Stretch marks are red, whitish, or purple streaks in the skin.
Stretch marks occur when skin is stretched too much over time. The elastic fibers just below the skin tear. This tear leaves streaks of indented skin. The elastic fibers are also 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 marksPregnancy, especially if the baby is large
Rapidly gaining or losing weightRapid muscle gainUsing corticosteroid medicationsCertain 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.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
If the cause of stretch marks is not obvious your doctor may look for other causes. These tests may include blood tests.
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.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Factors that will affect your treatment options include: Age of stretch marksConvenience of treatment—may require multiple sessionsCost—usually not covered by medical insuranceYour expectations
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. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/pregnancy-newborns/your-body/changes-in-your-body-during-pregnancy-second-trimester.html. Updated February 2011. Accessed August 11, 2015.
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 August 11, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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