Stetch Marks: That's Stretching Things

July 7, 2010

Stretch marks resemble tissue stretched thin. That pretty much describes the definition of these unattractive marks, too. The marks result when skin is stretched over a short period of time. Rapid weight loss and pregnancy are two situations that may cause stretch marks to appear.

Your skin is made up of layers. When someone has stretch marks, the uppermost layer of skin maintains its integrity, but the lower layer has stretched thin to the breaking point and beyond. It is this lower layer of skin that contains the collagen and elastin, two substances responsible for the elasticity and strength of the skin.

Thin-Skinned: Causes of Stretch Marks

In the early stages, stretch marks have a purplish-red appearance. The skin is so thin it becomes transparent and as a result, the capillaries (small blood vessels) within the deep layers of your skin peek through. After a time the capillaries contract so that the purplish color fades to a silvery white. This is your body fat, showing through your skin. 

Stretch marks tend to crop up on the breasts and abdomen of pregnant women in part because of the hormones of pregnancy. These hormones serve to soften the collagen-containing ligaments of the pelvis. The purpose of this process is to enable the tissues to stretch during the act of childbirth. However, the collagen in the skin also softens at this time making a woman more susceptible to the development of stretch marks.

Some women, in general, have softer collagen in their skin in comparison with other women. These women have a greater tendency toward developing stretch marks. Research has shown that women with stretch marks may have weaker ligaments in their pelvic floors. For this reason, it is essential that such women perform pelvic floor exercises postpartum so as to prevent urinary incontinence.

Bodybuilders and yo-yo dieters tend to get stretch marks on their upper arms, chests and thighs. Adolescents may develop stretch marks on their backs in which case the marks will appear as horizontal lines.

Yo-Yo Dieting and Stretch Marks

Avoiding the practice of yo-yo dieting may keep you from developing these marks. Try to reach your goal weight over a longer period of time. The aim should be to lose no more than one pound per week.

If you're pregnant and worried about stretch marks, there's just not much you can do to prevent them. Some women feel that rubbing oil into the abdomen at night can help prevent the marks. There are special creams for the purpose of preventing stretch marks, but so far, there's no proof they work. 

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