Itchy stretch marks got you scratching your head (and everywhere else), wondering what is going on? Don't worry; you're not alone, as many people who have stretch marks experience tingly tiger stripes.
We usually hear about ways to make them disappear or alternatively, we're bombarded with messages of self-love telling us to embrace and celebrate our "tiger stripes." And while this is 100 per cent true, isn't it also true that stretch marks can be uncomfortable?
So, let's talk about why your stretch marks might be itchy and how to manage itchy skin.
If you have itchy skin stretch marks, it usually means three things;
- There are more forming
- The skin is healing
- Skin dryness
Itchy stretch marks are nothing to worry about, especially once you've scratched the proverbial itch and found out exactly what is causing them.
Before we scratch the surface of what is causing your scratchy surface, let's chat more about stretch marks and their causes.
What are stretch marks?
When the middle layer of skin (the dermis) stretches and tears, AKA dermal tearing, small scars form on the top layer of skin (the epidermis).
These scars are what we call stretch marks, or striae or, during pregnancy, striae gravidarum — if you're a fancy science person.
Puberty, pregnancy, or anything else that causes rapid weight gain is the usual culprit for stretching skin.
From sun-kissed freckles to the smile lines around your eyes, a well lived-life leaves its mark, and stretch marks are no exception to this.
Whether you earned your stripes from growing up or growing a human, stretch marks are a part of life.
Despite what social media and tabloid magazines try to tell us, stretch marks are entirely normal and aren't always the result of a large amount of weight gain. Even people who gain a little amount of weight during puberty and pregnancy develop stretch marks.
And while this is completely normal, stretch marks can still be uncomfortable, especially while they're forming.
To better understand the reasons for these scratchy scars, we need to talk about the healing process and other normal skin changes.
Does itchy skin mean stretch marks?
Itchy skin can indicate stretch marks during pregnancy, but it's not always the case. If you're growing a tiny human, increasing pregnancy hormones and the increasing size of your growing belly can also cause dryness and itching for other reasons.
But in general, scratchy skin doesn't always mean stretch marks.
Dry skin causes itchy skin, and even those of us with a 12-step skincare routine full of magical coconut oil-unicorn-blood hydrating products can fall victim to the dreaded dehydration.
Allergies, skin pigment changes, skin conditions, medications, illness, sun exposure, drying products, hot showers, and more can cause dry skin.
Drinking water, applying moisturiser and trying to avoid sun exposure is great for fighting skin dryness.
But, when it comes to itchy skin stretch marks, things can be a little bit trickier.
Why are my stretch marks itchy?
Many factors are responsible for making your stretch marks itch, including stretching skin, dryness, compromised skin barriers, healing skin and more.
But, the two major causes are; skin dryness and the scars caused by tearing.
As we now know, stretch marks and rapid weight gain go hand in hand, but did you know losing weight can also cause itchy stretch marks?
This is because stretch marks tend to itch while they're progressing. While it is more common during the formation, the itching can flare up during any weight changes.
This is because stretch-marked skin is thinner, thanks to the tearing. The delicate surface leaves the nerve effectors exposed and more sensitive to irritants which causes itchy skin.
When healing, your nerves generate an itching sensation while the dermal tearing is being repaired.
Dermal tearing also causes skin dryness, which causes itching, especially during pregnancy. Small holes form on the skin's surface and allow moisture to evaporate more quickly. So the less moisture, the drier it becomes.
But why is this worse for pregnant women?
Itchy stretch marks in pregnancy
As well as making us cry after dropping a spoon or putting our keys in the fridge, pregnancy hormones can also make your striae gravidarum itchier.
Pregnant women develop stretch marks that are prone to itching for the same reasons as non-pregnant people. But, because pregnancy isn't hard enough, there are a few bonus causes for your crawly complexion.
As pregnancy progresses, our skin's surface barrier becomes compromised, and women develop redness, blotchy skin and all kinds of lovely breakouts.
Unfortunately, this also means the tissue usually protecting our skin is weaker and more prone to tearing, thus more prone to stretch marks, dryness and itching.
Another cause for itching stretch marks during pregnancy is a skin condition called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) — which are about as fun to have as they are hard to say.
But, don't fret. It's not a serious condition (it's just seriously annoying).
PUPPP is a raised rash with highly itchy, red bumps with a nasty habit of forming directly within abdominal stretch marks.
Don't worry. You can do a lot to care for your stretch marks during pregnancy.
Of course, these problems aren't exclusive to pregnancy. Postpartum striae can be just as scratchy.
Itchy stretch marks in postpartum
PUPPP often doesn't know when to leave, so it's normal for a persistent itch to stick around, even after the baby's birth.
This, paired with the rush of pregnancy hormones after birth and the stress on your belly, all make for one pretty uncomfortable party.
Labour itself can weaken the top layer of our skin and cause the exposed nerves under the stretch marks to flare up, which can cause some lingering itchiness.
This can also cause more tears to form and leave the skin on your belly dry, which, as we know, dry skin is no friend to a stretch mark.
While itchy stretch marks might sound scary, they're really nothing to worry about!
While we can't tell you how to prevent stretch marks altogether, you can seriously reduce itching with the right treatments.
How to relieve itchy stretch marks during pregnancy
Scratch that itch with some anti-itch creams. Kin's nourishing cream is specially formulated with witch hazel, shea butter and vitamins B3, B5, E and F.
This dream cream is made to soothe your scratchy stretch marks and reduce itching.
Scrub your belly
Exfoliating eliminates dead skin cells, which helps fight dryness and encourage the skin's natural elasticity.
It also promotes blood flow and healing to help that belly bounce back after skin changes.
Pat excess water of your skin to dry
The friction from rubbing a dry towel will only make things worse.
Dabbing (as well as being a cool dance move) is a much gentler way to dry your skin without dehydrating it and irritating your stretch marks.
Massage your belly
A massage is not only relaxing for an expecting mama, but it is also a great way to break up the scar tissue and dead skin cells that irritate stretch marks.
For bonus points, use oil for an extra hydration hit.
Drink more water
Water is the best, right?
Thirsty? Drink some water.
Stressed? Drink some water.
Dry skin? Drink some water.
But for real, drinking more H2O is a simple step to soothing your striae gravidarum. Hydrated and healthy skin is soft, supple and less prone to itchy stretch marks.
Eliminating drying soaps
Certain soaps can be seriously dehydrating, leaving your sensitive stretch marks irritated and itchy.
Avoid nasty ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), fragrances, alcohol, and synthetic dyes. Instead, opt for natural plant-based soaps.
Avoid hot showers
While we women tend to like our showers steamier than a sauna, hot water is a big no for itchy stretch marks.
It feels nice to be all warm and flushed stepping out of the shower, but this brings all the blood to the surface, further irritating your stripes.
So turn the temperature down, ladies.
Avoid sun exposure
Slip, slop, slap and seek shade where possible because the sun and stretch marks don't mix.
Try to avoid the sun if you can, and if you can't, cover up and slather yourself in SPF.