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Unsightly stretch marks: How YOU can deal with them

Last updated on: October 23, 2012 08:42 IST

Unsightly stretch marks: How YOU can deal with them

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Courtesy HealthCareMagic.com

Most people develop stretch marks as they age -- and although getting rid of them is really tough, there's a lot you can do in terms of prevention.

Stretch marks are a form of scarring on the skin with an off-colour hue. They are caused by the tearing of the dermis, and over time can diminish, but not disappear completely.

It is a common misconception that stretch marks are solely the result of the rapid stretching of the skin, associated with rapid growth (common in puberty) or weight gain (eg pregnancy or muscle building) that overcomes the dermis's elasticity. Stretch marks are influenced by the hormonal changes associated with puberty, pregnancy, muscle building etc too.

Between 75 and 90 per cent of women develop stretch marks to some degree during pregnancy.

The sustained hormonal levels as a result of pregnancy usually means stretch marks may appear during the sixth or seventh month, primarily during the third trimester, as that is when skin tends to be subjected to higher levels of stretching.

Often, of all the factors involved in stretch mark development, the only one over which an individual can retain control is diet.

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Image: Even sexy stars like Malaika Arora Khan have fallen prey to stretch marks

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Symptoms and signs

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  • Stretch marks first appear as reddish or purple lines, but tend to gradually fade to a lighter colour.
  • The affected areas appear hollowed out and are soft to the touch.
  • Stretch marks occur in the dermis; no stretch marks will form as long as there is support within the dermis.
  • They are most likely to appear in places where larger amounts of fat are stored.
  • Most common areas are the abdomen (especially near the belly-button), breasts, upper arms, underarms, thighs (both inner and outer), hips and buttocks

Image: The Latin diva also has stretch marks, most likely developed when she got pregnant and gave birth to twins
Photographs: 'Jenny from the Block' music video still
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Causes

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The glucocorticoid hormones responsible for the development of stretch marks affect the epidermis, by preventing the fibroblasts from forming collagen and elastin fibres necessary to keep rapidly growing skin taut.

This creates a lack of supportive material, as the skin is stretched and leads to dermal and epidermal tearing.

If the epidermis and the dermis have been penetrated, laser will not remove the stretch marks.


Image: Dramatic weight loss like Sonakshi Sinha's before she entered the movie business can result in stretch marks
Photographs: Courtesy Edelman India
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What can I do about stretch marks?

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There are several treatment options for stretch marks. The degree of success with any treatment will be impacted by your age, your skin tone and even your diet.

Diet and exercise

  • Drink plenty of water. Adequate hydration keeps your skin soft and less likely to develop stretch marks.
  • Caffeine can increase your risk of stretch marks. If you're stuck on your caffeinated coffee or tea, make sure you balance the fluids.
  • Drink just as much -- or more -- water as you drink coffee, tea, or soda.
  • Stretch marks can also result from nutritional deficiency. Be sure to consume foods that promote skin health: foods rich in zinc, such as nuts or fish.
  • Foods high in vitamins A and C, such as carrots and citrus fruits and milk; protein-rich foods, such as eggs.

Image: Model Miranda Kerr credits her skincare line and a healthy lifestyle with preventing stretch marks during and after pregnancy
Photographs: Jason Kempin/Getty Images
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What can I do about stretch marks?

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Lotions and creams

Daily application of a cream (Trofolastin) containing Centella asiatica extract, Vitamin E and collagen-elastin hydrolysates was associated with fewer stretch marks during pregnancy.

Cocoa butter is an effective moisturiser to reduce their appearance, once a stretch mark has already formed.

Surgical methods

  • Dermabrasion
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser surgery

Image: Shilpa Shetty has spoken of using olive oil after pregnancy to cope with stretch marks
Photographs: Jack Dabaghian/Reuters

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