Stretch marks is something all women have to deal with at different stages in life. Learning how to prevent, treat and fade stretch marks and skin discolouration will help you to combat these times and still look and feel fabulous! RESCU spoke with Dr Charlotte Middleton, Integrative Medical Practitioner, who has recently joined Bio-Oil to discuss skin issues including scars, stretch marks and uneven skin.
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RESCU: What is a stretch mark and how do you get one?
Dr Charlotte Middleton: Stretch marks are a type of scar that are long, narrow streaks, stripes or lines that develop on the skin and which differ in hue from the surrounding skin. They arise from parts of the body expanding or growing at a faster rate than the overlying skin, such as in pregnancy, with rapid weight gain, or during puberty. They can also occur in obesity, weightlifting and some medical conditions. The marks form in the middle layer of the skin, the dermis, which tears with the repeated stretching. When these tears heal they leave stretch marks. They are usually initially slightly red or a purple shade, but over time fade to silvery white lines that may or may not disappear.
Common areas for stretch marks to arise include the abdomen, breasts, hips, flanks, buttocks and thighs. The prevalence of stretch marks range from 40-90%, depending on race, age and sex. Around 70% of girls and 40% of boys develop stretch marks during puberty, and over 90% of pregnant women are prone to developing them.
RESCU: Are some skin types and tones more likely to get stretch marks?
Dr Charlotte Middleton: The darker your skin, the more prone you are to developing stretch marks (and problem scars in general). This is thought to be due to a combination of increased melanin in the skin and genetics. Other risk factors for developing stretch marks include:
1. Age: The younger you are, the more prone you are to developing stretch marks.
2. Family history: If your mother had stretch marks, you are more likely to develop stretch marks.
3. Personal history: If you have had previous stretch marks (puberty or pregnancy), it is more likely that you will get them again in subsequent pregnancies.
4. Skin condition: keeping skin soft, supple, well hydrated and well nourished can reduce your risk of developing stretch marks
RESCU: How can you prevent stretch marks?
Dr Charlotte Middleton: Whether pregnant or not, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to stretch marks. Unfortunately there is not a lot you can do about your skin type, genetics, age or family history. But there is a lot you can do about your skin condition and its elasticity, and the rate at which you gain weight during pregnancy (and weight gain in general). Keeping the skin soft and supple with the regular application of creams or oils, well hydrated by consuming good amounts of water and well nourished by eating a diet rich in vitamins A, C and E – will all reduce your risk of stretch marks. Ensuring that you gain weight slowly over the course of a pregnancy and maintaining a healthy weight when not, by eating well and exercising regularly, will also make you less prone.
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RESCU: How can you fade stretch marks and when should you start treatment?
Dr Charlotte Middleton: While stretch marks don’t pose a health risk to anyone, many women have concerns about their appearance, with 1 in 3 women feeling self-conscious, worried or even ashamed of their stretch marks, and for this reason alone will seek treatment. Creams or oils are often the first port of call for both stretch marks and scars in general, and in some cases can prove effective in fading stretch marks. For more of a guaranteed result, many people turn to laser stretch mark removal. In the procedure a high-energy ultraviolet laser light is used to disrupt the molecular bonds in the skin tissue around the scar, which causes the tissue to disintegrate in a process known as ablation. Once complete, the treated area will heal quickly, and new layers of healthy skin will form. This can very effective at fading and in some cases, completely eliminating stretch marks.
RESCU: What are some permanent solutions for extreme cases?
Dr Charlotte Middleton: For a more permanent solution, an abdominoplasty or ‘tummy tuck’ is currently the only effective surgical procedure for stretch mark removal in the abdominal area. All stretch marks below the naval are discarded along with the excess skin. Other possible non-surgical alternatives include chemical peels, microdermabrasion and blue light therapy.
RESCU: How can you prevent stretch marks during a serious weight loss program?
Dr Charlotte Middleton: When it comes to losing weight and the appearance of stretch marks, it’s more often not the losing of weight that is causing the stretch marks, but rather the losing of weight making already existing stretch marks more obvious. The key is to lose the weight gradually, so that you slow the loss of collagen fibres in the dermis, which is what causes the stretch marks to show through the top layer of skin. You don’t want the skin to strain too much and to lose its elasticity too quickly, as you take off the excess kilos. All other preventative measures previously mentioned also apply to optimise your skin health.