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  Women's Health

August 2012

ERASE THE Stretch!

Dr Anshul Warman & Dr Simal Soin
Stretch marks or ‘striae distensae’ is a common skin condition, which does not cause any significant medical problem but can be a cosmetic embarrassment. They are thin linear scars, which occur when certain areas of the skin are stretched continuously and progressively beyond their natural capacity.

When your skin is stretched to its maximum capacity, its elastic fibres and collagen breaks down and the ruptured middle layer tissue can then be seen through the thinned outer layer of skin. As a result pinkish hued striations appear on the skin surface. These lines may occasionally be itchy too. They progress into reddish, purple or brown marks and over time fade to silvery grey irregular lines.

Causes Of Stretch Marks
  • Stretch marks may occur due to hormonal or medical factors.
  • Almost 90 per cent of pregnant women get stretch marks (Striae gravidarum).
  • Growth spurts and sudden or excessive weight gain cause stretch marks in young people. About 70 per cent of adolescent girls and 40 per cent of young men are susceptible in this case.
  • Young people often develop stretch marks from participating in certain body-altering sports such as weightlifting or from the use of dangerous bodybuilding steroid drugs.
  • Prolonged use of oral or topical corticosteroids or Cushing syndrome (a medical condition with increased adrenal cortical activity) can also lead to stretch marks.
  • Genetic factors do play a role and if a woman develops stretch marks, her daughter is also likely to develop them.
  • Deficiency of essential minerals and vitamins also leads to stretch marks.
Common Areas Where Stretch Marks Appear
  • Enlarging abdomen, hips and breasts in pregnancy
  • Shoulders and sides of chest in excessive gymmers or body-builders.
  • Women usually get stretch marks over the abdomen, arms, breasts, buttocks and thighs.
  • In men they are seen over the shoulders, arms, lower back and thighs.
Prevention Of Stretch Marks
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Avoid rapid weight loss or gain and protect the skin from sudden stretching effects.
  • Maintain a regular skin care with sufficient and appropriate use of moisturizers. In individuals at risk for stretch marks, it particularly improves circulation and encourages new tissue growth.
  • Avoid unnecessary use of topical or oral medication.
  • Avoid sudden increase in muscle mass with excessive gym or exercise programmes. Keep the skin and muscle tone optimum by exercising right.
  • Exercise. The firming of the body tightens the skin and promotes better elasticity. It is the best way to prevent stretch marks.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins E and C, zinc and silicon, which will help keep your skin healthy. Fresh fruits, almonds, leafy green vegetables, peppers, soya beans, fish and eggs are recommended.
Treatment Of Stretch Marks

Once stretch marks have appeared, it’s important to treat them as early as possible. They are more likely to respond to treatment in early stages when they appear reddish-pink than when they have turned into silvery stretches.

  • Several over-the-counter treatments are available. Among them are Strivectin, topical retinoids, glycolic acid, onion extract and peptides. However, there is no strong medical data to prove their impact on the appearance of stretch marks
  • Retinoids should never be used without a doctor’s advice and that goes to say they must never be used during pregnancy. They can be harmful to the foetus.
  • Application of retinoids, vitamin E, vitamin C, fruit acids or AHAs like glycolic acid help. Your doctor will advise them in different concentrations and combinations for a minimum of 6-9 months.

Pregancy And Check Against Stretch Marks
  • Avoid rapid weight gain during pregnancy, as well as rapid weight loss after delivery.
  • Discuss with your doctor the guidelines for normal ranges of weight gain during pregnancy.
  • Eat a balanced diet, which contains whole grains, protein, vitamins and minerals in adequate amounts.
  • Take the prenatal supplements as advised by your doctor and drink plenty of fluids in the form of water, fruit juices and tender coconut water to keep the skin supple and hydrated.
  • Moisturize the skin over the abdomen, thighs, legs, arms and breasts very generously twice daily. This keeps skin hydrated, improves elasticity and prevents itch or stretch marks.
  • Heavy moisturizers such as body butters or pure oils like almond oils are suitable.
Advanced Treatments For Stretch Marks
  • The Fraxel laser is the most effective laser treatment for stretch marks available today. It works by stimulating the skin’s natural synthesis of collagen, which is a protein responsible for the elasticity and tone of skin. Reorganisation of existing collagen and synthesis of new collagen through the natural bodily processes make stretch marks less visible.
  • Pulse dye laser is a good option for red and purple marks, which targets swollen and inflamed blood vessels and helps with skin cell production and increased collagen production.
  • Medium-depth chemical peels.
Home Remedies
Application of aloe vera and vitamin E creams and also the use of cocoa butter, oils of wheat germ, calendula, olive, avocado, almond or jojoba, and also essential aromatic oils like lavender or glycolic acid (50-70 per cent) peels, trichloracetic acid (5-50 per cent) peels, and yellow peel, help remove dead skin cells, stimulating the production of new skin cells and triggers regeneration, remodelling and textural improvement.
  • Derma roller is a paint-like roller with micro needles. It helps in skin remodelling by stimulating the collagen and elastin without damaging the skin. The stretch marks fill in, the skin tightens and elasticity is restored.
  • Mesotherapy involves injecting microscopic quantities of natural extracts, pharmaceuticals, vitamins and specialized medicines directly into the affected skin, which improves the stretch marks in terms of the skin texture, firmness, visibility and colour.
  • Abdominoplasty – the cosmetic surgery that is also known as tummy tuck, helps when you have stretch marks on your tummy or abdomen along with a large amount of loose skin.
How Effective?

Several factors decide the effectiveness of treatment of stretch marks:

  • Age of the stretch marks – older marks take more time.
  • Convenience of treatment — therapies differ in length and frequency of sessions.
  • Cost — these options are cosmetic and usually not covered by medical insurance.
  • Your expectations — most treatments, at best, are only partially effective.