|What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are pink, reddish and brown lines that appear on the skin after it is stretched (image). Marks most commonly occur during pregnancy, puberty or after gaining large amounts of weight. In pregnant women, stretch marks often appear in the third trimester of pregnancy, on the breasts, abdomen, thighs and buttocks. Stretch marks are called striae rubra in the early phase when they are brightly colored in red or purple. As time passes, they become fainter, almost silvery white. This stage is known as the alba phase. Stretch marks are not a serious condition; rather they are considered a cosmetic problem, although occasionally they may itch. Considered the scar of pregnancy, stretch marks do not heal on their own, but rather reduce in appearance over time. For more about looking after mom and baby throughout the trimesters, read our prenatal care guide.
Pregnancy stretch marks are caused by tiny tears in the layers of collagen tissue under the skin as it becomes stretched to its limit. Pregnant women who have good skin elasticity are less likely to suffer from stretch marks. Whether you have elastic skin is due more to genetics than anything else. If your mother managed to give birth without suffering stretch marks, chances are you will too. Some dermatologists however believe that pregnancy hormones are the main culprit. The may be that hormones interact with the skin to cause marks.
Warning: Severe itching with hives appeaing on your stretch marks? You may have PUPPs rash, particularly if it starts late in the third trimester.
At least half of all pregnant women develop stretch marks. Although you may not be able to prevent stretch marks, you may be able to minimize the effects by keeping control of your weight gain and staying within doctor guidelines. The faster the skin stretches, the more likely ruptures will develop. Also, maintaining a healthy balanced diet, rich in vitamin C, can help prevent severe marking. This will help keep your skin elastic. There is no evidence that wearing support undergarments or maintaining an erect posture helps in any way.
No anti-stretch mark topical creams or gels have been scientifically proven to prevent stretch marks, including cocoa butter, Aloe Vera, grapefruit seed extract or bio oil. A study published in 2008 by the International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology concluded that rubbing cocoa butter lotion over the breasts, thighs and abdomen during pregnancy does not prevent stretch marks. The study followed 175 women and was performed by a team of dermatologists and obstetricians. Nevertheless, rubbing cream to the affected areas will help keep your skin moistened and may prevent itching.
Prescription creams should only be used after delivery and they may go some way to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Tretinoin creams (brand names Atralin, Retin-A, Renova, Avita and Altinac) are the most popular. Tretinoin is derived from vitamin A, and is also used for treating acne and sun damaged skin. It works by irritating the skin into cell growth. Your doctor or dermatologist can advise you further.
Any clinical treatment of stretch marks will need to wait until after pregnancy. Laser plastic therapy can lessen the effects of stretch marks, but there is still no treatment that will eradicate or remove them entirely. Most laser surgery will reduce red and white stretch marks and improve the texture of the skin. A series of sessions are usually necessary to obtain best results. You should be able to reduce marks to a level where only someone up close can notice. As only your partner or doctor is likely to look that closely, then hopefully this will be fine! Laser stretch mark removal costs between $200 and $700 per laser treatment and is not usually covered by health insurance. Ask your consultant for before and after photos of previous clients to help determine whether this is a way forward for you. See also prenatal care costs.
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For more pregnancy induced issues, see the following:
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