9 Things to Know About Stretch Marks

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN on January 28, 2021
  • Close-up of Caucasian woman holding hands in heart over pregnant belly with stretch marks
    What to Know About Stretch Marks
    What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words ‘stretch marks’? Most likely, you think of pregnancy. Pregnancy is the most common cause of stretch marks—called ‘striae’ in the medical community—usually on the belly and breasts. But did you know stretch marks are common generally and can appear on anyone, even children? Learn about stretch marks, what causes them, and some steps you can take that may make them less noticeable.
  • Close-up of Caucasian skin with stretch marks
    1. A stretch mark is a type of scar.
    Scars occur when skin is injured and it repairs itself. Stretch marks are a type of scar that forms if your skin stretches or shrinks quickly. The stretching and shrinking causes proteins in your skin—collagen and elastin—to break down. The skin then tries to heal itself, but leaves behind the scars we call stretch marks. If you have a stretch mark, you may feel a slight indentation if you touch it. Scars that form on top of your skin may feel like a bump, but stretch marks form below the top layer of skin, leaving an indentation.
  • Cropped image of Caucasian woman's belly with purple stretch marks
    2. Stretch mark appearance can vary.
    Stretch marks can look quite different, varying from person to person. Some people develop a few long, thin lines, while others have stretch marks that appear in bunches. The lines can also be thick and angry looking. For lighter skinned people, the lines are usually reddish or purple at first, fading with time until they are silver/white. For darker skinned people, stretch marks tend to look lighter than the usual skin color.
  • Close-up of Caucasian woman's pregnant belly with stretch marks
    3. Pregnancy is the most common cause of stretch marks.
    Stretch marks caused by pregnancy are called striae gravidarum. During pregnancy, your abdomen grows to accommodate the growing fetus, stretching the skin. This happens with the breasts too, as your breasts prepare to produce milk. Other areas of the body that can develop stretch marks during pregnancy include the thighs, hips, lower back, and buttocks. Some researchers believe pregnancy hormones make skin more vulnerable to tearing, causing the stretch marks.
  • Close-up of young Caucasian girl's leg with stretch marks
    4. Growth spurts among teens can also cause stretch marks.
    Children grow at an astounding rate, often seeming to outgrow their clothes weeks after you bought them. But after infancy, the fastest and most dramatic growth spurt usually happens at puberty. These growth spurts can cause stretch marks because the skin was stretched too quickly. The same thing can happen with rapid weight loss or weight gain – the skin must stretch or shrink to accommodate the change in body shape. Bodybuilders may also develop stretch marks because of how fast their body can change when they’re training, and then again if they stop. Genetics and skin type play a role in the development of stretch marks. If close family members have stretch marks, you’re more likely to have them.
  • Close-up of tube of hydrocortisone cream
    5. Some medicinal creams can cause stretch marks too.
    You can buy corticosteroid creams or ointments over the counter, but if you use this product for too long or inappropriately, they can break down the connecting fibers in the skin. This causes stretch marks to form. If you use a corticosteroid cream or ointment, speak with your pharmacist about the best way to use it. Taking oral (by mouth) corticosteroids, such as prednisone, for long periods can have the same effect. Certain genetic conditions can make you prone to this type of scarring, including Cushing’s syndrome and Marfan syndrome.
  • Cropped image of Caucasian man's torso with stretch marks
    6. You can’t prevent stretch marks.
    There are many home remedies touted to help prevent or eliminate stretch marks. Unfortunately, since the marks are really scars, there aren’t any truly effective ways to stop them other than not gaining and losing significant amounts of weight. Researchers have looked at the various home remedies and they have not found much success with them. Common home treatments include rubbing into the skin almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, or vitamin E. However, some researchers think products containing the herb centella or hyaluronic acid—an acid naturally found in skin—may be helpful.
  • Cropped image of woman rubbing lotion on pregnant belly stretch marks
    7. You may be able to make stretch marks less noticeable.
    While we can’t totally eliminate stretch marks once they’ve formed, there are some steps you can take to make them less noticeable. If your stretch marks bother you, speak with your doctor about your options. The first treatment is often to apply creams containing retinoids. If the stretch marks are fairly new (only a few months old), this type of cream may help rebuild collagen, making the marks less noticeable.
  • Young woman undergoing laser skin treatment on back
    8. Cosmetic stretch mark treatments may also help.
    Aside from the retinoid creams, there are some procedures that a dermatologist may perform to reduce the appearance of obvious stretch marks. The procedures include light and laser therapies, which may also help stimulate collagen or elastin growth. Chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and laser therapy can remove a fine layer of skin, allowing for new skin regrowth. Radiofrequency and ultrasound also may help remove the scar tissue. It may take several appointments and more than one type of procedure before you see results.
  • Young female Caucasian patient with smiling female Caucasian doctor
    9. Some stretch marks require medical attention.
    Stretch marks are painless and don’t pose a health risk. People who find their stretch marks disturbing may want to see a dermatologist to discuss options to make them less noticeable. However, if you develop stretch marks without any obvious cause, such as weight gain or loss, or pregnancy, it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor to rule out any health issues that you might not be aware of.
9 Things to Know About Stretch Marks: Causes & Treatments
  1. Are Pregnancy Stretch Marks Different? American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/your-pregnancy/are-pregnancy-stretchmarks-different/
  2. Stretch marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them. American Academy of Dermatology Association. https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/skin-care/stretch-marks
  3. Stretch Marks. TeensHealth from Nemours. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/stretch-marks.html
  4. Stretch Marks. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stretch-marks/symptoms-causes/syc-20351139
  5. Stretch Marks (Striae). Oakley AM, Patel BC. Stretch Marks (Striae) [Updated 2018 Nov 18]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436005/
  6. Stretch Marks. MedlinePlus, U.S National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003287.htm
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 28
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