What are Stretch Marks?

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Stretch marks are caused for a number of different reasons but as essentially the product of over stretching of the skin. They appear as narrow lines on the surface of the skin and are usually indented. The colour varies depending upon the age of the stretch marks as they appear red/purple when new but fade to a white colour over time. Their medical term is Striae and they do not pose any threat to your health, they are simply scars upon the surface of the skin.

Stretch marks occur when the skin is overstretched. This can happen for a number of reasons but if it occurs rapidly, the middle layer of the skin will break. The bottom layer of the skin can then be poke through this break and becomes noticeable through the surface of the skin. When this first occurs, the blood vessels supplying these layers of skin are likely to burst and the stretch marks appears to be red/purple. Over time, the skin will attempt to repair the tear and the stretch mark will fade to a white colour as the blood vessels are also repaired. However, it is very unlikely that stretch marks will completely disappear over time but it is possible that they will fade dramatically.

There are a number of different causes of stretch marks, the predominant being pregnancy. Within the last trimester, your skin is very vulnerable to stretching as your body is producing different hormones that are making your pelvis ligaments more flexible. These hormones can have an effect on the skin so that it is weaker and more likely to tear. When you couple this with the growing bump, around 90% of pregnant women develop stretch marks on their abdomen.  Rapid weight gain or loss can also rapidly stretch the skin and cause stretch marks.  You may also notice stretch marks during puberty as different hormones re produced in your body and you encounter growth spurts. Therefore, both girls and boys are susceptible to stretch marks. Also, if you are rapidly trying to gain muscle mass, it is likely that stretch marks will appear around these areas, especially in the arms around the muscles you are trying to build.

There are also a number of conditions that can lead to the formation of stretch marks. Marfans syndrome is a condition where you do not have the right components in your skin and it has lost its elasticity so if the skin is stretched, it is more likely to break.  Also, if you have Cushing’s syndrome, you have a high level of cortisol in your body, which can affect the amount of collagen in your body. Collagen is the main structural component in your skin and decreased levels can leave you more prone to stretch marks. Thus, if you are also using corticosteroids for a long period of time, it is likely that you will develop stretch marks.

Stretch marks can occur in numerous places on your body. The most common places include the abdomen, thighs, buttocks and upper arms. In pregnant women they may occur on the breasts. They may also appear on shoulders and the lower back, particularly in adolescent boys. Although they do not cause you any harm, many people are subconscious about stretch marks and search for treatments to reduce their appearance.

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