What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch Marks Info
When considering the basis of stretch marks, two levels of causation emerge. One set of causes is obvious, and needs no clinical proof. The other is a collection of conjectures.
Cause # 1: a no-brainer.
The plain-as-day reason for this scarring is the simple truth of skin getting rapidly overstretched. It’s extended way too much, way too fast. Pregnancy, puberty, weight-lifting and weight gain are the common aggravating conditions. The elasticity of the dermis, which is the intermediate layer that gives the skin its shape, gets overwhelmed and destroyed. The outer layer of skin, the epidermis, also thins out when this happens. This makes the skin quite translucent, so the slits that have formed in the dermis can be seen. The tissue inflammation and microscopic bleeding heal quickly and don’t produce pain, but the end result is those dreaded striations that are woefully referred to as stretch marks.
Cause # 2: unproven but plausible.
For this we must look deeper than stretching. Now we’re getting down to the cellular level, or more specifically, to the hormones and proteins.
Recent research indicates that cortisol, a hormone from a group called glucocorticoids, may be behind rapid weight gain, and the stretch marks that result. When excessively released by the adrenal glands, it apparently drives the body into “survival mode.” This is a condition that produces more fat.
For our cave dweller forebears, this metabolic process was a life-saver. They got through tough times when little food could be found by living off their stores of body blubber. Today, in our culture, where the problem isn’t hunger but a host of diseases either caused or made worse by fat, the last thing we need is a hormone that renders us even fatter, and helps to scar our vulnerable dermises.
And what’s the theoretical trigger that makes this troublemaker get released too much in the first place? Why, it’s that modern-day nemesis, that catch-all explanation, that noun moaned and yelled every day in our world: stress!
Some of the stressors are blameless. The growth spurts of puberty and pregnancy, the regimen of weight-lifting and the strain of anxiety are either natural or inevitable causes. But then there are the stresses caused by negligence, and here comes the litany you know all too well: overeating, malnutrition, dehydration, smoking and alcohol, just to name the most common, are things to either stop or do less of. In other words, with your body stressed out by those unhealthy factors, you’re more likely to get a lot of stretch marks.
Another source of evidence that cortisol causes stretch marks is the people with Cushing’s syndrome. Their cortisol levels are dangerously excessive. Most at risk for this hormonal disorder are the obese, and people with type 2 diabetes. Among other unpleasant symptoms, they tend to develop many stretch marks.
Cortisone, another glucocorticoid hormone, lends even more credence to the conjecture that such hormones are a cause of dermis damage. Cortisone is a weak metabolite of cortisol. It’s used as a therapeutic steroid in creams, lotions and pills. Long-time users of topical cortisone often develop stretch marks at the sites of the applications. This is evidence that cortisone may directly impair the dermis elasticity.
Collagen is a protein, not a hormone, but it ought to be mentioned as the probable cause of the silvery-white hue that stretch marks develop. If you imagine the process as a dramatic animation, then what collagen does is heroic. As the skin comes apart from the stretching, the collagen production is weakened, but it’s not about to retreat. This powerful connector of tissues regroups, and labors to fill in the fissures. The skin there will never again be the same, but thanks to the collagen it’s eventually not livid, and it’s also no longer quite as rutted.
Mission: almost impossible.
After looking at the causes of stretch marks, it’s clear that the prospects for avoiding them are bleak. In order to do that, we must never grow up, never reproduce, never work out, never overeat, never party, and bury our heads like an ostrich so we never get stressed out.