Why are stretch marks treated differently from so many other skin issues?
They can impact up to 90% of women during pregnancy and countless others for a variety of reasons. Many patients often feel their concerns aren’t taken seriously. University of Michigan researchers think they should be.
“For the longest time, no one really had any good idea of, you know, why stretch marks form,” Dr. Frank Wang said.
Wang has been studying stretch marks at the molecular level for 15 years. He said the impact is more than skin deep.
“During our studies what we are finding is that when we are enrolling patients, when we are recruiting patients to participate in our study, uniformly patients were upset about their stretch marks,” he said.
His latest study focuses on the emotional and psychological impact.
“We surveyed around 116 pregnant women who had developed stretch marks in the current pregnancy,” he said.
A team of researchers from Michigan Medicine found the women were most concerned about whether their stretch marks were permanent.
“Many of our participants indicated that they were embarrassed quite a bit about their skin lesions,” he said. “It impacted their quality of life, the choice of their attire, social activities and even interpersonal relationships.”
The study also revealed concerns about stretch marks may contribute to depression or anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum.
Wang said stretch marks are formed when the collagen and elastic fibers, which provide support and elasticity to the skin, are damaged.
“It seems that excessive stretching of the skin during pregnancy really breaks apart these proteins, these components of the skin,” he said.
So why is everyone so reluctant to talk about stretch marks and take them seriously?
“I think a lot of people simply view stretch marks as something that comes along with pregnancy. It’s just part of the process and to be accepted,” he said.
Wang also believes the lack of effective options to prevent or treat stretch marks discourages some doctors from discussing them. He wants to normalize that conversation.
“It’s OK for providers to ask if stretch marks bother patients and to even offer some tips,” he said. “It’s OK to have spots like this bother you. It’s OK. It’s normal and it’s OK to bring it up to medical providers.”
Wang hopes bringing more attention to the emotional impact of stretch marks will encourage more funding to find effective solutions.
The study looked specifically at the impact of stretch marks during pregnancy, but stretch marks can also form during growth spurts or weight gain or from the use of topical or oral corticosteroids.
He said it’s time to stop dismissing stretch marks as a cosmetic issue and acknowledge the importance of finding better solutions.
He said genetics do play a role in raising or lowering your risk of developing stretch marks, but there are many other factors that researchers are working to identify.