Skincare & Pregnancy with Dr. Patricia Lo, MD
Stretch Marks and Varicose Veins
The team behind our signature serums at Versine includes Dr. Patricia Lo, a board-certified OBGYN currently in private practice in California.
In this blog post, Dr. Lo explains what stretch marks and varicose veins are, as well as the available treatments and preventative measures for each.
Dr. Patricia Lo
Skin changes during pregnancy can be intimidating. One of the most common questions I get from my patients at the first pregnancy visit is "How do I prevent stretch marks?". Often regarded as battle scars of pregnancy and affecting up to 90% of women during pregnancy, let's dig into how stretch marks are formed and the treatment options available.
"What are stretch marks?"
Stretch marks are scars formed due to disruption of collagen and elastin in the deep layer of the skin known as the dermis. Stretch marks are often seen as indented lines that can appear in a wide range of colors, from purple to pink to silver.
They are found commonly in the midsection of the belly during pregnancy but can also affect the hips, buttocks, breasts and arms. Risk factors for stretch marks include family history and amount of pregnancy weight gain. Women giving birth to multiples also face a greater risk of stretch marks.
"How can we prevent stretch marks?"
Unfortunately, there are very few things clinically shown to prevent stretch marks. Slow, steady weight gain during pregnancy decreases the risk of stretch marks formation, compared to rapid weight gain. Average recommended weight gain for a woman with a normal body mass index is about 25 to 35 pounds during her pregnancy.
In terms of topical creams, the aisles of stretch mark creams on the market are overwhelming. Overall there is no evidence that any of the over-the-counter topical creams are effective in preventing stretch marks. In research studies, neither almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, nor vitamin E prevented stretch marks.
Researchers have found that products containing Centella asiatica (also known as Gotu Kola) may be helpful in preventing new stretch marks in pregnant women who had already developed stretch marks prior to pregnancy. The evidence is limited for creams containing Centella asiatica but worth exploring.
"Are there ways to get rid of stretch marks?"
Since stretch marks are scars, they are permanent. However, there may be ways to alleviate the discomfort associated with stretch marks and to also help reduce their appearance. Prescribed topical medications containing hyaluronic acid or tretinoin may help relieve itching associated with early stretch marks. While a few large studies have shown tretinoin, a topical retinoid, somewhat effective in reducing the appearance of early stretch marks, their use during pregnancy should be limited.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a moisturizer to reduce itchiness and to use sunless tanning products to hide the marks. Dermatologists can also use procedures like ultrasound, radiofrequency, and microneedling to reduce the appearance of stretch marks post-pregnancy.
"What about varicose veins?"
Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged, cord-like veins commonly noted during pregnancy. Varicose veins mostly develop on the legs but can also occur in other areas, such as the vulva. Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause veins to dilate and blood volume to increase. This can easily cause varicose veins. Even though it is not medically harmful, varicose veins can cause discomfort physically and emotionally. Symptoms of varicose veins include an achy or heavy feeling in the legs; and itching, burning or throbbing sensations. Standing or sitting for long periods of time can increase these symptoms.
"How can we prevent and treat varicose veins?"
Lifestyle changes such as exercising, elevating the legs and wearing compression stockings can help alleviate symptoms of varicose veins during pregnancy. Compression stockings apply pressure to the veins and can be found over-the-counter or customized through various companies. Most varicose veins occurring during pregnancy will improve postpartum.
Procedures like sclerotherapy and laser therapy are offered by dermatologists for persistent and bothersome varicose veins. Sclerotherapy is a procedure in which the doctor injects leg veins with a solution that scars and closes the veins. Within a few weeks the injected veins should fade. Laser treatments help to close off smaller varicose veins by applying strong bursts of light to the vein. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you have bothersome varicose veins after your pregnancy.
Skin changes during pregnancy can be intimidating. The good thing is most stretch marks and varicose veins do improve in appearance with time.
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