Inevitably, no matter how beautiful your skin may be today, you will develop stretch marks. Although painless, stretch marks are both unsightly and a potential source of embarrassment. For the most part, you are stuck with stretch marks unless you opt for expensive laser therapy or perhaps dermabrasion. But why exactly do stretch marks form in the first place?
Your skin is made up of 3 layers. The outer layer is known as the epidermis and its main purpose is to prevent foreign agents from invading your body. The second layer is the dermis and it is comprised of collagen and elastic fibers which combine to give your skin its smooth appearance. The last layer is called the hypodermis and it is mostly made up of fat and various tissues.
Stretch marks, also known as stria atrophica, form in the dermis layer of your skin. In fact, stretch marks are literally tears in the dermis. Now stretch marks should not be confused with scars, although they do appear quite similar when looking at them. Scars are made of fibrotic tissue which is simply not present in stretch marks.
As stated earlier, the dermis produces elastic fibers. These special fibers are what allows your skin to stretch—basically, they give the skin its elasticity. Stretch marks form when the skin grows faster than the elastic fibers can handle. Rapid growth weakens a skin’s elasticity and can actually break the connective fibers holding it together.
Now it is possible for stretch marks to form even when rapid growth is not present. This happens generally because of poor diet. Improper nutrition will deprive the body of the raw materials it needs to maintain healthy, elastic skin. Smoking is another factor that may cause stretch marks because it will also cause the skin’s elasticity to weaken. However, some growth will be necessary for stretch marks to form even when poor nutrition or smoking are factors.
Stretch marks are very common problems associated with pregnancy because this is a period of rapid growth for women. Any period of rapid weight gain will most likely be accompanied by stretch marks and they are common factors in obesity. However, it is possible for heredity to be a factor as some people have proven more prone to stretch marks than others.
The discoloring present with new stretch marks will eventually fade. Eventually, a stretch mark will appear almost identical to a scar. However, as stated earlier, stretch marks and scars are very different phenomena and caused by very different factors.
So, while stretch marks can be embarrassing and unsightly at first, the fact remains that they are painless. Many of us acquire these unsightly stretch marks as we lose our baby fat and enter into puberty and a period of rapid growth. Therefore, they are nothing to be overly self-conscious about because we all end up with them at some point. The best defense against stretch marks is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet which should keep the skin healthy and prevent periods of rapid weight gain.