Stretch marks

Healthy skin is seen as an indicator of overall health, and as such we are bombarded with photoshopped images of flawless, glowing perfection beaming at us from magazines, adverts and across the internet on a daily basis. No matter where we look we see images of monotone skin free from blemishes, distinctly lacking the ‘flaws’ that make us unique and mean the story of our lives is etched into our skin. Little wonder then that so many women – and men – are so upset by the appearance of stretch marks at some point during life. So what can we do about them?

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks – or striae distensae – are scar lines that form in the skin where the underlying muscles and fat are growing too fast for collagen production and nutrient stores to keep up, meaning the fibroblasts are unable to adequately lay down the collagen and elastin fibres needed to maintain taut, healthy skin. They are formed by the tearing of the dermis, and are commonly associated with pregnancy, affecting around 90% of all pregnant women, when they may appear on the rapidly growing belly, breasts or hips (striae gravidarum). They may also occur at any other time of rapid growth and weight gain, especially where hormonal fluctuations are taking place. High cortisone levels can make the formation of stretch marks more likely.

How do we prevent them?

There are several nutrients that may help internally in terms of prevention. These are associated with collagen formation – zinc and vitamin C in particular, which are both essential for collagen formation. For the non-vegetarian, bone broth and other gelatin-rich animal foods are great for building good collagen.

Vitamin C is abundant in fresh fruit and vegetables, but the vitamin content of these foods depletes with the passage of time and on exposure to light. This means that produce purchased from supermarkets, which may be up to a week old by the time it reaches shelves, is unreliable as a source of this essential nutrient, and supplementation may be required.

Zinc is a mineral not found in high amounts in New Zealand soils, which means that many New Zealanders are deficient in it. Good food sources of it include oysters, nuts and seeds, and meat. However, for many people, supplementation may be required as the content of these foods may be low and adequate amounts may be difficult to reach through diet alone, particularly for vegetarians.

What if I already have them?

As well as maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet rich in the nutrients discussed above, there are a number of topical oils and ingredients to look out for that may aid in the reduction of scarring. Whilst the evidence is severely limited in terms of healing stretch marks, given they are a form of scar it may be helpful to keep an eye out for some of these if stretch marks are of concern and you wish to reduce their appearance.

Nourishing oils such as wheat germ, sweet almond and coconut are all popular choices for massaging into tired skin, and may help to support skin moisture levels. These are all rich in skin-protective nutrients, making them popular bases and carriers for other oils and botanicals. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring acid that boosts and holds moisture in the skin, popular for heavy-duty moisturizing and helping keep skin supple. Vitamin C can also be useful topically, as may vitamins A (retinol) and E.

A number of herbal medicines may be helpful topically for skin problems, including scarring, and many are traditionally used for stretch mark repair. These include calendula, popular for its skin repairing, anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties, and St John’s Wort, which is used for numerous skin conditions when applied topically. Lavender and rose essential oils are popular for supporting skin health, and gotu kola has been used for scarring and healing, including stretch marks, for centuries. Rosehip oil is traditionally used to reduce the appearance of skin blemishes and scars, and tamanu is gaining popularity as a skin-repair wonder oil.

HealthPost carries a wide range of skin-supportive nutrients for maintaining healthy skin and connective tissue, as well as myriad topical products that may assist in the prevention or repair of stretch marks.

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