Body image is something that many struggle with and it often plays a part in affecting one’s mental and emotional health. The insecurity with one’s body often stems from the fact that people do not feel that their body looks like the societal portrayal of a ‘normal’ body and thus lack confidence to show it to others. Social media further exacerbates this mindset as people are more exposed to ‘ideal’ body types of models or celebrities which are often unrealistic and airbrushed.
Stretch marks are one of the most common forms of body blemish that people experience. From teenagers going through puberty to pregnant mothers, stretch marks can be found across various ages and body types. However, how many of us actually know what it is and how it comes about?
What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are streaks that appear on various parts of your body such as your abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs. Anyone can develop stretch marks but they usually tend to affect women more than men. They often appear to be raised and wrinkly, almost looking like tiger stripes on your body. In its early stages, stretch marks come in various shades of red, purple or brown, depending on your skin colour. Over a period of time, they will eventually fade into a silvery white colour.
How do they form?
The most straightforward answer as to how stretch marks form is due to the stretching of the skin. Skin is stretchy, but like your tightest jeans, they can sometimes get overstretched. When your body is unable to keep up with collagen production, the existing collagen tears, and a stretch mark is formed. There are many reasons behind why skin is stretched. Some of these reasons are:
- Growth spurts from puberty
- Rapid weight loss or gain
- Rapid muscle growth
- Medical conditions (eg. Marfan syndrome can lead to decrease in skin elasticity)
- Corticosteroid use (prolonged use can decrease collagen production. Collagen is vital in strengthening the skin and a reduction in collagen can make the skin more prone to stretch marks)
In addition to skin stretching, the severity of stretch marks is also affected by your genetics and hormone (cortisol) levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and weakens the elastic fibres in the skin.
Your skin consists of three main layers - the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Stretch marks form in your dermis (middle) layer when the connective tissues are stretched beyond their elasticity limits. This is often because of rapid expansion or contraction of the skin, causing the dermis to tear and allowing the deeper layers of skin to show through.
How do we treat stretch marks?
Prevention is always better than cure and this applies to stretch marks as well. The best way to prevent or reduce stretch marks is to take precautions in its early stages, when the marks are still red or purple-toned. Moisturising is a great way to aid your skin in its natural regenerating and repairing process, which is why you often see pregnant mothers applying lotions or creams to their belly.
However, it is difficult to completely eradicate stretch marks, especially if they have already been on your body for a long time. As such, some people may consider more permanent forms of treatment such as lasers, but those are costly and may have more complications.
As you can see, stretch marks are not uncommon and is simply your skin's way of reacting to the changes in your body. While it might not be realistic to completely erase or avoid them, they ultimately do not cause much harm to your body. However, it is completely acceptable if you want to take steps to prevent these marks from developing, especially if it is non-invasive.
It is important that we do not see ourselves as any lesser just because we have stretch marks. Stretch marks are completely natural and more often than not, the people around you have them too. Marks or not, we should learn to love our body for what it is, because a healthy body is what truly makes you beautiful.