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Are You Prone to Getting Stretch Marks? Doctors Say It Depends on These 4 Factors
PHOTO BY @voyata/iStock
To read this story in Tagalog, click here.
  • Aside from the pain of childbirth itself, one of the things pregnant women dread is the thought of how much their bodies will change (c’mon, admit it!). And it will change — not only in how it looks, but how it feels, too. There’s no shame in saying we will miss how our old bodies were like — the one with hardly any hint of flabs, the taut skin on your tummy, and the smooth stretch-mark-free skin.

    Indeed, if you’re a first-time mom, you’re bound to see a lot of changes in your body during pregnancy. Pregnancy stretch marks, in particular, are inescapable. Or are they?

    According to Dr. Mariel Nevado-Gammad, an ob-gyn at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center and a Fellow of the Philippine Obstetrician-Gynecologists Society, stretch marks happen for several reasons (the more appropriate term is striae gravidarum, which refers specifically to stretch marks resulting from pregnancy). “The cause is unclear but [stretch marks are] believed to arise from hormonal alterations combined with stretching.”

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    Factors that affect the appearance of stretch marks

    Usually, stretch marks will begin to appear at the 17-week mark, or around the fourth month of pregnancy, when your belly begins to expand to give the baby more room. But does that mean that any woman who gets pregnant will get stretch marks for sure? Not all the time. According to Parents, several factors could predict if you might be prone to them.

    1. Genetics

    If your mother had stretch marks during her child-bearing age, it's likely you'd also get them when you become pregnant. A stretch mark — the mark that appears on the skin after being stretched to its limit — becomes so because the skin lacks elastin. Elastin is a stretchy protein that can be found in the skin's connective tissues. It allows the skin to stretch without rupturing, back to its shape and form. However, when the supply of elastin is depleted, the skin breaks, and it eventually turns into stretch marks.

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    2. Your age

    When you're young, your skin is supple. It's easy to think this is advantageous for you in preventing the appearance of stretch marks. However, the opposite is true. Mona Gohara, M.D., a dermatologist in New Haven, Connecticut, told Parents that when your tummy is expanding, young skin is more likely to tear under pressure than mature skin. Mature skin does not have to stretch as much; thus, it is less likely to be affected by stretch marks.

    3. Your weight gain came abruptly

    The skin was designed to expand as you grow. It can adapt to the changes that come with regular periods of growth. However, 42 weeks of pregnancy may not be enough time for the skin to adjust to your rapidly growing tummy. Since the body becomes bigger faster than the skin covering it, the skin tears, similar to a mini-injury, resulting to stretch marks. 

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    4. You had stretch marks when you were younger

    Having these skin marks during puberty makes you predisposed to them again when you become pregnant. Hormonal changes cause your skin to become sensitive and/or fragile, making it more prone to tearing.

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    How stretch marks develop

    According to Dr. Nevado-Gammad, the onset of stretch marks has typically been reported in the late second and early third trimester, although one study has demonstrated that 43% of women develop them before they even reach 24 weeks of gestation. Stretch marks can cause discomfort and an itching, burning sensation, and are typically present on the breasts, abdomen, hips, and thighs. 

    Quoting B. Farahnik et al.'s study, Dr. Nevado-Gammad says stretch marks first appear as flat, pink-to-red bands (striae rubra or immature striae) that eventually become raised, longer, wider, and violet-red. Over several months to years, the marks fade and become hypopigmented (striae alba or mature striae). They then appear scar-like, wrinkled, white, and atrophic.

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    "The marks usually fade after pregnancy but never completely disappear. They remain as depressed, irregular silvery-white bands," she adds. 

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    Remedy for stretch marks

    There isn't yet anything that could counter stretch marks a hundred percent, although some products below claim to lighten their appearance. Here are also a few things you can do. 

    1. Watch your diet.

    Vitamins that benefit the skin include Omega 3 and Vitamin D. They keep your skin supple and elastic, thus minimizing the possibility of skin breakage. Fish like mackerel, sardines, and salmon are rich sources of Omega 3, as are walnuts and chia seeds. You could get your supply of Vitamin D from regular but healthy exposure to the sun.

    2. Be mindful of your weight gain.

    When you watch what you eat, keep in mind your portions too. A healthy weight gain during pregnancy is anywhere between 25 and 35 pounds for a woman who is already in her ideal weight, while those who were already on the heavy side before pregnancy should gain even less. 

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    3. Use a moisturizer.

    While there aren't any foolproof ways of preventing stretch marks, pregnant women believe moisturizers may help. Because of their moisturizing capability, skin lotions help maintain the skin's elasticity, making it less likely to break to form stretch marks. 

    4. Apply aloe vera.

    Aloe vera is a popular herbal remedy for hair and skin problems, particularly for pain relief and skin protection. Because of its therapeutic properties, some women use aloe vera topically on areas where they have stretch marks.

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    5. Apply coconut oil. 

    Many studies have backed the healing properties of coconut oil, particularly for the skin. Frequent application on the affected parts is said to diminish the red appearance of stretch marks, and accelerate healing.

    6. Take hyaluronic acid

    Skin remains supple and elastic because of collagen which our body produces. To take advantage of this benefit, women could use hyaluronic acid to keep the skin moisturized and keep the skin from breaking. Yes, hyaluronic acid is safe to use during pregnancy. 

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    7. Use products with centella asiatica 

    For the prevention of stretch marks, Dr. Nevado-Gammad recommends using products with centella asiatica as an active ingredient. "Creams with centella asiatica extract such as Trofolastin cream and a daily massage seem the most supported treatment options by the literature, but further studies are necessary," she expounds.

    8. Have a laser treatment

    If all else fails, Dr. Nevado-Gammad says a laser treatment may be the best way to lighten the appearance of stretch marks. 

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