Disclaimer: We assess fitness products through an unbiased, multi-step process. If you decide to buy something using the links we provide, we might receive a commission. Check out our disclaimer page for more information.
Stretch marks are common and can be caused by a variety of factors, including pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, and puberty. They can appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the stomach, breasts, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks. They are not harmful, but they can be unsightly.
Stretch marks are scars that form when the skin stretches or shrinks rapidly. They are often red or purple at first, but they fade to a silvery-white color over time. They are very common, with up to 90% of people having them at some point in their lives.
Stretch marks are caused by the breakdown of collagen and elastin, which are the two main proteins that give skin its strength and elasticity. When the skin is stretched too quickly for example during pregnancy or rapidly growing adolescents, these proteins can’t keep up, and the skin tears. This causes stretch marks to form.
They can appear anywhere on the body, but they are most common on areas that are prone to rapid growth or weight gain, such as the abdomen, breasts, hips, and thighs. They can also appear in areas that are subjected to a lot of friction, such as the inner thighs. They can appear quite everywhere but these are the most common places:
- Upper arms
When you touch them, you may feel a slight ridge or indentation in your skin. They can also be itchy or sore.
They are permanent scars that can change and fade over time. For example, stretch marks from pregnancy typically fade around 6 months after delivery.
Read on to learn more about stretch marks, and to discover treatments that could help make them less noticeable.
Signs of stretch marks
The appearance of these marks can depend on a combination of factors, including:
- Your natural skin tone. People with darker skin tones tend to have stretch marks that are more visible than those with lighter skin tones. This is because the contrast between the stretch marks and the surrounding skin is greater.
- Your skin’s health and elasticity. The health and elasticity of your skin can also affect their appearance. If your skin is healthy and elastic, they are less likely to be visible. However, if your skin is unhealthy or lacks elasticity, they are more likely to be visible.
- The body part affected. The body part affected can also affect their appearance. Stretch marks that appear on the stomach, breasts, and hips are typically more visible than those that appear on other parts of the body. This is because these areas of the body are more prone to stretching.
Signs and symptoms of stretch marks include:
- Indented lines or streaks on the skin. Stretch marks are lines or streaks on the skin that are indented or sunken in.
- Pink, purple, red, bluish, or dark brown streaks. The color of stretch marks can vary depending on your skin tone. They can be pink, purple, red, bluish, or dark brown.
- Thinned, glossy lines in the skin. Stretch marks may also appear as thinned, glossy lines.
- Skin itching and irritation before stretch marks appear. In some cases, people may experience skin itching or irritation before stretch marks appear.
How to get rid of stretch marks
Many products and procedures claim to minimize the appearance of stretch marks, or even make them disappear completely. However, there is little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these products and procedures.
Some suggestions you might have come across include:
- Moisturizing. There is no evidence that moisturizing can minimize or get rid of stretch marks. However, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends gently massaging moisturizer into new stretch marks over the course of several weeks. This may help to improve the appearance of stretch marks by keeping the skin hydrated and elastic.
- Self-tanning lotion. Self-tanning lotion can be used to temporarily minimize the difference in color between the skin and stretch marks. This can make them less noticeable.
- Prescription creams. There are some prescription creams that may help to make early stretch marks less noticeable. These creams typically contain ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and tretinoin, which can help to improve their appearance by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin.
Medical treatments for stretch marks
Stretch marks are scars that often fade with time, but there are treatments that can help improve their appearance faster. While no treatment can make them disappear completely, a dermatologist can offer professional options for minimizing their appearance.
- Tretinoin cream. This cream works by restoring collagen, which helps give skin elasticity. It is best used on recent stretch marks that are red or pink in appearance. However, it may cause skin irritation and should not be used if you are pregnant. This cream is also known as Retin-A and/or Renova.
- Hyaluronic acid cream. This cream may help when applied consistently to early stretch marks. It is generally considered safe for most people to use.
- Pulsed dye laser therapy. This treatment encourages the growth of collagen and elastin. It typically works best on newer stretch marks, but may cause some skin discoloration in people with darker skin tones.
- Fractional photothermolysis. This treatment uses a laser to target small areas of the skin. It works similarly to pulsed dye laser therapy, but with less potential for skin damage.
