During pregnancy the skin undergoes changes due to hormones as well as the growing baby inside the tummy. As the skin stretches, it leaves pinky strips which gradually whiten with time. But pregnancy is not the only reason for stretchmarks. Factors like teenage growth spurts, intensive weight lifting and body building, or rapid weight changes can also bring about stretchmarks.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and is composed of superimposed layers. The epidermis, the outer protective tissue, is in a state of constant renewal, cells divide and migrate, differ and die. The dead skin falls off, leaving the fresher under-layer. When the connective tissues break down, stretchmarks begin to appear.
Stretchmarks result from an impairing of the connective tissue fibres in the dermis. They can occur anywhere that rapid or excessive growth of either fat or muscle exceeds the elastic properties of the skin. They are likely to appear on the abdomen, buttocks and thighs. The marks may first appear as pink, purple or red stripes on the skin. As they age they become lighter, until they finally whiten.
The Lines of Pregnancy
About 50% of the pregnant women have reddish, slightly depressed skin markings, called striae gravidarum (the “lines of pregnancy”). These are present on the skin of the abdomen and sometimes on the breast and thighs by the third trimester. After delivery these markings gradually change to silvery colored lines which shrink down as the contracting abdominal and breast skin firm up. These are “permanent” scar or stretchmarks of the pregnancy. Their cause is unknown. There is no way to either prevent or eliminate them completely, and creams and ointments sold for this purpose cannot alleviate the problem altogether but mainly function by lightening the marks.
In many women (primarily those with dark hair and complexion), the skin of the midline of the abdomen becomes pigmented from the pubic bone to close to the tip of the breast bone. The dark line curves around the unbilicus. Neither the cause nor the significance of this line is known, and it rapidly disappears after delivery.
Other Skin Marks
It is quite common in pregnancy for brown patches to appear on the face and neck. They are known as chloasma or the “mask of pregnancy”. They usually disappear after giving birth.
In Caucasians in particular, tiny red spots commonly appear on the face, the neck, the upper chest and arms. On inspection with a magnifying lens, each red dot is seen to consist of several tiny blood vessels branching from a central feeder. If pressure is gently applied to the center with, for example, the point of a pencil, the entire network is deprived of its blood supply and blanches. These are “spider hemangiomas”, as they are sometimes called, and are believed to be related to increased estrogen levels during pregnancy.
Why some women have these spots and others do not, is not understood, and their significance is not known. They usually disappear sfter birth. Another transient skin change is redness of the palms. Like “spiders”, this redness is believed to be related to the estrogen levels. Its significance is unknown and the phenomenon disappears after delivery.
The deep layer of the skin which is less supple cracks when overstretched resulting in blue-red stretch-marks that fade into silvery streaks with time but they will remind the woman of her first pregnancy.
These marks develop over the breasts, abdomen, derriere and thighs of over 75% of women and no amount of oil will make an obvious difference. the only preventive measure is perhaps, to watch one’s diet as stretch-marks tend to appear in over-weight women.