Most women will experience some form of stretch marks during their lifetime. If they aren’t caused by growth spurts during adolescence, they may be due to rapid weight gain at a later stage, or pregnancy. “An estimated one in three women who bear a child will be affected, and while stretch marks due to pregnancy are a sign that your body has achieved something great, for many women loss of firmness and stretch marks are unwelcome visible affects,” says Shayna Amaidas, brand manager of NIVEA Body.
Dr Maureen Allem, founder and medical director at Skin Renewal agrees, explaining that hormonal influences and physical changes during pregnancy many have undesirable effects on the skin. Stretch marks during pregnancy are called striae gravidarum and almost 90% of women will experience stretch marks during the third trimester – but this is usually predetermined in a woman’s genes. Chances are, if your mom got them you will too.
Leaving its mark
As your baby grows, your tummy expands. Internally, some organs are moved around to create room for your growing uterus; externally, your skin uses its elasticity to stretch with your expanding belly.
“Your skin has three different layers: the outer layer or epidermis; the middle layer or dermis. and the inner most layer or subcutaneous stratum. Stretch marks occur in the dermis, which is essentially the layer of skin that assists in retaining skin tone. When the dermis is over stretched, the fibres within it break and this loss of elasticity is what causes the appearance of stretch marks,” explains Dr Allem.
Stretch marks usually occur in places on the body where fat is stored. It’s form of scaring on the skin, and once the redness, that’s caused by dilation of the blood vessels, fades over time, silvery white scars remain. The affected areas often appear hollow and are soft to the touch. “During pregnancy, it’s often your tummy, buttocks and breasts that are affected. However, it can affect your thighs and upper arms as well,” says Shayna.
What’s a girl to do?
Prevention is better than cure. Some experts say that it’s impossible to completely remove stretch marks and scars. However, they can be minimised and the newer the mark the better the result. Dr Allem explains that the only way to really remove stretch marks is with surgery, although some salon treatments like skin needling, laser and injectable growth factors also offer some great results.
When it comes to home-care products, some creams and oils will definitely help prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. If you are using a topical prevention product, make sure it is safe to use during pregnancy. Dr Allem advises that the main purpose of these creams as a preventative measure is to condition and hydrate your skin as much as possible, so you should ideally use these products twice a day.
You can start applying the cream or oil from your third month on a daily basis, paying special attention to your belly, breasts, lower back, hips, buttocks and thighs. “For best results, apply directly after bathing or showering to skin that is still moist, and thoroughly massage into the skin. Always work in the direction of lymphatic circulation, from the feet upwards. This will mean that connective tissue will receive better circulation and the skin’s condition will appear more even,” says Shayna.
But wait there’s more
Pay careful attention to weight gain during pregnancy, as any added weight will increase your chances of getting stretch marks. Follow a healthy and nutritious eating plan and take part in moderate exercise to keep your weight in check and your circulation moving. It is also advisable to avoid beverages that contain caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol and smoking – all while increasing your daily vitamin C intake to 1 000mg per day, advises Dr Allem.
Everything that keeps the skin tissue silky and promotes circulation is ideal. A gentle massage with a brush, a loofah, exfoliator or massage gloves twice a week can have positive effects, recommends Shayna.
Your C-section scar
When a skin injury occurs – whether from a cut, burn or surgical incision – the body acts as fast as possible to repair the affected area, devoting its energy and resources to healing quickly rather than perfectly, explain the experts at Bio-Oil. As a result, there is an overproduction of collagen at the site of the wound, which leads to scarring.
Best products to use
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.