Stretch marks, anyone? The irritating skin scars that no one wants, but some of us might already have from puberty alone. Learn how to prevent them while pregnant by understanding what they even are, how some are different than others, and 8 natural, holistic ways to prevent and treat these unsightly marks during your pregnancy. Plus, get some tip-top advise on the best and most effective creams for treating stretch marks in this short, bite-sized episode of Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast Episode 27: Pregnancy Stretch Marks!
What is a "stretch mark"?
Stretch marks, medically known as Striae Distensae, are an abrupt change in collagen and elastin of the skin. This abrupt change results in a scar that causes skin chemicals collagen and elastin to rupture. What are some common causes of stretch marks?
- Weight gain or loss
- High steroid usage from medications to treat illnesses, such as Cushing's Syndrome
- Rapid muscle growth, such as that in weight training
What are the 2 skin stages of stretch marks?
The early life of a stretch mark is a skin mark with color tones ranging from light to darker depending on the skin tone, that is raised above the rest of the skin and often times itchy.
1. Striae Rubra
Known as "Striae Rubra", the skin experiences its first color change during this stage. The change becomes noticeable at the beginning, and later fades with time, before it becomes the dull-toned white-ish mark we're all familiar with.
2. Striae Alba
"Striae Alba", or the latter stage, is characterized by a hypopigmented feature with narrow bands that sink into the skin, forming the stretch mark. The skin turns its dull color because of its chronic state where it remains pale, atrophic, permanent and wrinkled. Usual locations for skin marks during pregnancy are the breasts, abdomen, the butt area, thighs, knees, and even calves.
As the third trimester approaches, and even during the second trimester, women begin to hoard more water weight. Especially true for women who are on their feet all day, it is highly likely to become very adenitis in the lower extremities - meaning stretching in the glands due to the body constantly pulling water down to the feet.
How do stretch marks affect the skin and body?
From the adenitis mentioned earlier, it is common for women in pregnancy to develop "cankles", where the ankles and calf are seemingly one due to the excess water stored in that area. When the skin is subject to rapid change such as this, collagen - what makes skin pliable and soft - decreases, similar to with age, and becomes old and wrinkled. Consequently, blood flow to the region is reduced, as well as the fibrous activity under the skin.
Importantly, new research from the University of Colorado Boulder has pinpointed a biological link between lack of sleep and poor blood circulation, which is harmful for the skin and development of stretch marks, but especially harmful for pregnant women. Fortunately, lack of sleep and sleepless nights can be a thing of the past due to NoMo Nausea's patented technology 3:1 essential oil-infused pressure wristband that is recommended by OBGYN's to help stop morning sickness in pregnancy and promote deep, restful sleep.
What else happens to the skin of a stretch mark? A decrease in the production of collagen and elastin from the stretch marks, blood circulation under the affected skin worsens, and as it becomes dehydrated and time passes, the skin will get wrinkled and discolored.
Are stretch marks genetic?
Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer. Stretch marks are both genetic, and not. A woman's propensity to develop narrow bands from stretch marks is higher if the family of the woman has them. Any easy trick to determine your propensity for having these narrow bands is by gauging through puberty stretching, and comparing to the marks developed from puberty. Fluctuating hormone levels also play a role when it comes to whether you'll have marks, as it can still be likely even if your parents did or did not have them.
Do stretch marks and treatments affect the baby?
Sadly, stretch marks are permanent. However, treatment of stretch marks can make them less noticeable and reduce itching caused by them. In order to reduce noticeability and itchiness, it is important to treat the marks as early as they are recognized. Additionally, women should always speak with their OB about creams, as many contain retinol, which can be bad for developing babies, and the skin is the largest organ in the body, meaning anything it comes in contact with will certainly be sucked into the bloodstream and fed to the baby. With that said, it is important to always look at what is in the creams, because there is no single one that helps individually.
Are there tips and tricks for curing stretch marks?
As with all Pregnancy Pukeology episodes, I strive to offer solutions for any pregnancy-related problem. Some of the favorite NoMo stretch mark hacks include using any product early on, when the mark is still a young red-pinkish color, meaning the scarring hasn't set in yet. At that moment, the body is forming immunity to the scar, which is why treatment options have little to no effect on old stretch marks.
Of the important procedures for curing stretch marks, hydration and moisturization are amongst the highest. Olive oil, almond oil, cocoa butter, and shea butter all are natural emollients, meaning they soften and moisturize the skin through hydration. The best time for application is when pores can absorb the most, meaning after a shower. Application is important on all area that might suffer from pregnancy, including breasts, abdomen, thighs, and even the butt, especially if you're having a girl baby, as the butt grows more.
For some interesting history including an old Chinese calendar used for determining baby sex based on age and conception date, and other fun trivia and tips of what you can do if you want a boy or a girl, check out the Baby Predictor Pregnancy Pukeology Podcast episode 14.
Other useful tricks for dealing with stretch marks are to massage cream products into the skin, as it helps apply the product more evenly and thoroughly. It is also pivotal to apply the product every day for several weeks, as it may take this long for results to show due to the nature of the regenerative type tissue found in skin. Tretinoin, a prescription retinoid found in prescription creams was clinically used for 24 weeks, with patients showing noticeably less stretch marks than the control group which used no cream. Additionally, the marks of those with the cream were also smaller than those with no cream.
Dermatologists have several techniques to minimize marks, but none exist yet that are permanent. Some of these treatments include chemical peels, laser therapy, utilizing pulse eye lasers, microdermabrasion, radial frequency, and ultrasound, as the ultimate goal is to cause skin resurfacing and create new, better skin which allows collagen to reappear.
Other important factors
A few other notable practices and products for fighting pesky stretch marks include:
- Vitamin D with chamomile: Both substances are anti-inflammatory, and help reduce irritation and itchiness while promoting blood flow in the area.
- Centella: Contains hyaluronic acid, which rejuvenates skin through hydration.
- Self Tanner: Self tanner helps to camouflage marks, but it is important to not visit tanning beds. The reason is these beds can make stretch marks more noticeable, as they suck hydration out of the skin. With no extra collagen produced in that area, every time moisture is sucked out of the skin, the stretch mark is etched more into the skin.
- Watching your weight: As tough as it is to tell pregnant moms to watch their weight, it is truly important. Stay within your 25 perfect pound range. Episode 12 of the Pregnancy Pukeology podcast, Pregnancy Weight Gain, explains why doctors assign these weight guidelines, how to achieve them, and other tips for snack options.