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    What Are Pregnancy Stretch Marks? Causes and Treatments

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 10 July 2019
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    Your body is capable of adapting to massive changes – but that doesn’t mean those changes won’t leave a mark. Stretch marks are a phenomenon especially common among pregnant women. But what are their underlying causes? Is there any way to treat or even prevent them?

    What are stretch marks?

    They’re long, pink/red/brown scarring streaks that form when your skin expands or shrinks rapidly. This abrupt change leads essential skin proteins, specifically collagen and elastin, to rupture. Stretch marks develop as the skin begins to heal.

    Initially itchy, thin, and pink in color, stretch marks turn into long, reddish-brown streaks. They tend to gradually fade to white or gray, and typically appear around the breasts, abdomen, buttocks, and thighs. There is some variation in appearance from one individual to the next.

    Stretch marks occur in roughly 90 percent of pregnant women. Research shows that women with a larger abdominal circumference, higher body mass index before pregnancy, and greater weight gain are particularly susceptible. Other contributing factors include family history, age (younger moms are more likely to have them), and whether or not you’re carrying twins.

    Although they affect physical appearance to some extent, stretch marks do not negatively impact your health.

    Are pregnancy stretch marks permanent?

    Since stretch marks are a form of scarring, they can never be completely removed from your skin. However, they have been known to fade over time, and certain treatments make them less noticeable.

    When do stretch marks appear during pregnancy? 

    Most pregnant women usually spot stretch marks in the final trimester, around the sixth or seventh month. In rare cases, stretch marks may present themselves as soon as the expectant mother’s abdomen starts to grow.

    Stretch marks on thighs

    Pronounced weight gain and skin stretching normally occurs in the thighs and legs during pregnancy. This is why stretch marks often develop on the inner and upper thighs, as well as behind the knees.

    Stretch marks on stomach

    Pregnancy stretch marks are prevalent in the abdominal area as the skin in this region undergoes the most dramatic expansion. They’ll become increasingly noticeable as your baby bump continues to grow.

    What causes stretch marks during pregnancy?

    There are a number of reasons for stretch marks to form while you’re carrying your baby, which include:

    • Physical stretching: Sudden expansion of the skin and weight fluctuations happen in the second trimester of pregnancy. Since these changes are abrupt, the skin around the breasts, abdomen, buttocks, and thighs do not have adequate time to adjust. This leads to a rupturing of the skin’s surface.
    • Elastin and collagen: These proteins play a crucial role in promoting and maintaining your skin’s resilience and elasticity. Pregnancy alters elastin and collagen, upping your skin’s sensitivity.
    • Hormones: Increases and decreases in hormone levels during pregnancy also play a key role in encouraging the formation of stretch marks.

    Do stretch marks fade after pregnancy?

    While pregnancy stretch marks tend to be very apparent in the final trimester, they slowly begin to fade after delivery. You may even see them turning a bit lighter in color on their own.

    How to treat pregnancy stretch marks

    Although it’s impossible to completely rid your body of pregnancy stretch marks, there are a few products which serve as a remedy for stretch marks. Note that these should not be used during pregnancy, but only after your body’s fully healed and your doctor gives the green light.

    • Retinol cream: Derived from vitamin A, it stimulates the production of collagen and takes up to 4 weeks to produce visible results. As with any topical cream, consult a medical professional first, and avoid using it while pregnant.
    • Microdermabrasion: Also known as microneedling, it uses aluminum oxide crystals or other abrasive substances to remove the uppermost layer of skin. This reveals the fresh, scar-free surface below.
    • Laser therapy: Studies show it’s one of the most effective treatments available for stretch marks. Laser therapy can be quite expensive, however, and may require multiple sessions.

    How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy 

    As previously mentioned, pregnancy stretch marks are caused by sudden weight gain and skin expansion. But by taking certain precautions, you may be able to lessen the effects on your body. Consider doing the following:

    Applying natural topical creams

    Specially formulated creams containing jojoba oil, shea butter, hyaluronic acid, onion, and aloe vera could prevent pregnancy stretch marks. Use twice a day beginning with the third month of pregnancy. By being proactive, you can maximize the product’s effectiveness, which drastically decreases once stretch marks become visible.

    Choose odorless topical creams composed of natural ingredients which are easily absorbed by your skin. Note that different products might be required to treat different areas of the body.

    Staying well-hydrated

    Drink plenty of fluids as it keeps your skin soft, supple, and elastic. Dehydrated skin is more prone to developing stretch marks.

    Eating a balanced diet

    By maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet, you can add those pregnancy pounds at a slower, steadier rate. You’ll thereby reduce your chances of forming pregnancy stretch marks in the process. 

    Increasing vitamin C intake

    Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which repair skin and tissue damage. Incorporate oranges, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and other leafy greens into your meals.

    Massaging your skin

    Gentle massages of the areas where pregnancy stretch marks are likely to pop up might also be beneficial. Focus on the breast, abdomen, buttock, and thigh regions.

    Doing light exercise

    Stay active to avoid huge fluctuations in body weight. Additionally, regular exercise boosts circulation and blood flow to your skin, making it less vulnerable to damage.

    The development of pregnancy stretch marks may be troublesome, but there are several steps you can take to prevent and minimize their appearance. Just remember to consult your doctor before starting any type of treatment.

    History of updates

    Current version (14 April 2020)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (10 July 2019)

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