Most women will experience some form of stretch marks during their lifetime. If they aren’t caused by growth spurts during adolescence, they may be caused by rapid weight gain at a later stage, or when you’re pregnant. An estimated one in three women who bear a child will be affected, and while stretch marks due to pregnancy are a sign that your body has achieved something great, for many women loss of firmness and stretch marks are unwelcome visible affects.
Dr Maureen Allem, founder and medical director at Skin Renewal says almost 90% of women will get stretch marks during the third trimester – but this is usually predetermined in your genes. Chances are, if your mom got them you will too.
What causes stretch marks?
As your baby grows, your tummy expands. Internally, some organs are moved around to create room for your growing uterus; externally, your skin uses its elasticity to stretch with your expanding belly.
“Your skin has three different layers: the outer layer or epidermis; the middle layer or dermis and the inner most layer or subcutaneous stratum. Stretch marks occur in the middle layer, which is essentially the layer of skin that assists in retaining skin tone. When the dermis is over stretched, the fibres within it break and this loss of elasticity is what causes the appearance of stretch marks,” explains Dr Allem.
Stretch marks usually occur in places on the body where fat is stored. It forms scarring on the skin, red marks at first, that’s caused by dilation of the blood vessels – these fade over time and silvery white scars remain. The affected areas often appear hollow and are soft to the touch. During pregnancy, it’s often your tummy, bum and breasts that are affected. However, you can get stretch marks on your thighs and upper arms as well.
How do I prevent stretch marks during pregnancy?
Prevention is better than cure. Some experts say that it’s impossible to completely remove stretch marks and scars. However, they can be minimised and the newer the mark, the better the result. Dr Allem explains that the only way to really remove stretch marks is with surgery, although some salon treatments like skin needling, laser and injectable growth factors also offer some great results.
You can minimise the appearance of stretch marks with these tips and products:
Keep your skin moisturised
When it comes to home-care products, some creams and oils will definitely help prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. If you are using a topical prevention product, make sure it is safe to use during pregnancy.
When should I start using the cream?
You can start applying the cream or oil from your third month on a daily basis, paying special attention to your belly, breasts, lower back, hips, bum and thighs. “For best results, apply directly after bathing or showering to skin that is still moist, and thoroughly massage into the skin. Always work in the direction of lymphatic circulation, from the feet upwards. This will mean that connective tissue will receive better circulation and the skin’s condition will appear more even.”
What is the best product to avoid stretch marks during pregnancy?
Dr Allem says the main purpose of these creams as a preventative measure is to condition and hydrate your skin as much as possible, so you should ideally use these products twice a day.
Moms recommend these products to prevent and minimise stretch marks:
Bio-Oil, available from Dis-Chem, R104.95 for 60ml
Happy Event Antenatal Massage Lotion, available from Clicks, R99.99 for 125ml
Oh Lief Natural Tummy Olive Wax, available from Wellness Warehouse, R132.95 for 125g
Palmers Cocoa Butter Tummy Butter, available from Dis-Chem, R64.95 for 125g
Keep your weight in check
Pay careful attention to weight gain during pregnancy, as any added weight will increase your chances of getting stretch marks.
Follow a healthy eating plan
Yes, we know salad leaves and veg aren’t always what we crave during pregnancy (more like donuts and chicken wings from KFC), but try and follow a healthy and nutritious eating plan most of the time.
Exercise is important
We’re not saying start training for the Comrades, but moderate exercise can go a long way to keep your weight in check and your circulation moving. Even a 20-minute walk in the morning or afternoon will really help.
Ditch the caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks and take more vitamin C
It is also advisable to avoid beverages that contain caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol and smoking – all while increasing your daily vitamin C intake to 1 000mg per day, advises Dr Allem.
Everything that keeps the skin tissue silky and promotes circulation is ideal. A gentle massage with a brush, a loofah, exfoliator or massage gloves twice a week can have positive effects.
More about the expert:
Dr Maureen Allem is the founder and Medical Director of the Renewal Institute. She is a general practitioner with a special interest in aesthetic and integrative/anti-ageing medicine and procedures. She is a sought-after speaker on anti-ageing and non-surgical facial rejuvenation techniques and body sculpting. She also has appeared on TV and radio many times discussing non-surgical aesthetic solutions and her advice can be read frequently in South Africa’s major publications. Learn more about Dr Maureen Allem here.
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