Stretch marks are often associated with the over-stretching of the skin, particularly as they tend to appear during periods of rapid weight gain, pregnancy or growth spurts. They appear as red or purple lines that stretch across the body and can affect various parts of the anatomy.
They occur not on the epidermis (the superficial layer of skin), but in the dermis, which is the middle layer that allows the skin to retain its shape. This layer is resilient, but when stretch marks occur, that area of skin loses its elasticity and can feel softer to the touch than the surrounding tissue.
And yet it is not the stretching alone that causes dermal or epidermal tearing. When a person is experiencing hormonal changes, this can affect the skin’s capacity to cope with stretching. These hormones prevent the fibroblasts from producing enough collagen and elastin fibres that allow the skin to remain taut.
This, combined with rapid stretching means the dermis will quickly reach its limits and damage will occur. Hormones and genetics play a major part in the skin’s ability to provide supportive structure, and can also be influenced by diet and sometimes, sport.
Stretch marks do not disappear on their own, although they do fade over time. Stretch mark removal is possible with a combination of microdermabrasion and laser therapy.