What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are also known as striae gravidarum, striae distensae, and striae atrophicans. In a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, Frank Wang and his colleagues found that the elastic fiber network in the dermis gets disrupted in a stretch mark. The skin consists of three key layers - the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the middle layer) and the hypodermis or subcutaneous (the deepest layer). The stretching of the connective tissue in the skin beyond the limits of its elasticity, during pregnancy, leads to a tear in the dermis, whereby the blood vessels and the deeper skin layers show through. This gives an appearance of a stretch mark. The newly synthesized tropoelastin-rich fibrils emerge but they cannot function as normal elastic fibers. The skin contracts and expands rapidly due to changes in the weight. The repair of the disrupted elastic network seems ineffective and one is left with loose skin and stretch marks. There is a paradigm change in the treatment of pregnancy stretch marks from treatment or repair, to prevention and preservation of the elastic fibers.
Around 40-90% of pregnant women have stretch marks arising in the common areas like abdomen, buttocks, thighs, hips, breasts, and flank. Stretch marks generally appear from the 25th week of pregnancy. Women who conceive at an older age, or have family history of stretch marks, are at higher risk of developing stretch marks. Rapid weight gain and loss; hormonal changes, and excess amniotic fluid due to multiple births are also a risk factor for pregnancy stretch marks. The pregnancy stretch marks appear red, pink-purple, reddish-brown or dark brown but eventually fade out to white or silvery shade.
Home Remedies To Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
Home remedies can help to reduce the severity of stretch marks but studies on topical applications are inconclusive. Natural remedies help to build collagen or keep the skin moist.
Stretch marks indicate that there is less production of collagen. Collagen is a protein-rich compound found in the body. It helps maintain elasticity; repair and rejuvenate the skin tissue. Proper hydration increases the elasticity of the skin and flushes out toxins and free radicals. Water keeps the skin well moisturized. Supple and moist skin prevents the formation of stretch marks. Water combats food cravings and studies show that adequate water intake increases Resting Energy Expenditure and decreases body weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) especially if consumed few minutes before meals.
Bitter Almond Oil Massage
In a study published in 2012 in Journal of Clinical Nursing, by Timur Taşhan S and team; it was found that a 15-minute massage applied with almond oil during pregnancy reduced the development of striae gravidarum. However, using bitter almond oil with no massage had no significant effect in reduction of stretch marks. Thus pregnant women can have massages with bitter almond oil before the onset of third trimester of pregnancy and follow-ups till child birth.
Coconut Oil for Stretch Marks Before After and During Pregnancy
The studies on the benefits of coconut oil for stretch marks during and after pregnancy are inconclusive. However, coconut oil can be absorbed easily into the skin and it helps to keep the skin moisturized. Its anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties keep the skin clean.
Cocoa butter, avocado oil, shea butter standalone or in combination can be used to moisten the skin and to alleviate itching.
Zinc is a co-factor for collagen production. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc. Other nut sources that are rich in zinc are sesame seeds, sesame flour, tahini, watermelon seeds and cotton seed meal or flour. Zinc deficiency can increase incidences of stretch marks.
Vitamin C helps to form collagen and cartilage. Collagen keeps the skin firm and resilient.
Collagen fibers are made from protein, and they have large amounts of two amino acids, called hydroxyl-lysine and hydroxyl-proline. Vitamin C plays a vital role in changing proline into hydroxyproline and lysine into hydroxylysine; both in the collagen form. It is important to have vitamin C rich foods. Consult your gynecologist for the use of Vitamin C capsules.
Application of egg white can help tone up the face elasticity as well as the elasticity of the skin around the belly, thighs and hips during pregnancy. It is a popular home remedy to help lessen the incidence and the shade of stretch marks during and after pregnancy. Pregnant women can apply egg white much before the onset of the 25th week of pregnancy to get better results.
Whip egg whites till it is white and soft. Apply a thick layer of whipped egg white with a sponge or brush, over and around the stretch marks. Wash it off, once the applied egg white dries. Coconut oil or shea butter can be applied after this process, to keep the skin supple.
Collagen Promoting Foods
Wheat germ, dark leafy greens, garlic, eggs, carrots, mango all support collagen production. Good sources of lysine are legumes and lean meats. Animal sources such as dairy, poultry, fish, and gelatin provide all nine essential amino acids. Gelatin can be consumed orally, as well as applied topically.
Aloe vera gel with its abundant amounts of water content has been traditionally used to treat stretch marks, wrinkles, and pigmentations. Fresh aloe vera is safe to use over the skin, even from the early weeks of pregnancy.
Studies show that onion (Allium cepa) extract can improve scar appearance if applied once daily, for at least a month. Onion extract contains several bioflavonoids, such as quercetin, cepalin and kaempferol, metalloproteinases; and thiosulfate.
Castor Oil Packs
Castor oil packs are traditionally used to treat stretch marks during pregnancy. Castor oil is known to prevent and lessen spots and blemishes. It hydrates the skin and keeps it firm.
- Apply castor oil generously around the hips and thighs.
- Wrap the area with cling film or plastic wrap.
- Apply heat with a hot water bottle or heating pad for about 20-30 minutes.
What ever the age, exercise is important in our daily lives. Regular exercise increases metabolic rates, which helps burn more calories. You may lose weight and look better physically which can boost your self-esteem. Walking and household chores are good forms of exercise. Seek expert advice on pregnancy specific yoga exercises.
Other Popular Home Remedies
Other popular home remedies for pregnancy stretch mark prevention and removal are instant coffee, potato juice, and lemon juice and tea oil. They improve texture of skin; reduce appearance of stretch marks and keeps the skin hydrated.
Homemade Pregnancy Stretch Marks Cream
- Add equal quantities of fresh aloe vera gel and wheat germ oil
- Bitter Almond oil massage
- Mix coffee grounds with aloe vera gel
- Onion extract can be mixed with tea oil
- Rub the mixture of potato and lemon juice on the skin
- Gotu Kola extract can be added to castor oil or coconut oil
- Whipped egg white can be combined with gelatin
Oil from Vitamin E capsules can be added to any of these homemade moisturizers. Any combination can be tried subject to availability. The cream should be applied for at least 20 minutes or you can choose overnight application. It is important to massage the creams for few minutes. These creams can help in prevention and removal of pregnancy stretch marks. They can be applied from the initial stage of pregnancy.
Pregnant women need to consult their doctors before using any of the natural remedies in any form. Benefits of home remedies like honey, potato juice, and lemon juice to reduce stretch marks are not conclusive. They can be used to keep the skin soft and supple. Brown sugar pack and dry brushing helps to exfoliate the skin. Products with retinoic acid are not considered safe for pregnant women. These can be tried topically after pregnancy as tretinoin helps in rebuilding collagen in the skin. Turmeric can be used to improve the texture of the skin. Gelatin promotes the production of collagen. Eat healthy and nutrient dense food to nourish the body and mind.