What happens to skin when it’s stretched?


Researchers found that after women give birth, striae gravidarum (SG) (stretch marks) result if the dermal elastic fiber network gets disrupted and newly synthesized tropoelastin-rich fibrils emerge, according to a study published online in the British Journal of Dermatology (Nov. 8, 2015).

In the study aiming to gain a better understanding of the molecular alternations that occur in stretch marks, the authors concluded that the newly synthesized tropoelastin-rich are thin and disorganized and therefore likely do not function as normal elastic fibres do.

“These observations provide the foundations for elucidating pathogenic mechanisms by which laxity may develop in SG,” the investigators report.

In control skin from the hip (A) and normal-appearing skin from the abdomen (B), elastic fibers responsible

for skin elasticity are intact, forming an intricate mesh-like network. In stretch marks that have recently

formed during pregnancy (C), elastic fibers are lost and replaced by disorganized, thin fibrils, or “strands,”

that persist without forming a normal elastic network. The middle and bottom panels magnify the identified

areas of the top panels. Provided by Michigan Health Systems

Dr. Frank Wang, assistant professor and dermatologist at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich., and his colleagues studied skin samples from 27 pregnant women who had recently-formed stretch marks, comparing the stretch mark skin to both nearby stretched skin on the abdomen and to less-stretched skin on the hip.

Stretch marks affect self-esteem, QoL

Dr. Wang said he has been studying stretch marks for the past eight years because it is a field that has not received much research attention, since stretch marks are not viewed as medically dangerous.

"Because stretch marks may compound the stress of new motherhood for many women, it's important to learn more about them," Dr. Wang said in a press release. "Some women feel like their self-esteem, quality of life, and willingness to engage in certain activities are affected."

Present research of topical treatment options has not found any therapies currently available to effectively repair those disrupted elastic fibers. "Most of the existing products are not based on solid scientific research," he said. "Very few to none of the items touted to prevent or fix stretch marks really work."

He added, "it may, therefore, make more sense to focus on preserving the elastic fibers you have rather than repairing damaged ones within stretch marks."

Dr. Wang has another study in the works, which examines changes in collagen in stretch marks. His team is also studying changes in more established stretch marks that have become less visible, and finishing a survey study of about 200 pregnant women to learn more about the effect of stretch marks on quality of life

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