What causes stretch marks?

Updated on October 6, 2020

Stretch marks are an undesired skin condition. Although it is a very common condition, particularly among women, it is still a skin condition that most would like to avoid. Stretch, basically, are thin streaks or lines and are long and that appears on the skin. The main cause of a stretch mark appearing on a particular part of the body is mainly due to the skin of that body part being stretched. Just about anyone can develop it but as mentioned before, women are much more likely to get it. Common areas of the body that it appears in are breasts, upper arms, the lower part of the body and hips and stomach. The scarring is a result of the skin being unable to continue regular form due to intense growth, caused by weight gain or loss, pregnancy and/or puberty. More than half of all pregnant women develop stretch marks. 

What are stretch marks

Stretch marks are a type of scarring of the skin or malformed lesions. The areas that are mostly commonly affected include the breasts, abdomen, hips, thighs, buttoks etc. Although they pose almost no physical danger to the afflicted person, it can very distort a person’s self-image and lead him/her to feel anxious. Many people, due to the issues of self-image and anxiety, find it hard to lead a healthy life because of this very significant cosmetic concern. 

Symptoms and causes

Before the onset of the actual stretch marks, the areas of the body where they will appear will feel thin and look pink. It will cause unwanted irritation and itchiness of the skin. 

The stretch marks when they first appear will feel like very wrinkled streaks of skin and it can vary in terms of coloration according to the skin on the patient. After being on the skin for a while, the streaks flatten and the color goes eventually to an almost silvery hue. Stretch marks usually also fade and become much less noticeable but this process may take several years. 

Risk factors, causes

Stretch marks basically appear when there is prolonged skin growth or shrinkage. The main factors to watch out for that cause the skin to be stretched include the following.

As discussed above pregnancy causes stretch marks to appear on women for about 50-90% of the cases. Rapid bursts of growth in young people passing puberty also puts this demographic in the at risk group. A sudden noticeable weight gain or loss also causes stretch marks. 

Certain medical conditions are also linked with stretch marks. These conditions include Marfan syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome. The first one causes elasticity of the skin to be reduced and the second one makes the body make too much of a certain hormone that can lead to weight gain. 

Using certain creams and lotions for a long time can also lead to decreased collagen levels in the skin. This includes creams and lotion that have corticosteroid. Collagen is needed for its strengthening and supporting properties. A decrease in this will cause stretch marks. 

The skin is made up of three main layers. Stretch marks are most likely to appear in the middle layer. This happens, as has been explained before, when the skin is stretched beyond its elastic limit. This elastic limit is usually crossed because of a lot of expansion or contraction that happens very rapidly. 

When the body is growing, the interconnecting fibres in the 2nd layer of the skin stretch at a very slow rate to assist in the growth. When this process is rushed the stretching appears. The reason for this is that as the dermis (2nd skin layer of the skin) tears, deeper layers of the skin become exposed. This is how stretch marks are formed and look the way that they do.

Stretch marks will after some time kind of fade into a white and shiny appearance. The reason for this is that the pale fat becomes visible under the skin. The chances of a person getting stretch marks is significantly higher when cortisone is applied to the skin. The stress hormone Cortisol, a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands, is then turned into cortisone. This process severely weakens the elastic fibres present inside the skin. 

Stretch marks are scars that occur when the elastic and collagen fibers that give the skin elasticity and resistance are quickly distended. They generally appear on the belly, chest, thighs, buttocks, and arms. Depending on the affected area, you should evaluate which is the best anti-stretch marks cream for your need.

Some of the most common Risk factors that can lead to a person developing stretch marks include the following. Please be aware that there needs to be conducted a lot more research in this area to confirm the views we have as of now. 

  • Diseases that are chronic.
  • History of stretch marks in the family
  • How is the BMI of a person
  • The weight of the child inside a pregnant woman

If we take a look at the fact that obese women with larger babies experience greater stretching of the skin, the above factors do make sense. This is further supported by the fact that changes in the skin due to age related issues.

When to diagnose

Stretch marks are visibly very obvious and just a visual examination by any physician or doctor will make for a sound diagnosis of whether the person has the condition or not. The person’s medical history can also help make the diagnosis. The physician or doctor, based on the signs and the symptoms, will ask questions. They will also factor in any other medicine that the patient may be taking for other conditions that they may have. You can also consider light therapy to get rid of stretch marks.

So, there you have it. The above is an exhaustive list of all the factors that may lead to a person developing stretch marks or make someone understand why exactly they have stretch in the first place. It is important to remember that while the cosmetic implications of this condition is not very desired, they are not malicious in any other way. The only exception to this would be rare underlying conditions. 

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