Stretch Marks

What Are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are set-in streaks that show up on your stomach, breasts, hips, butt, and thighs. These long, thin, rippled marks are also called stria. If you have stretch marks, you probably wish they’d go away. These grooves or lines in your skin aren’t harmful to your health, but they aren’t great to look at, either.

And even though they’ll never really go away, they might fade over time or with help from certain products and procedures.

Stretch Marks Causes and Risk Factors

Stretch marks happen when your body grows quickly for any reason. Your skin can’t stretch enough to keep up.

Collagen is a protein that makes your skin more elastic. If your skin doesn’t have enough, the marks may show up as it stretches.

You may get stretch marks because of:

  • Quick weight gain (this affects both men and women) 

  • Childhood growth spurts during puberty. Make sure kids know this is normal and that childhood marks may fade as they get older.

  • Pregnancy as a result of stretched skin and a surge in hormones that weakens skin fibers. They might fade as you shed pounds after the baby is born.

  • Breast implant surgery

  • Bodybuilding,even those who have little fat can get them where their muscles bulge

  • High amounts of steroids, either from steroid medications or illnesses like Cushing's syndrome

  • Marfan syndrome, a genetic disease that weakens your skin fibers and causes unusual growth

  • Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a group of conditions that result from genetic changes to collagen, a protein in your body

They also run in families.

Stretch Mark Symptoms

New stretch marks may feel slightly raised and itchy. These rippled, streaky lines in your skin come in different colors. They fade from red or pink to purplish-blue to thinner, pale, more scar-like streaks over time. You may not notice them as much.

They can show up on many parts of your body:

  • Arms

  • Back

  • Breasts

  • Buttocks

  • Hips

  • Shoulders

  • Stomach or torso

Stretch Mark Diagnosis

The doctor only has to look at your skin to diagnose them. But they’ll probably ask about your medical history. If you’ve taken either oral or topical steroids for a long time, high cortisol levels in your body might be to blame.

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Stretch Mark Treatments and Home Remedies

A range of medical treatments and home remedies is available to treat your stretch marks. Some work better than others.

Medical treatment for stretch marks

A skin doctor or plastic surgeon can use lasers or other treatments to help fade the marks. It may help your skin make more collagen:

  • Pulsed dye laser therapy is a painless blast of light used on new, red stretch marks. The light’s energy calms blood vessels under your skin that could cause the marks.

  • Fractional CO2 laser therapy is a new treatment that may smooth out old, white stretch marks. One study showed that women’s stretch marks faded after five sessions compared to others who used topical creams with glycolic acid and tretinoin.

  • Excimer laser therapyexposes stretch marks to targeted ultraviolet B (UVB) light. A small study shows that it’s safe and treatments over 1 to 4 months can correct pigment problems from stretch marks. 

  • Microdermabrasion uses tiny crystals to rub off the top layer of your skin. One new study showed that this treatment helped fade new, reddish stretch marks when combined with skin peels.

  • Cosmetic surgery, like a tummy tuck, may remove skin with stretch marks. But these operations could leave scars. Plus they’re often painful and costly.

  • Chemical peelis an acidic solution that burns off the top layers of your skin to remove dead and damaged cells and boost new skin growth. This treatment may improve your stretch marks a little, but won’t completely get rid of them.

  • Radiofrequency uses radio wave energy to create heat and trigger your body to make collagen. One small study found this treatment is safe and can improve stretch marks, but scientists need to do more research.

  • Ultrasound works a lot like radiofrequency treatments. The procedure sends sound waves deep into your skin to heat and tighten and jumpstart collagen production. 

Home remedies for stretch marks

You’ll find many creams, salves, oils, and other skin ointments that claim to either prevent or treat them. But there’s little proof that any of these products really work. Some treatments and home remedies can fade or hide stretch marks:

  • Body makeup and self-tanner: These products can help hide stretch marks. Note that tanning won’t get rid of stretch marks. It actually makes them easier to see. 

  • Tretinoin: Creams with tretinoin (Retin-A) contain retinoid, a compound related to Vitamin A. Retinoids increase collagen production. They’re often used to treat wrinkles. They may help fade newer stretch marks, but they can also make your skin red, irritated, or scaly. 

  • Collagen boosters: StriVectin-SD and lupin seed extracts are both supposed to increase collagen in your skin, but it’s hard to say if they’ll fade or prevent stretch marks.

  • Centella asiatica: This herbal oil boosts cells in your body that make collagen and build up skin tissue. Some people use it to help heal wounds. Centella asiatica is in a number of over-the-counter skin creams for stretch marks, but there’s little proof it helps to fade them.

  • Bitter almond oil: One study showed that women who massaged bitter almond oil into the skin on their bellies during pregnancy had fewer stretch marks than others who just used oil without massage.

  • Cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, vitamin E oil, and other moisturizers: These natural creams can make your skin feel softer, but it isn’t clear if they help or prevent stretch marks.

If you decide to try a cream, lotion, or gel to fade your stretch marks, be sure to use it every day for several weeks. Take the time to massage it into your skin. These products may work best on newer stretch marks.

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Stretch Mark Prevention

It’s possible to prevent stretch marks, but there’s no guarantee. The best way to lower your chances is to stay at a healthy weight, even during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan and how to eat well. 

Products with the ingredients centella and hyaluronic acid may work to prevent stretch marks.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 11, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

MayoClinic.org: “Diagnosis,” “Stretch marks: Overview,” “Symptoms and causes,” “Treatment,” “Stretch Marks,” “Psoriasis.”

National Health Service: “Stretch marks.”

Nemours Foundation KidsHealth: “Stretch Marks.”

UpToDate: “Conditions associated with striae distensae,” “Striae distensae (stretch marks).”

Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology: “Topical management of striae distensae (stretch marks): prevention and therapy of striae rubrae and albae.”

Winchester Hospital: “Gotu Kola.”

Journal of Clinical Nursing: “The effect of bitter almond oil and massaging on striae gravidarum in primiparaous women.”

Journal of Research in the Medical Sciences: “Fractional CO2 laser as an effective modality in treatment of striae alba in skin types III and IV.”

Journal of Cutaneous Aesthetic Surgery: “Evaluation of Various Therapeutic Measures in Striae Rubra.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Stretch Marks: Why They Appear and How to Get Rid of Them.”

Hypermobility Syndromes Association: “Skin in EDS and HSD,” “What is EDS.”

StretchMarks.org: “Chemical Peels: Are they effective for stretch marks?”

The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology : “Evaluation of Safety and Patient Subjective Efficacy of Using Radiofrequency and Pulsed Magnetic Fields for the Treatment of Striae (Stretch Marks).” 

Archives of Dermatology : “The safety and efficacy of the 308-nm excimer laser for pigment correction of hypopigmented scars and striae alba.”  

American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery: “Microfocused Ultrasound.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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