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What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks (striae) are discolored, slightly sunken (depressed), scar-like lines in your skin. They appear when your skin rapidly stretches or shrinks.
Stretch marks generally appear on your:
- Abdominal area (stomach).
- Breasts (boobs).
- Upper arms.
- Lower back.
- Buttocks (butt).
Who do stretch marks affect?
Anyone can get stretch marks. But you’re more likely to develop stretch marks if:
- You’re pregnant, especially if you’re Black, Hispanic, East Asian or South Asian.
- You suddenly gain or lose a lot of weight.
- Your muscles get bigger quickly through bodybuilding or weightlifting.
- You’re experiencing a growth spurt during adolescence.
- You have a family history of stretch marks (genetics).
- You have Cushing’s syndrome or Marfan syndrome.
- You’ve been on prednisone long term.
How common are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are common. Between 50% and 90% of all people who are pregnant develop stretch marks.
How do stretch marks affect my body?
Stretch marks don’t hurt, but they can affect your mental health. They can make you worry about how others look at you. They can also affect how you think about yourself and your behavior. You may experience stress, anxiety and depression.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of stretch marks?
Stretch mark symptoms may include:
- Sunken lines in your skin.
- Discoloration (red, pink, blue, black, purple or brown).
- Skin gradually becomes glossy and appears streaked in silver or white.
What causes stretch marks?
When your skin rapidly stretches or shrinks, it causes the elastin and collagen in your skin to break. Elastin’s main role is to allow your skin to stretch. Collagen’s main role is to provide structure, strength and support to your skin. As your skin heals, stretch marks appear in areas where elastin breaks.
Are stretch marks contagious?
No, stretch marks aren’t contagious. You can’t spread stretch marks through skin-to-skin contact.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are stretch marks diagnosed?
Stretch marks are easy to diagnose. You don’t necessarily need your healthcare provider to diagnose them.
If you see your healthcare provider, they’ll conduct a physical examination and look over your medical history. If they suspect that your stretch marks are a symptom of Cushing’s syndrome, they may order additional tests.
Management and Treatment
How are stretch marks treated?
In general, treating stretch marks is difficult. Treatment improves the appearance of stretch marks, but they may not go away completely. Addressing your stretch marks when they first appear yields the best results. Older, deep stretch marks may be more challenging to treat.
Treatment options include:
Laser skin resurfacing
Laser skin resurfacing is a type of surgery. Your healthcare provider directs short, concentrated, pulsating beams of light on your stretch marks. The laser removes layers of your skin very precisely, which stimulates the growth of new collagen fibers to create smoother skin.
You should see an immediate difference after treatment. Your skin may continue to improve for up to a year, and the improvement may last for several years.
Side effects may include the appearance of small white bumps on your skin (milia), swelling, dark areas of skin (hyperpigmentation) and light areas of skin (hypopigmentation).
Dermabrasion is a type of surgery. Your healthcare provider uses a specialized instrument to scrape away your stretch marks. The process improves your skin contour and results in smooth new skin.
It will likely take at least two weeks for your skin to heal. You should see full, complete results several weeks or months after the procedure.
Side effects may include milia, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, swelling and enlarged pores.
During microneedling, your healthcare provider pokes your skin with thin needles. The tiny punctures stimulate the growth of new collagen and elastin fibers to create firmer skin. Most people require between three and six treatments to see results.
Some people see full, complete results within four to six months. But it may take longer.
Side effects may include irritation, discoloration, swelling and flaky skin.
Retinol comes from vitamin A. It’s an ingredient in many over-the-counter (OTC) anti-aging skin care creams because of its ability to improve wrinkles, skin texture and your skin’s hydration levels.
Retinol creams may require at least six months of regular use before you see noticeable results.
Side effects may include dry skin, irritation, discoloration and light sensitivity.
Are there any home remedies for stretch marks?
Research suggests that some home remedies may help treat or prevent stretch marks, including:
- Aloe vera gel.
- Hyaluronic acid.
- Centella asiatica herb.
Gently massage the product into your stretch marks every day for the best results. It may take several weeks before you start seeing results.
If you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
Does cocoa butter get rid of stretch marks?
Many people believe that cocoa butter, coconut oil, olive oil and almond oil help improve stretch marks. However, studies show that they don’t effectively treat or prevent stretch marks.
Do stretch marks go away?
Stretch marks will eventually go away or become less noticeable on their own. You don’t necessarily need to treat your stretch marks.
How long do stretch marks take to fade?
In general, stretch marks take between six and 12 months to fade. With treatment, they often fade faster.
How can I reduce my risk of developing stretch marks?
You can’t do anything that guarantees that you won’t develop stretch marks. But a combination of hydration, diet and exercise can help reduce your risk.
Drink plenty of water. Water helps keep your skin stay soft, so you’re less likely to develop stretch marks.
Drinking caffeine can also increase your risk of developing stretch marks. If you drink a lot of coffee, tea or soda pop, it’s a good idea to drink as much — or more — water.
It’s also a good idea to eat foods that promote healthy skin, including foods:
- Rich in zinc, such as nuts or fish.
- High in vitamins A, C and D, such as carrots, citrus fruits and milk.
- Rich in protein, such as lentils, beans, broccoli, lean beef and chicken.
Exercise increases circulation and helps your body produce collagen. Increased circulation and collagen help your skin stay strong and stretchy.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have stretch marks?
Stretch marks may be difficult to treat, but they aren’t harmful to your physical health. They’ll also become less noticeable over time, even without treatment.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
It isn’t necessary to see your healthcare provider about stretch marks. But it’s a good idea if your stretch marks cover a large area of your skin or you’d like to explore treatment options. Certain stretch mark creams or medications may cause bad skin reactions.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- What’s causing my stretch marks?
- Could anything else cause my stretch marks?
- What are my treatment options?
- What’s the complete list of side effects for each treatment option?
- Should I make any changes to my diet?
- When can I expect to see results?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Stretch marks are a common condition that can affect anyone. Despite how common they are, you may not like how stretch marks look on your body. Talk to your healthcare provider about how you can reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Together, you can decide what treatment is best for you.
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