Stretch marks (“striae” in medical terms) are a very common ailment. They can affect men, women and children. Almost 90% of women have them and it is difficult to get rid of them after you have them.
Stretch marks are scars of the dermis (the middle layer of the skin). They happen when skin is stretched too much for too long. During this stretching collagen and elastin, two proteins in the dermis which are responsible for shrinking skin back to its initial condition, are damaged. In this case blood vessels in the dermis break and bleed, which causes the beginning of the formation of stretch marks. During that phase stretch marks are purple or pink in color. As the stretch marks heal your body will create scar tissue in those places and, as any scars, they will turn white or silver and become permanent. Since the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) is also stretched to an almost translucent state, stretch marks can be seen on the surface of your skin.
Here are several causes of stretch marks:
1. Pregnancy or Weight Gain
One of the most common causes of stretch marks in women is pregnancy. Skin is stretched fast, especially in the last trimester, and it stays that way over some period of time. This causes stretch marks in the abdomen area. Additional weight gain during pregnancy can also produce stretch marks on other areas of the body such as the breasts, thighs and buttocks.
Any significant weight gain causes the same effect on the skin, but since weight gain happens all over the body, stretch marks can appear anywhere: on the thighs, buttocks, arms, breasts and abdomen.
2. Rapid Growth in Teenagers
Sometimes teenagers experience rapid growth bursts which can produce stretch marks. It happens because the skin can’t follow the speed of total growth and is stretched to the point of breaking. However, stretch marks obtained in teenage years have a tendency to disappear with time.
3. Weight Training and Bodybuilding
With weight training, the same areas of skin are affected by extended periods of stretching due to the repetitive nature of the exercises. Weightlifters and bodybuilders have a lot of muscle mass acquired fast, which can cause excessive skin stretching.
Stretch marks can be hereditary. If your mother had them, you’re more prone to have them as well.
5. Medical Conditions and Medications
Some medical conditions such as Cushing’s disease can cause excessive stretch marks. Use of certain medications or steroids can interfere with production of collagen and cause stretch marks.
The latest research shows that the above conditions have a common denominator – an increased level of the hormone glucocorticoid, especially cortisol. This hormone is produced by the adrenal glands and is often called a “stress hormone” because it is responsible for dealing with stress – the famous “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, this hormone also has an ability to interfere with production of collagen, and a lack of collagen causes reduced elasticity of your skin which results in stretch marks. Though the areas of excessive stretching can demonstrate where you are going to get stretch marks, that stretching is not the real cause of them – a hormonal imbalance is.