What are stretch marks?
Although you might not like the look of those pesky white, purple or red stretch marks on your tummy, hips or thighs, 80 to 90% of women have them – especially during and after pregnancy, explains Cape Town based dermatologist, Dr Ayesha Moolla.
Also known as striae, stretch marks are, in fact, layers of scar tissue that form in the deeper dermal layer of the skin. They’re especially prevalent during pregnancy or on occasions where you may gain or lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, as they develop in areas where the body expands faster than the skin covering it. This causes internal tears in the dermis and when these tears heal, they form thin scars known as stretch marks.
Are pregnancy stretch marks different?
As the American Pregnancy Association states, pregnancy stretch marks are slightly different to normal stretch marks, in two ways. Firstly, they’re most likely to appear in the abdominal area where the baby is growing fast and can become itchy and uncomfortable due to the immense stretching of the skin.
Secondly, some experts believe that stretch marks and pregnancy hormones are linked in some way. The theory is that the pregnancy hormones attract more water into the skin, which relaxes the bonds between collagen fibres in the skin. This makes it easier for the skin to tear when it’s stretched, resulting in more prominent stretch marks.
When do they occur?
“Contrary to what you may expect, stretch marks don’t only occur in the later stage of pregnancy,” says gynaecologist Dr Jana Rossouw. “They can start developing as early as the first trimester due to high hormone levels. However, they most commonly appear in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.”
What is the difference between red, white or purple stretch marks?
Dermatologists have discovered that stretch marks change shape and colour over time. When they’re newly formed, they’re usually reddish and itchy with the surrounding skin appearing flattened and thin. In some cases, they can darken and thicken over time as the scar tissue matures. The good news is, eventually (a few months post-partum), they fade and turn white or a dull silver.
Did you know that lighter-skinned women tend to develop pinkish stretch marks, whereas darker-skinned women have lighter stretch marks that stand out more next to the darker skin tone? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, darker skin types are more prone to pigmented stretch marks which appear darker than the average stretch mark.
How can I prevent and treat stretch marks?
“Recognising stretch marks early is crucial when it comes to treating them,” says Dr Moolla. Once stretch marks are older and the scar tissue is there for good, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of them. However, if you catch stretch marks early enough and you use a combination of massage and treatment products, you might not be able to prevent them entirely, but you’ll reduce the appearance of the stretch marks on your skin. Regularly applying oils or creams is the single best way to lighten stretch marks.
Three top stretch mark treatment products to try now:
We know it’s pricey, but this brand is dedicated entirely to pregnancy skincare, so we know the product lives up to its claims. This one does just as the name suggests – it helps to fade the appearance of stretch marks thanks to five powerful ingredients combined with peptides, fruit and algae extracts. Plus, it’s safe to use throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Bio Oil, R104, 95 for 125ml, Dis-Chem
Synonymous with treating stretch marks, this iconic product is the number one scar and stretch mark product in 21 countries, including here in SA, where it’s the product most recommended by gynaecologists and midwives for stretch marks. It also works wonders on Caesarean scars, dehydrated, itchy skin, and pigmentation caused by hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy.
This cream works wonders on stretch marks because it stimulates the production of collagen fibres in the skin to boost its elasticity and resistance to future stretch marks. Thanks to a combination of nourishing ingredients and crowberry extract, this cream also helps to lighten and smooth out uneven skin.