Apothecary Marián García.

Practically every day at the pharmacy I talk to many pregnant women offering them advice on different topics and I have always been surprised how unconcerned most of them are about stretch marks… until they appear that is!

When a pregnant woman gets out of the shower one morning and looks in horror at the first signs on her skin, that’s when she is most likely to come to the pharmacy looking for a solution. Is there anything we can do to avoid this shock?

Why do stretch marks appear during pregnancy?

They are mainly due to two things:

  • Physical: As the volume increases there is greater strain on the skin and this can lead to the dermal fibres rupturing.
  • Hormonal: Especially after the second term there is an increase in hormones (oestrogens and progestogens) that reduce the productions of fibrous proteins in the dermis and therefore decrease the skin’s elasticity.

Additionally, the skin’s ability to withstand the strain is determined genetically, therefore there is a significant hereditary element regarding the appearance of stretch marks.

How can we detect the onset of a stretch mark?

Before the stretch mark appears, the affected area turns pinkish and you may notice a feeling of itching and burning. If these signs appear the pregnant women should be alert because a red stretch mark may be about to emerge. This is the initial phase of a stretch mark that still has irrigation and needs to be treated quickly. Once the stretch mark takes on its typical white colour it’s as if it has “scarred over” and it is very difficult to reverse the process.

When should you start to take care to prevent the appearance of stretch marks?

The first thing you need to know is that it is important to combat stretch marks right from the very first moment you find out you’re pregnant. There is the mistaken belief that there is no need to worry “until you notice your belly growing” when in fact, the opposite is true: when your belly starts growing it may already be too late.

The five key points to prevent stretch marks

1. Diet. It is essential to ensure the correct amount of:

- Proteins.
- Vitamins: in this case we can highlight the ones that are most relevant for the skin, namely A, C, E and K.
- Essential fatty acids: At the European Conference for the Consensus Recommendation regarding Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids for pregnant and lactating women”, the experts in nutrition, obstetrics and neonatologists, concluded that the daily intake of DHA should be 200 mg.

2. Hydration via the oral route. It is important to ensure internal hydration of the skin by drinking plenty of water. The European Food Safety Authority suggests increasing the general recommendations for women by 300 ml (around two litres a day).

3. Protection from the sun: UVA rays pass through the epidermis and reach the dermis where they can alter its elasticity. It is very important for pregnant women to avoid exposing their skin directly to the sun, as well as using a quality photoprotector that combines physical and chemical filters.

4. Physical exercise: Physical exercise helps to improve the blood circulation, therefore all pregnant women should get their trainers on and do some kind of sport that is suitable for them.

5. Hydration via the topical route: It is essential for pregnant women to apply a moisturising cream or oil to their skin twice a day as part of their daily routine. There are some active ingredients like Rose hip oil or Centella Asiatica that can be useful as restorative, regenerative and healing agents.

Although the typical pregnancy stretch marks appear on the abdomen, they are also quite common on the hips, thighs, buttocks and breasts, therefore it is important to remember to apply the anti-stretch mark cream to these areas too.

In short…

Although genetics plays a significant role in the appearance of stretch marks, there are also many other factors that we can control to prevent them, so if you are pregnant or think you might be… don’t waste another minute!

Remember you can always ask your pharmacist about which anti-stretch marks products will best suit your needs and preferences.