Stretch Marks

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks are scars. They are long, narrow streaks that appear when skin is stretched. Medically, stretch marks are called striae.

Stretch marks are most commonly seen during pregnancy, but can also occur when someone grows quickly, as a teen might, or if someone quickly loses weight.

The marks are caused by the rapid stretch and release of the skin, most commonly on the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs. Stretch marks are not a medical issue. Some people may find them to be cosmetically unappealing, but they do not cause harm or pain.

Certain topical creams can help lessen the appearance of stretch marks, and some cosmetic surgeons offer laser skin resurfacing as a treatment for stretch marks. However, there is no treatment to remove stretch marks completely. The appearance of stretch marks may fade over time.

What are the symptoms of stretch marks?

Stretch marks can look different from person to person, depending on the location and the color of the person’s skin. The most common stretch marks may look like:

  • Indented streaks

  • Parallel streaks or lines along the skin

  • Red, bluish or purplish lines

Stretch marks can be itchy, too.

What do stretch marks look like?

Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body but most often develop on or around the abdomen, arms, breasts, buttocks, or legs.

Close-up of young Caucasian girl's leg with stretch marks
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Close-up of African American woman's back and side with stretch marks
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Cropped image of Caucasian woman's belly with purple stretch marks
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What causes stretch marks?

Rapid weight loss or weight gain puts stress on the skin. As the skin grows, the middle layer of the skin can separate, causing the stretch mark scars.

What are the risk factors for stretch marks?

Anyone can develop stretch marks, but there are a few risk factors that could increase the chances of them occurring. Risk factors for stretch marks include:

  • Being female

  • Breast implant surgery

  • Bodybuilding

  • Family history of stretch marks

  • Genetic condition, such as Cushing’s syndrome or Marfan’s syndrome

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

  • Rapid or excessive weight change, either gain or loss

  • Rapid growth as a teen

  • Rapid muscle gain

  • Using anabolic steroids

How do you prevent stretch marks?

There are many suggestions about how you can prevent stretch marks. While none is 100% effective, these steps may help reduce the look of the scars that do appear.

You may be able to prevent or lower your risk of stretch marks by:

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Gaining weight slowly when pregnant

  • Keeping an even body weight

  • Staying hydrated by drinking 6 to 8 of water or other fluids every day

How do doctors diagnose stretch marks?

Doctors can diagnose stretch marks by looking at them and, if needed, by taking a medical history to check for weight gain or weight loss.

What are the treatments for stretch marks?

While some people may find stretch marks to be unsightly, they do not have any effect on your overall health, nor can they cause any complications.

Some people find that rubbing centella or hyaluronic acid may lessen the appearance of stretch marks. Others recommend rubbing oils, like almond or coconut oil, or vitamin E on the skin, but these have not scientifically been proven to help.

Most stretch marks start to fade within 6 to 12 months.

Some doctors offer laser resurfacing treatment to remove or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. However, because stretch marks are primarily a cosmetic issue, these procedures often are not covered by insurance. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of laser resurfacing treatments if you have strong concerns about the appearance of stretch marks.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 4
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Oakley AM, Patel BC. Stretch Marks. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436005/
  2. Stretch marks. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stretch-marks/symptoms-causes/syc-20351139
  3. Stretch Marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them. American Academy of Dermatology Association. https://www.aad.org/public/cosmetic/scars-stretch-marks/stretch-marks-why-appear
  4. Laser Skin Resurfacing. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. https://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/laser-skin-resurfacing