.
Similarly, telling a pregnant woman not to gain weight can be quite stressful. Homeopathic doctor Kell advises that with gradual weight gain there is less likely to be major dermal tearing, and in terms of nutrition, eating enough protein and taking prenatal supplements with both zinc and vitamin C will help to ensure sufficient collagen is produced within the dermis, providing key structural elements for the skin’s elasticity.
She also emphasises the importance of ensuring your skin is well hydrated and moisturised during and after the pregnancy. Drink plenty of water and make a routine of massaging your moisturiser of choice onto the possible problem areas. This should continue after you have given birth, as your body now has the opportunity to contract back into its original form.
One must take care if using stronger topical creams and treatments, as this could impact negatively on the pregnancy, and your doctor should be consulted before you begin using such an ointment.
If you are not already using one, incorporating an exfoliator into your bathtime routine can help to remove part of the epidermis or top layer of skin, where dead cells can accumulate. This will aid in the absorption of the treatment cream or oil.
There are many creams and oils available at most supermarkets or pharmacies, at a range of prices. More active treatments after pregnancy include fractional laser resurfacing and microdermabrasion. Fractional laser resurfacing treatment forces the body to repair itself, by creating tiny wounds along the stretch mark. This process stimulates collagen production and should ultimately result in smoother skin. Microdermabrasion is a more intense version of exfoliation using high speed rotating brushes. This assists in removing part of the epidermis, making the marks appear lighter, and helping the treatment creams and oil to reach the dermis.
Although stretch marks are not the most exciting part of a pregnancy, they are a part of the journey that is inescapable. Even though they may be unsightly, you should embrace them for the realness they represent and the joy they will ultimately bring you. And the good news is that very often they do fade over time.