Stretch marks or stria (the medical term) are lines on the skin which begin as raised red lines which then turn purple and slowly fade in time into flat silvery/white horizontal streaks. They are caused by stretching of the skin quickly over a short period of time, particularly for example during pregnancy.
The skin is made up of three parts: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the subcutaneous (inner layer) and stretch marks occur in the dermis. The dermis supports the skin and keeps it firm as well as containing blood vessels for supplying the skins cells with nutrients and nerve cells which allow us our sense of touch.
There are strong fibres in the dermis which allow the skin to stretch as we grow. When the skin is stretched quickly these fibres become thinner and some of them break, showing on the surface as stretch marks. When the skin is stretched thinly and stretch marks can be seen, it is the blood vessels under the surface showing through which make them the reddish/purplish colour they are when they first appear. Later, when the blood vessels contract, the purplish colour fades to silvery/white.
It is important to eat a healthy well balanced diet during pregnancy and take in the extra calories to nourish your unborn baby but weight gain should be steady and gradual. Stretch marks are still however only avoided by the lucky few and approximately 75% to 90% of women develop them. As you put on weight during pregnancy, the stomach is gradually stretched further and further, usually causing stretch marks to appear in the sixth or seventh month. Stretch marks can also appear on other parts of the body such as the breasts and thighs for example, as they get bigger and heavier.
Whilst there is no guaranteed prevention or cure there are certain things you can try in order to limit the affects. In the early stages, it is believed stretch marks can sometimes be reduced with moisturising creams, particularly those containing vitamin E or vitamin A. Creams containing cocoa butter are also believed to be beneficial as these are used with known success for skin scarring. Also recommended are those creams containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) which are made with plant extracts. Clinical studies have not proved that these types of creams can prevent stretch marks, but they may improve the look of stretch marks in the short-term. It is important to keep the skin supple and using a daily moisturizer will not only achieve this but the action of rubbing in the cream will encourage better circulation too.
So, while stretch marks to the majority of pregnant women will be unavoidable, the good news is that they definitely fade with time and it certainly will do no harm to try one of the various creams available in an attempt to minimize them.
Palmer's Cocoa Butter: Organic Massage Cream for Stretch Marks
Palmer's Cocoa Butter: Massage Lotion for Stretch Marks
Bio Oil for stretch marks
Korres Natural Almond & Avocado butter Anti-Stretch Mark Body Cream
Mama Mio Tummy Rub Stretch Mark Oil
Mama Mio Tummy Rub Stretch Mark Butter
Food During Pregnancy
Exercise During Pregnancy