Stretch marks (striae) are reddish lines that run across the parts of the body, where fat tends to accumulate.
The lines are not always reddish. Sometimes, they may appear purplish. If left untreated, the lines usually become whitish or silvery.
The most frequently affected body parts include: the abdomen, the thighs and the buttocks. Other body parts that may be affected include: the hips, under the arms, lower back and breasts.
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Stria is the scientific name for stretch lines. Your doctor may also use a different medical terminology such as striae atrophicae, vergetures or stria distensae.
Causes of Stretch Marks
There are three principal causes of striae atrophicae: genetics, hormones and pressure.
Some people are genetically predisposed to develop stretch streaks. If your mother had it, you are 3times more likely to develop it.
Some people think it is contagious because of its tendency to occur within the same family unit. Striae atrophicae is not contagious. Several family members can develop it simultaneously because of its genetic component.
Hormones play an important causal role in the development of striae atrophicae.
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Striae atrophicae is very common during puberty because of the growth hormone IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1).
During puberty, huge quantities of IGF-1 are secreted. This hormone causes the bones to increase in size. As a result, the skin is forced to stretch, in order to keep up with the growth.
If the skin can’t extend fast enough, it fractures into streaks. This fracturing of the skin occurs in the dermis (inner skin layer).
The dermis is made up of connective tissues, which hold the structure of the skin in place. These connective tissues are built with collagen and elastic fibers.
Collagen and elastic fibers give the skin its property of resilience.
Resilience is the ability of a substance to return to its original dimensions after it has been stretched.
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Every substance has an elastic limit. If you stretch a substance beyond its elastic limit, it will break. Even steel has an elastic limit. Beyond a certain pressure, steel girders break.
Any extra weight gained, exerts pressure on the dermis. During pregnancy, the fetus exerts pressure on the dermis. The dermis often tears in the third semester, when the fetus is heaviest.
Here comes the big boom! OBESITY!!!
In the west, obesity has become the biggest trigger of striae atrophicae. In America, 1 in every 3 adults is obese.
In Mexico, people are even fatter. According to a 2014 survey, conducted by WHO (World Health Organization), over 40% of Mexicans are obese.
Picture, all those muffin tops and overlapping waistlines that have become so common these days.
Those muffin tops put pressure on the dermis. When the pressure exceeds the elastic limit of the dermis, it tears.
Stretch Marks Treatment
There are several treatment methods for stretch streaks. You can treat it with topical tretinoin. It is only available on a prescription basis.
It is strictly prohibited for pregnant women. The FDA has classified tretinoin as a teratogen. Teratogens are medications that cause birth defects.
Fractional laser resurfacing is another treatment technique that has proven effective at eliminating stretch streaks.
Fractional laser resurfacing consists of using scattered pulses of light to zap portions of the stretch lines. This creates microscopic injuries on the zapped area.
These injuries force the body to produce collagen and epithelium. Collagen and epithelium will increase the elasticity of your skin.
Fractional laser resurfacing requires several treatment sessions. In 2007, the clinical trials conducted in Brazil showed a success rate of 75%.
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