Doc Talk

Stretch marks are only a cosmetic problem, but if extensive, they may ulcerate or tear easily

Stretch marks are only a cosmetic problem, but if extensive, they may ulcerate or tear easily

Dr Vikas Sharma

The skin is a remarkably flexible organ which has the capacity to stretch substantially. The inner and most important dermal layer comprises elastic fibres which provide our skin the necessary suppleness and collagen which gives the strength to the skin preventing it from tearing down when stretched. However, in situations when skin experiences greater stress over a rapid period of time, the overtaxed dermal elastic and collagen fibres tear at points thus resulting in formation of cosmetically disfiguring stretch marks.

Stretch marks or striae as they are called in dermatology are a form of scarring on the skin with an off-colour hue. Stretch marks may also be influenced by hormonal changes associated with puberty, pregnancy, bodybuilding, hormone replacement therapy, etc.

These are often the result of the rapid stretching of the skin associated with rapid growth or rapid weight changes. Skin subjected to more stretching force than it can handle will tear. Hormonal changes and genetics influence the skin’s capacity to withstand stretching forces, as do diet and exercise.

Risk group

Teenagers are at highest risk of developing severe striae.

These may develop on the shoulders in young male weightlifters when their muscle mass rapidly increases.

Stretch marks formed during pregnancy, usually during the last trimester, and usually on the belly, but can also occur on the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back and buttocks, are known as striae gravidarum. The striae in a medical disease Cushing’s syndrome or those induced by steroid therapy may be larger and more widely distributed, and involve other regions, including sometimes the face.

Topical therapy

The striae induced by topical steroid therapy occur particularly in the flexures. Usually, the striae are only a cosmetic problem, but occasionally, if extensive, they may ulcerate or tear easily should the patient be involved in an accident or heavy exertion.

Preventive measures

Eat smartly and sensibly to avoid gaining excess body fat. Pregnant females should wear supportive maternity clothing throughout the duration of pregnancy. If on medicated steroids use steroids in prescribed dosage and schedule. Rule out presence of an endocrine disorder. Exercise smartly taking care of skin stretch limits.

One needs to be cautious of numerous unproven remedies from cosmetic companies making exaggerated claims.

Treat it

The medical treatments available for the purpose of improving the appearance of stretch marks include laser treatments, dermabrasion, and prescription drugs.

Skin surgery can be done for removing lower abdominal stretch marks which removes the skin below the navel where stretch marks frequently occur. Laser modality, fractional laser resurfacing, offers a novel approach to treating striae.

(Dr Sharma is a Chandigarh-based

consultant dermatologist)

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