When you become pregnant, body changes are guaranteed. Your physique, moods, and energy levels will alter as your baby develops. Pregnant women also may encounter changes on their skin. A dark line extending vertically down the abdomen (linea nigra) is one example. Another common example is striae, also known as stretch marks.
There are different types of striae, and they are all most likely caused by a combination of factors – including mechanical stress on the skin, hormones, and genetics. Striae gravidarum, which are stretch marks in pregnancy, are triggered by a combination of increases in hormone production and the rapid rate at which the skin is being stretched. For pregnant women, striae usually develop over an expanding abdomen and on the breasts, where a rapid size increase is triggered by pregnancy hormones and lactation. They can also occur on the thighs, buttocks, and upper arms.
Are Stretch Marks Permanent?
Yes, but they change – tending to flatten and fade in color. Striae are characterized by flat or depressed wrinkle-like thinning of skin. The marks often appear in multiples, are symmetric, and develop parallel to the lines of natural skin relaxation. The initial marks range from pink to reddish or even a light purple color but eventually fade to a less conspicuous skin- or silvery-colored scar. Striae may be raised but over time will flatten into scar tissue with a slightly saggy consistency.
Will You Get Striae?
It’s difficult to say. Striae occur in about 90 percent of all pregnant women and are more common in women of Northern European descent. A baby grows the most during the third trimester and, not surprisingly, that is when striae gravidarum usually develop. They tend to occur more often in younger women, mothers carrying large infants, and women who are overweight or obese. It’s believed that genetics also play a role. If other members of your family have striae, your risk for getting them increases.
Are Striae Preventable?
There is no shortage of over-the-counter products that claim to prevent stretch marks, but there is no medical consensus supporting these claims. One study found that compared to placebo, massage with Trofolastin cream was associated with less women developing stretch marks. A second study found that compared to no treatment, massage with verum ointment was associated with less women developing stretch marks. However, it’s not certain if the results were due to the specific topical treatment: it is thought that perhaps the act of message with any type of ointment would be just as effective.
Stretch marks are benign (not harmful), but their cosmetic appearance can be troublesome. There are some medical treatments available to help minimize their appearance. You can speak with your physician about options that would be a good fit for you. Skinsight.com has a series of information pages dedicated to striae where you can read more about preventative topical creams and post-partum treatments.