It’s estimated that 50 to 80 percent of people will acquire stretch marks at some point in their lives (yes, that includes model Chrissy Teigen, who’s unabashedly shown off her marked thighs on Instagram). Their development is pretty much inevitable: As women, the only thing guaranteed about our bodies is that they’ll change. With puberty, with natural weight fluctuation, and especially with pregnancy, our hips can widen, our thighs may expand, our bellies and boobs could balloon.
Though they’re both harmless and so common, stretch marks can have a significant impact on our emotional relationship to our bodies, namely post-pregnancy. “Because stretch marks may compound the stress of new motherhood for many women, it’s important to learn more about them,” says Dr. Frank Wang, MD, the lead author of a new study examining the way stretch marks actually form on the skin. “Some women feel like their self-esteem, quality of life, and willingness to engage in certain activities are affected.”
As part of the research, the results of which were published online recently in the British Journal of Dermatology, samples were taken from the stretch marks and surrounding skin of 27 pregnant women, then examined using 3-D imaging. Researchers found that pregnancy “markedly disrupted” the skin’s stretchy elastic fiber network, which is generally responsible for allowing skin to “snap” back into place when you stretch it. When the elasticity is disrupted in this manner, your body isn’t able to repair itself, so stretch marks form.
Oh, and that “stretch mark removal cream” you apply religiously? Most of those products aren’t actually able to target the molecular cause—there’s really no way for those over-the-counter topicals to treat it. What can be beneficial is a proactive approach to the marks’ development: Always keep your skin well-hydrated and happy. And for the love of god, don’t drive yourself crazy over unsightly marks that you share with the vast majority of the human population.