close up of stretch marks

Tiger stripes, angel scratches or stretchies. Irrespective of what you choose to call them, many of us consider stretch marks undesirable. But, the way we perceive stretch marks is rapidly changing. 

Embracing our flaws

The fitness trainer Kayla Itsines displayed her stripes on Instagram. Online fashion retailer ASOS chose not to airbrush these imperfections from their swim suit models. The artist Zinteta has turned stretch marks into works of art.

We are finally being encouraged to accept our bodies with all its flaws, and recognize that 50-80% of us will develop stretch marks. Genes can influence our predisposition to stretch marks, and if you inherit a certain version of the elastin (ELN) gene, it might be nearly impossible to avoid them.

Tears in the skin

Stretch marks (striae distensae) are tears that occur in the dermis, the inner layer of our skin. They tend to start off red or purple, and lose color later as the cells die off. This process leaves areas of skin that are empty and soft to touch.

Pregnancy is the worst culprit. However, bodybuilding, growth spurts, rapid weight gain/loss, and hormonal changes that trigger rapid stretching of the skin can also result in stretch marks.

Collagen and elastin

Two proteins, collagen and elastin makes up the dermis layer of our skin. Collagen gives our skin structure and strength, while elastin gives it elasticity. Our skin retains its shape when stretched because of the dermis.

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Elastin fibres are made of the protein tropoelastin, encoded by the ELN gene. Much of the elastin in our bodies is produced before birth or in the first few years of life. As we age, the amount of elastin we produce goes down drastically.

In fact, by middle-age only a minute amount of elastin is made. So it’s not surprising that ELN was identified as a candidate gene linked to stretch marks.

The cause behind stretch marks

While the exact causes of stretch marks are unknown, a few theories explain why we get them. In one study, researchers were hoping genetic variants could explain why some of us get stretch marks, while others don’t.

They analyzed DNA sequencing data from over 33,000 people and found a variant of the ELN gene (rs7787362) had the most significant association with stretch marks. This form of the ELN gene is thought to affect the composition of the dermis, thereby increasing the risk of stretch marks.

Are you likely to get stretch marks?

Circumstances in life that bless us with stretch marks, like pregnancy or adolescent growth spurts, are noteworthy, even momentous. But, it’s only natural to be envious of the woman with absolutely no skin imperfections, even after having twins. You can uncover your likelihood of developing stretch marks with the DNA Skin Health Test . 

Scientists are hopeful that one day they will be able to treat these blemishes. Until then, we should get on board with Zinteta and embrace our stretch marks for the story they tell of who we are.

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