Your pregnancy: stretch marks
STRETCH marks — those unsightly marks on the skin that seem to appear out of nowhere -— present a real problem for many pregnant women. They affect the dermis, the layer of skin that is elastic to a point but which is responsible for giving us our shape. When the dermis is consistently stretched over time by weight gain and the growing baby during pregnancy, the skin becomes less elastic and the connective fibres break.
Almost every woman gets stretch marks, said dermatologist Dr Neil Persadsingh.
The medical name for stretch marks is striae and they are usually associated with pregnancy, as over 60 per cent of women develop stretch marks when they are pregnant.
"In pregnancy the woman's body produces hormones which keep the baby in the womb. These hormones have glucocorticoid effects, that is, they stimulate the conversion of proteins into carbohydrates. But they also affect the fibroblasts in the skin. These are cells in the dermis — the deeper layer of the skin — and these hormones slow down the production of elastic tissue and of fibrous tissue in the dermis. Since fewer of these fibres are produced, but at the same time the skin is continuously being stretched by that developing baby, the dermis lacks support and tears appear. These tears are called stretch marks," Dr Persadsingh said.
The usual sites for stretch marks are the belly, around the belly button, around the buttocks, on the inner thighs, on the breasts and on the arms.
"In the old days women would use olive oil to massage their tummies once they got pregnant. Today olive oil or Vitamin E is used to massage the tummy and this is recommended as a good practice for expectant mothers. Cocoa butter has also been used, as has been cornstarch," the dermatologist said.
He said that though the treatment of stretch marks is difficult, Retin-A cream can be used for at least a year and it will help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
"Retin-A acts as a gentle exfoliant, removing a little of the stratum corneum — the topmost layer of the epidermis — every day. This effect stimulates the fibroblast to lay down extra collagen and elastin deep in the dermis."
Glycolic Acid preparations are also used, he said, so is microdermabrasion, where a pen-like instrument is used on the stretch marks. There is gentle exfoliation which results in the laying down of extra collagen and elastic tissue in the dermis.