Stretch marks are red, whitish, or purple streaks in the skin.
Stretch marks occur when skin is stretched too much over a short period of time. The elastic fibers just below the skin tear. This tear leaves streaks of indented skin.
The elastic fibers may also be weakened by hormones present during pregnancy. These hormones may also be associated with rapid weight gain or certain medical conditions.
Stretch marks are common in pregnancy.
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Stretch marks are more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of stretch marks include:
- Family history of stretch marks
- Pregnancy, especially if the baby is large
- Rapidly gaining or losing weight
- Rapid muscle gain
- Rapid growth
- Using corticosteroid medicines
- Certain medical conditions, such as adrenal gland disorders
Stretch marks are red or purple streaks that are slightly indented. They eventually turn whitish in color. They are most common on the stomach, thighs, buttocks, and breasts, but may also occur in other areas. The stretched skin may also be dry or itchy.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.
The doctor may look for answers if the cause is not clear.
Most stretch marks fade over time without treatment. Some people may want faster results or deeper fading of stretch marks. In general, the current treatments are limited and do not work well.
Factors that will affect your treatment options include:
- Age of stretch marks
- Convenience of treatment—may require multiple sessions
- Cost—usually not covered by medical insurance
- Expectations about outcomes
Treatment options include the following:
Tretinoin cream may help to lessen the appearance of stretch marks. It is most effective on stretch marks that are less than 6 weeks old and still red or pink in color.
It should not be used during pregnancy.
Laser therapy can stimulate the growth of collagen and elastin. It may decrease the appearance of stretch marks.
There are no proven methods for preventing stretch marks. Staying within recommended weight gain guidelines during pregnancy may help. If you are not pregnant, maintain a healthy weight.
Lotions have not been proven to prevent stretch marks. They may be helpful to moisturize and soothe itchiness.
Elsaie ML, Baumann LS, Elsaaiee LT. Striae distensae (stretch marks) and different modalities of therapy: an update. Dermatol Surg. 2009;35(4):563-73.
Changes in your body during pregnancy: second trimester. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/pregnancy-newborns/your-body/changes-in-your-body-during-pregnancy-second-trimester.html. Updated October 2015. Accessed March 25, 2020.
Treatments of common complaints in pregnant women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/management/treatments-of-common-complaints-in-pregnant-women. Updated March 19, 2020. Accessed March 25, 2020.
Stretch marks (striae). New Zealand Dermatological Society DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/dermal-infiltrative/striae.html. Updated June 16, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2020.
Last reviewed June 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mary-Beth Seymour, RN
Last Updated: 6/3/2021