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.
How to avoid stretch marks
- 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.
Most importantly, 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.