Normal skin is 80% collagen and 4% elastin fiber network. Elastin is the protein in the skin that gives it flexibility and allows it to stretch and recoil back to its original position.
Stretch marks, otherwise known as striae distensae, are a form of discolored scar found in the skin, in which the elastin fibers have been irreversibly damaged. Since our skin cannot repair elastin fibers, stretch marks do not heal.
Depending on one’s skin type and the age of the scar they can appear brown, white, or red. Stretch marks often begin red, then turn brown and subsequently lose most of their color altogether.
Common areas for developing stretch marks are the abdomen, the breasts, inner upper arms, thighs, hips and buttocks. They pose no health threat but are cosmetically unappealing. Between 75% and 90% of women develop stretch marks to some degree during pregnancy.
What causes stretch marks?
The cause of stretch marks is unknown. Previously it was thought that rapid stretching of the skin led to the rupture of the connective tissue (collagen-elastin) framework and formation of an atrophic scar.
Recently scientists have discovered that stretch mark formation is associated with hormonal influences in the body. Therefore people get stretch marks at times of increased hormones, such as adolescence, pregnancy, weight gain, etc, which cause a change in metabolism in their skin.
Stretch marks are also seen as a side effect of using topical steroid medications or taking oral steroids, such as prednisone. That is because the structure of steroid medications resembles hormones.
Stretch marks are also seen in some systemic diseases like Cushing’s disease, an internal cause of increased steroid hormones.
Who gets stretch marks?
Stretch marks develop during times of hormonal changes in our skin. 70% adolescent women and 40% adolescent men have stretch marks. Almost all pregnant women will develop them as well.
Intense muscle building exercises
Use of topical or oral steroid medications
Certain systemic diseases
What do stretch marks look like?
Stretch marks appear as parallel streaks of red, thinned, glossy skin that over time become whitish and scarlike in appearance. The stretch marks may be slightly depressed and have a different texture than normal skin.
Photos courtesy of Global Skin Atlas and Dermquest.com
Treatments for stretch marks at Advanced Skin Wisdom
Summit Medical Groupprovides medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology for women, men, and adolescents in the tri-state area, including New York and New Jersey as well as Essex County, Morris County, Bergen County, Union County, Passaic County, Somerset County, Sussex County, and Livingston, NJ; Millburn, NJ; Short Hills, NJ; West Orange, NJ; Berkeley Heights, NJ; Caldwell, NJ; Cedar Grove, NJ; Cedar Knolls, NJ; Chatham, NJ; East Hanover, NJ; Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Essex Fells, NJ; Fair Lawn, NJ; Florham Park, NJ; Fort Lee, NJ; Glen Ridge, NJ; Jersey City, NJ; Kennelon, NJ; Madison, NJ; Maplewood, NJ; Mendham, NJ; Montclair, NJ; Montvale, NJ; Morristown, NJ; New Providence, NJ; North Caldwell, NJ; Parsippany, NJ; Randolph, NJ; Roseland, NJ; South Orange, NJ; Springfield, NJ; Summit, NJ; Union, NJ; Verona, NJ; West Caldwell, NJ; Whippany, NJ; and Westfield, NJ.
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