Stretch marks are indented streaks or lines that develop on the skin. They are extremely common; anyone can get them, more so women than men.
Like other scars, striae are permanent but usually fade over time. And although harmless and painless, they are a significant cosmetic concern for some people.
Signs and Symptoms Of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks appear as bands of lines running across your skin. They typically show up in areas where your body stores fat.
These include your hips, stomach, thighs, flanks, breasts, lower back, and upper arms.
The color and texture vary depending on how long you’ve had them, your skin type and color, and where they appear on your body.
New stretch marks may be red, pink, purple, reddish-brown, or dark brown. They feel raised and can be itchy or sore.
In time, they fade and flatten, becoming a little lighter than the rest of your skin. Several treatments can bring about these improvements in appearance quicker.
Causes Of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks, medically known as striae or striae distensae, form in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin.
When your skin rapidly or suddenly stretches or shrinks, the connective tissue in the dermis rupture, resulting in unsightly streaks on your skin surface.
An inflammatory reaction within the skin characterized by dilation of blood vessels is responsible for the reddish-purple color of early stretch marks. Following collagen remodeling in the affected area, they eventually become pale.
How severe they depend on several factors, including the degree of stress on your skin and genetics.
Cortisol, a steroid hormone produced and released by adrenal glands, also plays a role as it weakens the elastic fibers in the skin.
Risk Factors Of Stretch Marks
While anyone can develop stretch marks, some people have a higher likelihood of getting them due to factors such as:
- Corticosteroid use: using corticosteroid creams and lotions for a lengthy period can decrease collagen levels in the skin. Collagen strengthens and supports the skin, so a reduced amount increases the risk of striae.
- Pregnancy: 50-90% of women develop stretch marks when pregnant or after childbirth.
- Genetics: if you have family members with stretch marks, you’re more likely to get them.
- Rapid weight gain or loss: quickly putting on or losing weight puts you at a higher risk of developing them.
- Rapid muscle development: bodybuilding can lead to your muscles rapidly increasing in size, causing your skin to stretch and streaks to appear.
- Medical conditions: striae can be due to endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s and Marfan syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome occurs due to high cortisol levels in the body symptoms may include wide reddish-purple streaks. Marfan syndrome affects the elasticity and strength of connective tissue.
- Puberty: growth spurts, short periods of rapid and intense increase in height and weight, can cause stretch marks in adolescents.
Stretch Marks on Thighs
Stretch marks commonly appear on the inner and outer thighs, especially in females during adolescence and pregnancy.
They occur when the skin on the thighs stretches due to muscle growth, weight gain, or medical conditions.
New striae on your thighs will appear as raised pink or purple linear streaks. As they age, they will become white or silver in appearance.
Stretch Marks on Arms
Stretch marks on your biceps may be due to obesity, adolescent growth spurt, or rapid muscle/weight gain.
Rapid muscle development causes your skin to stretch too quickly to accommodate larger muscles, causing stretch marks.
So instead, you should grow your muscles gradually and avoid using steroids as they encourage rapid muscle gain.
Stretch Marks from Losing Weight
Any rapid changes in skin shape, including excessive skin shrinkage caused by losing weight too quickly, can cause stretch marks.
If you lose a significant amount of weight within a short period, excess skin can cause stretching and tearing. So, if you’re planning to lose weight, don’t change your diet and workout routine drastically. Do it gradually.
It’s also worth noting that losing weight will not reduce stretch marks. They may become more visible when you shed the extra pounds.
Stretch Marks After Pregnancy
Stretch marks can occur due to the body changes your body undergoes during pregnancy and postpartum. They mainly occur on the breasts, abdomen, and thighs.
It’s normal to see an increase in cup size as your pregnancy progresses. And once your milk comes in a few days after giving birth, your breasts become even larger. These rapid breast changes can result in stretch marks.
During pregnancy, your skin stretches considerably to accommodate the growing bump. If your postpartum belly deflates quickly, striae may develop.
Can Stretch Marks Go Away?
Stretch marks don’t go away. But with time, they fade, becoming less noticeable.
And while their permanence is not a health concern, it can bring about issues with self-image and anxiety in some people, affecting their day-to-day living.
How To Get Rid Of Stretch Marks
Stretch marks don’t require treatment. But if they bother you and you are looking for how to get rid of your stretch marks or make them fade away, some treatments can help improve their texture and appearance much more quicker. However, there’s little medical evidence supporting their effectiveness.
These treatments include:
- Retinoid cream: retinoids such as tretinoin can improve the appearance of new stretch marks by rebuilding collagen. If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you should not use topical retinoids as they can cause harm to the unborn baby.
- Light and laser treatments: dermatologists use various light and laser therapies to reduce the visibility of stretch marks. Fractional laser resurfacing, for instance, stimulates the growth of new collagen in the dermis of the targeted area.
- Microdermabrasion: fine crystals or a diamond-tipped wand are used to sand the top layer of your skin.
- Microneedling: involves puncturing the skin with tiny sterilized needles to stimulate collagen production.
- Tummy tuck: abdominoplasty removes excess skin on the abdomen and any depressed streaks on the excised skin.
When Should You Seek Help From a Dermatologist?
A dermatologist can recommend more effective treatments if you have tried several over-the-counter stretch mark treatments and aren’t getting any results.
Additionally, while stretch marks pose no health risk, they could signify an underlying condition, such as Cushing’s syndrome. You should, therefore, see a doctor or dermatologist if you notice any of the following:
- Large, widespread stretch marks
- A rounded face
- Thinning skin that bruises easily
- Fatty hump between the shoulder blades
- Weight gain in your upper body, but thin arms and legs
If your doctor suspects you have high cortisol levels, you may be given a cortisol test.
A confirmed Cushing’s syndrome diagnosis will require additional tests to know the source of the problem, which will help determine the best treatment.
Stretch marks, also known as striae, are indented streaks that often affect the breasts, abdomen, thighs, buttocks, or other places in the body subjected to continuous stretching.
Anyone can get striae, but pregnancy, adolescent growth spurts, and bodybuilding increase the likelihood of getting them. Genetics and endocrine disorders also play a role.
Stretch marks aren’t painful or harmful, but their presence can profoundly impact self-confidence in some people.
In this case, various treatments, including retinoid creams and laser and light therapies, can help them fade much more quickly. But they won’t go away completely.
- McAvoy B. R. (2013). No evidence for topical preparations in preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. The British Journal of General Practice, 63(609), 212. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp13X665431.
- Elsedfy H. (2020). Striae distensae in adolescents: A mini review. Acta Biomed, 91(1), 176-81. https://doi.org/10.23750/abm.v91i1.9248.
- Hague, A., & Bayat, A (2007). Therapeutic targets in the management of striae distensae: A systematic review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 77(3), 559-568. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(17)30300-6/fulltext
- Stretch marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them. (n.d.). https://www.aad.org/public/cosmetic/scars-stretch-marks/stretch-marks-why-appear.
- What Causes Stretch Marks After Losing Weight? (2016). https://www.stretchmarks.org/blog/2016/10/causes-stretch-marks-losing-weight/
- Laser Therapy for Stretch Marks. (n.d.). https://www.asds.net/skin-experts/skin-treatments/laser-light-therapy/laser-therapy-for-stretch-marks