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One of the most feared changes to the body during pregnancy, stretch marks are small, depressed streaks in the skin that are concentrated around the areas that store the most fat and do the most stretching.
But while stretch marks are most evident around the rapidly expanding belly, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, they can also be seen in areas where ordinary people get fat, such as around the thighs and also the belly.
These marks are caused by the changes in the elastic supportive tissue that lies just beneath the skin. When skin is overstretched, the normal production of collagen is disrupted, resulting in ‘scars’.

Who gets them?

Stretch marks appear in 50 to 90 per cent of all pregnant women, mostly around the abdomen area.
But they can also be found on the thighs, hips, buttocks, breasts and arms of people who have put on weight.
Research suggests that genetics can determine your chances of getting stretch marks.
In addition, whether you get stretch marks or not also depends on how much and how quickly your skin has to expand during pregnancy or weight gain.
Factors that affect the likelihood of getting stretch marks include rapid or excessive weight gain; an excess of fluid retention; or if you are expecting multiples or a large baby. Being naturally thin or small may cause you to have a higher than average incidence of stretch marks.
If you are pregnant, and had stretch marks in a previous pregnancy, it’s also very likely that you may get them again. Usually, the previous stretch marks you have had may be darkened or lightened temporarily.

Prevention

Unfortunately, not much can be done about stretch marks. Gaining no more than the recommended amount of weight while pregnant — in most cases, 11 to 13 kilograms — and putting on weight gradually if you’re not, may reduce your chances of getting stretch marks.
Keeping areas prone to stretch marks well moisturised as they swell may also reduce potential itching and improve skin’s elasticity. This is when you may want to try some of the creams sold over the counter that purportedly help with this condition.
If you are pregnant, look out for skin care products formulated for use during pregnancy and nursing stages that deal specially with the considerable hormonal changes, and also with the mechanical processes of tension and stretching of the skin.  
Otherwise, specially formulated stretch mark creams should contain active ingredients that preserve and promote elasticity of your skin; this helps stimulate cell regeneration and reduce the hypersensitivity of skin.

Good riddance? Not exactly

Even if these do not work, about six to 12 months after childbirth or weight loss, more often than not, stretch marks can become considerably less noticeable. The pigmentation fades and by and large, become lighter than the surrounding skin. Depending on your skin tone, the colour will vary while the texture usually remains unchanged.

Seeking help

But, without the assistance of a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon, stretch marks are unlikely to go away. Women who are bothered by their stretch marks can seek professional help to minimise them.
Here are some treatment options:

Retin-A
Topical medications such as tretinoin (Retin-A) and glycolic acid may help. Do note that Retin-A is not safe to use during pregnancy and there’s no reliable information on the amount excreted in breast milk or its effect on a nursing infant, so it’s best avoided while breastfeeding.

Laser
Evidence has shown that laser treatments can help restore skin’s elasticity and change the pigmentation so stretch marks blend better with the rest of your skin.

Abdominoplasty
Commonly known as a “tummy tuck”, this is a procedure designed to firm and smooth the abdomen. The procedure removes excess abdominal skin and may reduce fat and tighten the muscles of the abdominal wall. It can also tighten muscles that have been separated and weakened by pregnancy. A tummy tuck can improve the appearance of stretch marks, especially those located below the navel, while other similar procedures can be performed for marks in other areas.

Stretch what you eat
Lastly, your best defense is to eat well. Excellent nutrition and being well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids helps skin stretch better too. LW

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