Earlier this year, Chrissy Teigen posted a photo that almost broke the Internet. No, it wasn’t of her derriere; it was an image of her bare leg…and more specifically, her stretch marks. As a supermodel, we all assumed she was flawless but as a new mother—and a human being for that matter—it’s not surprising she has them. In fact, it shows just how prevalent they are.
Stretch marks don’t discriminate. Male, female, young, old, most people will develop them at some stage in their life. And although we don’t like them, as Teigen reminds us, they’re nothing to be embarrassed about.
But for something so common, we actually know little about them. We spoke to Dr Charlotte Middleton, Integrative Medical Practitioner and maternity specialist to find out exactly what creates these strange scars. Below, she reveals the science behind stretch marks, how to prevent them and alas how to get rid of them once and for all.
What are stretch marks?
“Stretch marks are a type of scar that are long, narrow streaks, stripes or lines that develop on the skin and which differ in hue from the surrounding skin. They arise from parts of the body expanding or growing at a faster rate than the overlying skin, such as in pregnancy, with rapid weight gain, or during puberty. They can also occur in obesity, weightlifting and some medical conditions. The marks form in the middle layer of the skin, the dermis, which tears with the repeated stretching. When these tears heal they leave stretch marks. They are usually initially slightly red or a purple shade, but over time fade to silvery white lines that may or may not disappear.
Common areas for stretch marks to arise include the abdomen, breasts, hips, flanks, buttocks and thighs. The prevalence of stretch marks ranges from 40-90 per cent, depending on race, age and sex. Around 70% of girls and 40% of boys develop stretch marks during puberty, and over 90% of pregnant women are prone to developing them.”
What factors contribute to stretch marks?
“Factors that contribute to stretch marks include:
- Darker skin: The darker your skin, the more prone you are to developing stretch marks (and problem scars in general). This is thought to be due to a combination of increased melanin in the skin and genetics.
- Age: The younger you are, the more prone you are to developing stretch marks.
- Family history: If your mother had stretch marks, you are more likely to develop stretch marks.
- Personal history: If you have had previous stretch marks (puberty or pregnancy), it is more likely that you will get them again in subsequent pregnancies.
- Skin condition: keeping skin soft, supple, well hydrated and well nourished can reduce your risk of developing stretch marks.”
How can they be prevented?
“Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to stretch marks. Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do about your skin type, genetics, age or family history. But there is a lot you can do about your skin condition and its elasticity, and the rate at which you gain weight during pregnancy (and weight gain in general).
Keeping the skin soft and supple with the regular application of creams or oils, well hydrated by consuming good amounts of water and well nourished by eating a diet rich in vitamins A, C and E will all reduce your risk of stretch marks. Ensuring that you gain weight slowly over the course of a pregnancy and maintaining a healthy weight when not, by eating well and exercising regularly, will also make you less prone.”
Can you ever get rid of stretch marks? If so, how?
“It is never too late to treat stretch marks, but obviously the longer you have them, the more difficult it will be to completely erase them. Treatment options include topical creams and oils, radiotherapy, laser therapy, dermabrasion, injectables and in some cases, surgical removal. Stretch marks in no way pose a threat, but a lot of women feel self-conscious, worried or even ashamed about them. In these instances, they should seek advice from their GP.”