Sunday, November 02, 2008

What Causes Stretch Marks (Striae)?

The average newborn baby weighs about seven pounds. The average adult weighs twenty times as much. In order to accommodate this massive, if gradual, increase in size our skin needs to stretch a great deal; if skin did not stretch and grow with us we would all burst out of our skins at a very early age. However, although usually skin can accommodate this gradual change in shape and size very successfully it does sometimes fail to cope: it can be strained by sudden changes in body weight and size, and stretch marks are the visible souvenirs of that unacceptable pressure.

Stretch marks usually show where the elastic fibres of the skin were put under the greatest stress and their number and size is usually proportionate to the rate of weight chance.

It is not known exactly what happens during the development of stretch marks but it seems possible that hormones weaken and rupture the elastic fibres while mechanical forces decide the extent, length and direction of the resulting stretch marks.

Stretch marks can occur at almost any time of life but there are two occasions when they are particularly likely to develop:

1 The earliest date at which stretch marks develop is usually adolescence when changes in hormone levels in the body accompany a fairly rapid weight gain. Experts disagree about just how common striae are at this time but it seems that between a half and three quarters of all girls and about a third of all boys develop marks somewhere on their bodies. Varying in length, stretch marks are usually pink or purple to start with, although they invariably fade to white scars as the years go by, becoming wrinkled and papery with time. Adolescent boys usually develop striae on their backs, buttocks and abdomens while girls develop marks on their breasts as well.

2 The other very common time when women develop stretch marks is, of course, during pregnancy. An ordinary female abdomen has to stretch considerably during those nine months, to cope with the developing foetus, and one side-effect is often a collection of abdominal stretch marks. Nine out of ten young mothers develop them, either on their abdomens or on their breasts. (Marks develop on the breasts because they, too, tend to swell as milk accumulates.)

There is no certain way to prevent stretch marks developing, although there are scores of preparations on the market, designed to help stop striae forming. A little gentle massage with a plain moisturizing cream is probably as useful as anything, and very gentle exercising of the abdominal muscles may help. Stretch marks on the breasts can be minimized by wearing a good, supporting maternity bra.

Stretch Marks (Striae) Treatment

Once stretch marks have developed the most effective way to deal with them is with a camouflage cream. Your local pharmacist should be able to recommend a suitable one but if you have difficulty, ask your doctor to refer you to a dermatologist, who should be able to advise you on suitable creams - indeed some specialist dermatologists now work closely with specially trained beauticians. I would not suggest plastic surgery for stretch marks because the result may be scars that are more noticeable than the stretch marks. Remember, although they rarely disappear entirely stretch marks do usually fade as the years go by.
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