We could not speak of stretch marks as being a skin disease because the term would be very strong. However, these marks are nonetheless a serious problem of the skin which remains unknown for some and very distressing for others. Regardless of sex, both men and women are exposed to these not glamorous streaks.
What stretch marks are?
Stretch marks or striae, also called striae distensae in scientific jargon, are small, soft, scar like fissures formed on the skin. They occur when the skin is affected by exaggerated distention or breakage of the elastic fibers of the dermis during a period of taking or losing significant weight.
At the beginning they are thick and slightly swollen, they can become smoothed over the time for some people, but for others they will become rather frowned with the appearance of zebris. With the help of treatments they can decrease with time until they become barely noticeable, but they would never disappear completely to leave the skin as clear as it was before.
Some stretch mark can reach several centimeters and be 1.5 centimeters wide.
Reasons why we have stretch marks
It would be difficult to understand why we have stretch marks without first understanding where they come from. To find out where they come from, let’s do a little science refresher. Our skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and hipodermis.
The dermis is a connective tissue that is made up of many blood vessels and nerve fibers, which allow us to perceive touch, heat and pain. Located between the epidermis and hipodermis, basically it is supple and is made up of collagen and elastin. Collagen (which means glue producer in Greek) is an essential protein in the constitution of connective tissue or skin support tissue. Not very elastic, it comes in the form of fibers allowing a certain resistance of the tissues.
Collagen is for the tissues of the human body what steel rods are for reinforced concrete. If the steel rods of the frame weaken, the whole structure becomes fragile.
Elastin is a connective tissue protein with structural functions. Counter to collagen, the elastin provides mainly resistance, firmness and elasticity to tissues.
It is actually the combination of collagen and elastin that gives the skin its tonicity and elasticity.
The stretch marks are therefore one of the results of the alteration of elastic and collagen fibers. This alteration is due to a brutal or fast stretch skin that makes it crack. Take for example a plastic, when it is extensively stretched, you will immediately notice the appearance of streaks on the surface of the plastic. It’s the same process with stretch marks. When the skin is stretched by any causes, striations are formed on its surface.
On the other hand, the production of collagen is influenced by the cortisol known as “spy or stress hormone”, it is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and which participates in many biochemical actions within the body.
When the level of cortisol is high, it leads to a reduction of collagen fibers and a modification of the structures of the skin. Stretch marks are sometimes a sign of excessive production of this cortisol, as it is the case in some diseases. High performance athletes often have higher than average cortisol levels. This explains their propensity for stretch marks.
When does the stretch marks appear?
The very first stretch marks usually appear at puberty period. Although not all teens are affected, Most of them suffer from this skin condition going through their puberty.
During that time, the body undergoes major hormonal changes. The secretion of cortisol reduces the production of collagen and elastin and impairs blood circulation. Thereby, the skin is poorly irrigated, less flexible and therefore exposed to tears in the event of sudden stretching.
The stretch marks of this period are the most malignant and they appear easily because in adolescence no one is really warned. Nobody can unfortunately say exactly when they will appear because it depends on the fragility of everyone’s skin and also depends on genetics. Their appearance is due to the growth spurt that any teenager knows regardless of sex.
The stretch marks of this period can be localized around the buttocks, thighs, behind the knees, hips, arms, calves and on the back. Depending on the type, they will be purple or pink in white Caucasian people and yellowish color in dark people.
Stretch marks are among the biggest aesthetic fears of any pregnant woman. Unlike the pounds that can disappear, stretch marks once installed will now be part of the skin on which they are embedded.
Just like during puberty, pregnant women experience a peak of hormonal change among which will be secreted cortisol behaving exactly as during puberty seen above.
Added to the hormones, the pregnant woman will face a fairly rapid physical development: brutal belly rounding, the chest is gaining volume, the hips widening, weight gain accelerated. All this stretching added to the hormones puts the skin under tension where its crackling.
The appearance of the first streaks during this period can begin as early as the third month of pregnancy until the third month after childbirth. The risk factors likely to cause them are a high birth weight, twin pregnancy, family history of stretch marks.
All types of sport do not promote the appearance of stretch marks. Sports promoting their appearance are sports that tend to bring mass or muscles to the body, such as swimming and bodybuilding.
In bodybuilders, stretch marks appear in the arms, underarms and often the pectorals because of the rapid growth in these places over a short period. Exactly as if you are shooting in a plastic.
Rare diseases: Cushing’s syndrome
This syndrome can be caused by a tumor of the pituitary gland or adrenal glands, or by prolonged use of corticosteroids used in the treatment of certain diseases such as asthma
Bleaching of the skin
Bleaching of the skin has become common place in many countries. And the beauty industries are increasingly giving them a good amount of money in the search for better procedures.
Thus products containing lightening agents flood the market. Most of these products contain dangerous chemicals such as hidroquinone or corticoids.
While they are often effective, they have certain harmful consequences for the skin including stretch marks.