Stretch marks are a form of scarring generally associated with pregnancy, obesity, bodybuilding, puberty, and intense physical activity. They result from overstretching of the skin, which disrupts the normal production of collagen, causing a scar. Medical terminology for these kinds of markings include striae, striae atrophicae, vergetures, striae cutis distensae, striae gravidarum (in cases where it is caused by pregnancy), lineae atrophicae, striae distensae, linea albicante.
They first appear as reddish or purple lines, but tend to gradually fade to a lighter color. The affected areas appear empty and soft to the touch.
Human skin has three different layers: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the subcutaneous stratum (innermost layer). Stretch marks occur in the dermis, the resilient middle layer that helps the skin retain its shape. Once the dermis has been stretched continuously over time, certain parts of it "overstretch", losing all elasticity and causing the connective fibres within to break. The result is what we know as stretch marks.
Once the body returns to the original unstretched size (after childbirth or weight loss, for example) stretch marks often become much less noticeable.
Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body. They are most likely to appear in places where fat is stored, or that have a tendency to stretch. Most common places are the abdomen (especially near the belly-button), breasts, upper arms, underarms, thighs (both inner and outer), hips, and buttocks. They pose no health risk in and of themselves, and do not compromise the body's ability to function normally and repair itself.
There is no assured method of preventing stretch marks, although many believe that using oils or creams in high-risk areas may help prevent them by giving the skin more flexibility. Many over the counter products are sold for such use.
The only reliable treatment for already-existing stretch marks is surgery. While several topical applications exist, they are only effective in fading the stretch marks; they do not cause stretch marks to completely disappear.
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