The vast vast majority of women, around 9 in every 10, will develop stretch marks when they’re pregnant. A lot of women really don’t like the idea, even though they’re a completely natural part of pregnancy and something everyone expects.
So wondering about how it’s going to affect your life is only natural. Are stretch marks permanent? What causes them? And can you do anything about them?
What are stretch marks, and are stretch marks permanent?
Stretch marks are actually little tears in the skin and underlying muscle and fat layers caused by stress and stretching. They usually appear around the belly, hips, thighs, and breasts because of what happens to those areas during pregnancy.
They can also be caused by other forms of weight gain or skin issues, but luckily for us women, stretch marks from pregnancy are usually pretty quick to fade, if not disappear completely.
What do stretch marks look like?
Stretch marks tend to resemble streaks or lines on the skin. They can be almost any color, from light silver to vibrant purples, reds or browns.
Over time, most stretch marks tend to fade and become much less visible.
What causes stretch marks?
Genetics: One of the largest factors in whether you’re going to get large amounts of stretch marks, and how visible they are, is your genes. If your mother and grandmother had a lot of stretch marks, then we’re sorry, but you’re likely to get them too. It’s a hereditary thing, controlled by skin elasticity and fat content.
Hormones: Stretch marks are really dependent on two compounds found in the body, estrogen, and elastin.
If you don’t already know, estrogen is the female hormone and dictates everything from your menstrual cycle to the appearance of your secondary sexual characteristics. Elastin, on the other hand, is found in the skin, and gives it that natural bounce factor and holds everything together.
Having higher levels of either or both of these two chemicals causes stretch marks to be larger and more visible. But there’s not really anything you can do about that.
Weight gain: Because stretch marks are caused as your skin stretches, gaining more weight and causing your skin to stretch further can make stretch marks worse. But this isn’t a reason to try and stay slimmer! As we said earlier, your body knows what it’s doing when you’re pregnant, and for most women, stretch marks disappear almost completely pretty soon after you’ve given birth.
Ways to deal with stretch marks
There’s no single treatment that’s guaranteed to work for stretch marks, but there are a lot of options out there for women who want to try and alleviate the impact of post-partum stretch marks.
Stretch mark creams or gels: Looking into research on stretch mark gels and lotions is confusing, and mostly inconclusive.
Whilst a lot of treatments do have a significant effect, none are 100% guaranteed to work, and won’t work with all women, and efficacy of the treatment varies. For some women, their stretch marks fade down to almost nothing, and other women don’t report any real changes at all.
There are some factors which we do know have an effect, though. Firstly, if you’re going to use a product like this, use it as early after the birth as you can, because the longer you leave it, the harder a stretch mark gets to shift. Second, you should gently massage the product directly into the area that you’re trying to affect, and third, make sure that you do it daily, for weeks if not months.
Medical procedures: There are multiple options your doctor can recommend for you, including
- Laser therapy
- Ultrasounds or radiofrequency
- Chemical peels
These should all be performed by a qualified dermatologist, because there may be multiple treatments necessary to improve the look of your stretch marks, over a large amount of time.
Living healthy: It sounds weird to recommend, but one of the huge things that can affect how your stretch marks progress is how you’re living, day to day. A healthy diet and adequate rest can go a long way to let your body heal itself. Focus on getting a lot of rest, drinking enough water and eating a rich and varied diet that’s as healthy as you can make it.
Fake tan or makeup: Yes, we know it’s only covering up the issue, but as we’ve said multiple times, stretch marks tend to fade over time, so covering them up and giving them time to heal could be just what’s needed.
On top of this, keeping them covered puts a barrier between your skin and the sun, and that has a huge effect.
Things you shouldn’t do to treat stretch marks
Tanning: UV tanning on sunbeds, in solariums, on holiday or just out in the sun can actually make stretch marks more noticeable, not less. Avoid UV exposure if you’re trying to rid yourself of unsightly marks.
Home remedies: By home remedies, we mean things that are normally good for skin, like cocoa butter and olive oil. According to research, daily treatment with non-medical topical compounds like this have pretty much zero effect.
If you’re struggling with stretch marks, or just worried about how they’re going to impact your life after your pregnancy, then always speak to your doctor.
But remember, there’s no real reason to worry. Are stretch marks permanent? Sometimes, but not often. And there’s an awful lot you can do to help the problem solve itself, even if those unsightly marks prove a little harder for you to shift than most. Besides, most people won’t even see them, and the ones that do won’t care.
So relax. Stress slows down your healing, remember! And if you’ve had stretch marks before, be sure to tell us what worked for you in the comments! The more knowledge we share, the quicker we can deal with the issue and stamp out stretch marks for every woman, forever.