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So You've Got Stretch Marks

Stretch marks commence as raised reddish lines on the skin. Turning purple they eventually fade into flat silver streaks. They are medically known as a stria. Stretch marks tend to occur when the skin is stretched a lot over a period of time, for example during pregnancy. The skin consists of three parts, the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the subcutaneous (inner layer), where fatty tissue is found. The dermis's job is to support the skin and keep it firm. The dermis also contains blood vessels which supply the skin cells nutrients and nerves which give us feeling. The dermis is where stretch marks occur.

The dermis skin layer is made up of strong fibres that connect to each other and allow the skin to stretch as we grow. These small fibres become thinner and less elastic over time and eventually some of them can break. Where the fibres break and the skin is thinner, areas of stretch marks appear. Stretch marks look reddish in colour as they in areas where the skin is stretched thinly and blood vessels show through.

Although they usually begin as red lines the colour of stretch marks can vary depending on the colour of your skin and can be anywhere from pink, reddish brown, or dark brown. Stretch mark lines usually go purplish then before flattening out. As the lines get flatter, they fade as well, and eventually end up a few shades lighter than your own natural skin tone. It may take many years to reach this point however.

Stretch marks appear anywhere on the body where the skin has been stretched. However usually more so in places where fat is stored, such as abdomen, breasts, upper arms, thighs and buttocks. When people put on a lot of weight over a short time period they may notice stretch marks.

Fortunately stretch marks aren't harmful and there is usually not a need to consult your GP about them. Although, if a stretch mark is unsightly and they are making you miserable, it is worth seeing your GP to discuss treatment options. There is no one specific treatment for stretch marks. Most of your stretch marks will fade over time and are not that noticeable. However the following treatments may help if you feel that your stretch marks affect a large part of your body and if your are worried they are unsightly.

In the early stages, stretch marks can regularly be improved with over-the-counter moisturizing creams, particularly those containing vitamin E or vitamin A. Lotions with alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) which are plant extracts and can also help. To date clinical studies have not shown that these sorts of creams can prevent stretch marks, but they may work to improve the look of stretch marks in the short term. These creams also help stretch marks by encouraging circulation through the rubbing in action and by keeping the skin supple.

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