Stretch marks: All you need to know

Will those unsightly red streaks on your skin ever go away? The experts to fill you in.


So, you’ve delivered your gorgeous newborn and you’ve jumped enthusiastically into motherhood ― breastfeeding, sleepless nights, you know…the whole hog.

But while you’ve embraced being a mother, your post-pregnancy bod is a whole different matter. Not enough that you’ve still got that pregnancy pooch, those angry lines and creases on your tummy are depressing. You find that you’re often wondering as you gaze into the mirror, “Will I ever be able to wear a bikini again?”

Stretch marks appear when you lose weight or gain weight rapidly. In this case, pregnancy often results in stretch marks (also known as striae gravidarum), especially during the last trimester when your belly expands rapidly to accommodate your growing baby. As your skin is pulled tight, tiny tears appear in the supporting layers of tissue under your skin, causing the streaks to appear.

Some women wear the stretch marks proudly as a badge of motherhood, while others would prefer to hide them. Says Grace Hwee-Rabani, mum to Delicia, 2, “I won’t deny I have them ― I’m sure most mums do. I’d still wear a crop top and I don’t think anybody, least of all mums, should be ashamed of their bodies.” But mum of two Natalie Yuen would prefer to keep it under wraps. “Gone are the days I’d bare my tummy. I don’t like how it looks, so I won’t subject others to it either,” she laughs.

“If you’ve got a family history of stretch marks, you’ve got a higher risk of developing them.”

Whichever camp you’re in, there’s no denying that stretch marks are common, appearing in up to 90 per cent of pregnancies, says dermatologist Dr Joyce Lim of the Joyce Lim Skin and Laser Clinic. “Besides the stretching of the skin, pregnancy hormones can also have an effect on the skin elastic fibres,” she notes.

Risk factors

Certain women are more likely to develop stretch marks, particularly around the abdomen, breasts, arms, thighs and buttocks. These include women with a larger body mass, those who are expecting larger babies, younger females (under the age of 26), and women who had previously developed stretch marks in their thighs and breasts ― especially during puberty.

And yes, genetics plays a role too. Dr Lim points out, “If you’ve got a family history of stretch marks, you’ve got a higher risk of developing them.”

Dr Gavin Ong, medical director and consultant dermatologist at The Skin Specialist, adds that the “gender of the baby, skin colour and smoking history of the mother do not appear to play a role in the development of these stretch marks”.

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If you’ve wondered why your stretch marks look different from the ones you’ve seen in a magazine, it’s probably because of their age. “All stretch marks are essentially the same,” notes Dr Ong. “Fresh ones tend to be violaceous [purplish in colour], while the older ones are skin-coloured.”

Preventing stretch marks

While your diet does not have an impact on whether you develop stretch marks, putting on too much weight too rapidly can exacerbate the situation. “The skin is stretched too fast before it can produce adequate collagen and elastic tissue to take up the stretch,” Dr Lim explains.

Doctors agree that there aren’t any creams that can treat or prevent stretch marks effectively, although applying moisturisers can help the skin be more supple and resist stretch, notes Dr Lim. She recommends that you “look out for moisturisers that contain ceramides, anti-inflammatory ingredients and ingredients that contain collagen and elastin hydrolysates”. She adds that several mall studies have shown that the ingredient centella asiatica (a herb) may also reduce the risk.

Doctors agree that there aren’t any creams that can treat or prevent stretch marks effectively, although applying moisturisers can help the skin be more supple and resist stretch.

Make sure to stay hydrated, too. Your skin needs to be moist for optimal skin elasticity, so you should be drinking eight to 10 glasses of water a day. If your lips are dry, you feel tired or have a headache, you might be suffering from dehydration.

If you already have stretch marks, early intervention is the best way to improve their appearance. In the early stages, you can improve the way they look with certain creams that contain tretinion, or with a pulse dye laser (a concentrated beam of light targets blood vessels in the skin), according to Dr Lim. Once the streaks become white scars, a resurfacing laser can be used.

Some women also find that exfoliating helps. This helps to rejuvenate your skin by removing old skin cells that are replaced with new tissue. You can do this using a body scrub, or using an exfoliating sponge. Massaging can also help to break down scar tissue and increase blood circulation, which will reduce the appearance of the stretch marks.

However, Dr Ong notes, “While some may fade and become fairly inconspicuous, there are women who continue to have visible stretch marks long after delivery.”

Photos: iStock

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