- Microdermabrasion. This treatment involves polishing the skin with tiny crystals to reveal new skin under the more elastic stretch marks. It may, in some cases, help improve the appearance of older stretch marks.
- Excimer laser therapy. This treatment stimulates skin color (melanin) production so that stretch marks match the surrounding skin more closely.
As mentioned above, they are not curable, but there are treatments that can help improve their appearance. These treatments can be expensive and have some risks, such as swelling, skin irritation, and redness.
The average cost of stretch mark treatments can range from around $167 for microdermabrasion to more than $2,000 for laser therapies, according to a report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. It is important to talk to a doctor or dermatologist to discuss the risks and benefits of any treatment before you decide to pursue it.
What causes stretch marks?
There are 2 main reasons of why stretch marks appear:
- Stretching skin. When the skin stretches too quickly, it can tear the collagen and elastin fibers that give skin its strength and elasticity. This can cause stretch marks to form.
- Increase of cortisone. Cortisone is a hormone that can weaken the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin. This can make it more likely for stretch marks to form.
Cortisone is a hormone that is naturally produced by your adrenal glands. It helps your body respond to stress and inflammation. However, having too much cortisone can lead to a loss of skin elasticity, which can make it more likely for stretch marks to form.
They can occur in various circumstances:
- Pregnancy. The rapid stretching of the skin during pregnancy can cause stretch marks to form. The skin is stretched to accommodate the growing fetus, and this can cause the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin to tear.
- Rapid weight gain or loss. Sudden changes in weight can also cause stretch marks to form. When the skin stretches too quickly, it can tear the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin.
- Puberty. The rapid growth that occurs during puberty can also cause stretch marks to form. As the body grows, the skin may not be able to stretch fast enough, and this can cause the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin to tear.
- Genetics. Some people are more prone to stretch marks than others. This is likely due to genetics, as some people have skin that is more prone to tearing than others.
- Corticosteroid creams, lotions, and pills. Corticosteroids are medications that can be used to treat a variety of conditions, but they can also contribute to stretch marks. Corticosteroids can decrease the skin’s ability to stretch, which can make it more likely for stretch marks to form.
Who is at risk for developing stretch marks?
There are factors that can increase your risk of developing stretch especially if you:
- Are a woman
- Have a family history of stretch marks
- Are pregnant
- Have Marfan syndrome
- Have a history of delivering large babies or twins
- Have a higher body weight
- Experience significant weight loss or gain
- Take corticosteroid medications
How are stretch marks diagnosed?
A dermatologist or other healthcare professional can usually diagnose them by visually inspecting the skin. They may also ask about your medical history, as certain health conditions can contribute to stretch marks, such as:
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Marfan syndrome
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Chronic liver disease
- Anorexia nervosa
If your healthcare professional suspects that a health condition might be causing your stretch marks, they may recommend blood, urine, or imaging tests to help find the underlying cause.
When should I contact a dermatologist?
Stretch marks are a common skin condition that can happen naturally. They are not a cause for concern, but it is important to see a dermatologist if you have other unusual symptoms, such as:
- Unexplained weight gain. This could be a sign of a number of underlying health conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Thin skin. This could be a sign of a condition called pseudoxanthoma elasticum, which can cause the skin to become fragile and easily bruised.
- Bruising easily. This could be a sign of a number of underlying health conditions, such as anemia or blood clotting disorders.
- Muscle weakness and fatigue. This could be a sign of a number of underlying health conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or multiple sclerosis.
- A general sense of unwellness. This could be a sign of a number of underlying health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.
A dermatologist can also help you if your marks are causing you emotional distress or making you feel reluctant to bare your arms, legs, stomach, or other body parts. There are a variety of treatments available to help improve the appearance of stretch marks, and your dermatologist can help you choose the best treatment for you.
How can I prevent stretch marks?
There are some things you can do to help prevent stretch marks, such as staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, and getting regular exercise. These things can help keep your skin healthy and elastic, which can make it less likely to tear when your weight fluctuates.
If you are pregnant, working with a dietitian can help you gain or lose weight safely and steadily, which can also help lower your chances of stretch marks. There is no surefire way to prevent stretch marks completely, but following these tips can help reduce your risk.
It is important to remember that they are natural and common. They are not harmful to your health, and they fade over time. If you are concerned about your stretch marks, you can talk to your doctor or dermatologist.