In November, Dr. James Beckman, CEO and founder of Therapon Skin Health, was featured in a leading skin care publication, Skin Inc. This article discusses Dr. Beckman’s view on stretch marks, how they are formed and how they can be treated and prevented. Read the article below.
Skin has an enormous capacity to stretch and then to regain its shape later. This is the property of elasticity. Collagen and elastin fibers in the skin are what give skin its strength and pliability. The way these proteins are arranged within the skin are what allows skin to be stretched and then to retract back. This retraction only occurs as long as the stretching force was removed soon enough and if the stretching has been done slowly and evenly. This is like we would expect to see with a rubber band when it is stretched out slowly and then let go.
However, when the stretching force is relatively sudden and/or held for a long period of time, the elastic fibers in the skin lose the ability to retract. Visualize a rubber band stretched around a rolled up map and left there for an hour compared to leaving it there for a year. The longer the material is stretched, the less likely it is to regain its shape. Or think of a balloon that has been over-inflated and then the air is let out. One can see ribbon-like areas of thinned rubber in the balloon surface. This is similar to how stretch marks form on the body.
Stretch marks are a type of scar that results from an injury to skin that has healed without the full range of skin components. In fact, stretch marks are a result of “partial tearing” of the skin. These partial tears occur as a result of skin being stretched beyond its ability to retract and often have a jagged look caused by improper alignment of skin throughout the healing process.
The strands of elastic fibers in skin are designed so that the skin can stretch due to normal movement patterns and still resume its original position. This is why stretch marks appear in lines perpendicular to a normal range of movement. For example, stretch marks forming in vertical lines on the stomach during pregnancy. Because skin in that area does not normally bend in the vertical direction, the elastin fibers are horizontally aligned. When rapid gain is seen in the last 3 months of the pregnancy, the skin is pulled too quickly and causes the elastin fibers break. This results in the partial skin tearing that creates stretch marks.
While stretch marks may not be visibly present during a pregnancy, the damage to the skin does occur during the time when the skin is under pressure. However, it often is not until after the pregnancy that the skin shows the stretch marks. This is why stretch marks may seem to randomly appear once a baby has been born. The most noticeable effect is a lack of pigmentation within the stretch mark. The epidermal pigment producing cells have become further apart and/or produce less pigment, making the scar stand out.
Since these marks are formed as a result of an injury, they are often red or purple in color due to the increase in blood flow that happens when they first appear. As the inflammation/ injury settles down, the result is a thin scar that does not have pigment. The lack of pigment results in a white or grey color that varies in shade based on the different thickness of the scar. Stretch marks simply reflect what we would expect from a partial tearing of the dermal layer and stretching thin of the pigmented epidermal layer of cells.