Stretch marks are caused when the middle layer of your skin (called the dermis) gets so stretched out that the skin’s elasticity starts breaking down.
When this occurs, microscopic bleeding happens and the tissue becomes inflamed. That’s why skin with stretch marks has a raised reddish or purplish look to it. As the dermis is being stretched, so is the top layer of skin (called the epidermis) — making it become so translucent that you can see the stretch marks beginning to form.
As the area of skin that has the stretch marks heals, the skin scars. This is how you end up with stretch marks during pregnancy.
When the process is done, the stretch marks appear as a silvery white color that is a few shades darker than your natural skin tone.
The cause of pregnancy stretch marks comes down to 2 factors, one of which is unique to pregnancy. Firstly, there is the physical stretch of the skin that occurs in pregnancy (and in other periods of rapid weight gain such as adolescence) While the skin adapts to continuous movement by expanding and contracting, during these periods the skin has insufficient time to adjust. As the body expands faster than the skin covering it, the skin tears. The resulting scar that forms from this tear is what we know as a stretch mark. The second factor, which is still a subject of debate among experts, involves the priming of the skin by increased levels of hormones in pregnancy. Together, these hormones attract more water into the skin, which relaxes the bonds between collagen fibers. This makes it easier for the skin to tear when it is stretched and for stretch marks to form. Source
Do All Women Get Stretch Marks During Pregnancy?
This can be a scary for those of us who have heard horror stories about stretch marks.
Stretch marks are one of the body changes that many pregnant women fear the most — even more than weight gain, in some cases.
Pregnant women tend to start noticing stretch marks in the latter part of pregnancy when the baby is growing faster. (Rapid weight gain and rapid weight loss are 2 key factors in the formation of stretch marks.)
Over 75% of pregnant women get stretch marks on their abdomen. Pregnant women also tend to get stretch marks on their thighs, buttocks, and breasts.
If you developed stretch marks before (like on your breasts during puberty) you are more likely to get stretch marks while pregnant. If you had stretch marks during another pregnancy you will usually get them again. If you are overweight or gain more weight than recommended you are more likely to get stretch marks. The better hydrated and well nourished you are the less likely you are to develop serious stretch marks. Source
How To Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
There are some things you can do to help prevent getting stretch marks during pregnancy.
This is not to say these tips are the cure-all, but they can reduce the chances of your getting them, or at the very least, reduce the severity of your stretch marks.
1. Eat a healthy diet and take your prenatal vitamins. A healthy diet that nourishes the skin is the key to preventing stretch marks during pregnancy. Also, try to gain your baby weight slowly and steadily rather than all at once.
2. Drink 8 or more glasses of water and other fluids daily. The better hydrated your skin is, the better your skin’s elasticity is. That means the less likely you will be to get really bad, unsightly stretch marks.
3. Twice a day, moisturize all body parts that are prone to stretch marks during pregnancy: breasts, lower back, buttocks, thighs, belly, and sides. It’s best to apply moisturizer in the morning after you get out of the shower and at night before you go to bed. If your skin is wet when you apply a moisturizer, it will be easier for your skin to absorb the moisturizer. Cocoa butter, shea butter, almond oil and even straight lanolin are great moisturizers to prevent stretch marks.
According to Dr. Jill Hackman (in the video below), a “girlfriend tip” that she says works like a charm is to rub Clarins Huile Tonic into your belly, your sides, and your breasts to keep skin super supple!
NOTE: You should continue each of the above steps after you deliver the baby until you get back to your normal weight. If you lose your baby weight too rapidly this can also lead to more stretch marks.
How To Diminish Stretch Marks After Pregnancy
If you didn’t follow the steps above early enough during your pregnancy, or you did those steps but still ended up with stretch marks, here are some things you can do to reduce the appearance of pregnancy stretch marks:
- There are dozens of stretch mark creams on the market claiming that they can remove stretch marks. The fact of the matter is that while they can help to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks, the creams cannot remove them completely. If you’re going to try creams, keep in mind that they tend to be expensive and you have to be very disciplined about applying them in order to see any form of positive results. If you only put the cream on occasionally or forget for several days and then start again, the stretch mark creams will not work. Creams also tend to work better on newer stretch marks, so the longer you wait to apply the cream, the more likely it is that your stretch marks will fade to the silvery white color — which means you’ll likely have those stretch marks forever.
- Chemical peels can also help reduce the appearance of stretch marks, but peels and microdermabrasion come with some risk. Here’s why: a chemical peel is where a diluted form of acid is applied to the stretch mark to take off the top layers of skin and to encourage cell production in the epidermal layers beneath. The problem is that there can be scarring from the chemicals in chemical peels. So you have to be certain that you want to take the risk of possibly further damaging your skin before going this route.
- In the end, the only tried and true way to get rid of pregnancy stretch marks completely is to have them surgically removed. One of the newest options is laser treatment for the removal of stretch marks. However, since stretch marks are not life-threatening and are purely cosmetic, most insurance companies will not pay to have them removed.
The Best Course Of Action
My personal opinion is you are far better off doing what you can to prevent pregnancy stretch marks — because you will save money and reduce the appearance of any stretch marks that happen to make their way onto your body during pregnancy.
If you wait, thinking you can just take care of the stretch marks later, then it’s going to cost more money, and could even result in more scarring (if you decide to go the chemical peel route, for example).
It’s much easier to take good care of your body during pregnancy, in order to prevent the stretch marks from happening in the first place. Then again, there’s always genetics — some women are just destined to have stretch marks during pregnancy, despite going to great length to avoid them.
My favorite things to write about are topics that have to do with pregnancy, weddings, saving money, living green, and life with dogs. When I’m not writing, I love to spend time with my husband, read, create 3D artwork and Native American beadwork.