Stretch marks are a form of scarring that appear after your skin quickly stretches or shrinks. They often happen due to pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss and bodybuilding. Treatment options include laser skin resurfacing, dermabrasion, microneedling and retinol creams.
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:
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Anyone can get stretch marks. But you’re more likely to develop stretch marks if:
Stretch marks are common. Between 50% and 90% of all people who are pregnant develop stretch marks.
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.
Stretch mark symptoms may include:
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.
No, stretch marks aren’t contagious. You can’t spread stretch marks through skin-to-skin contact.
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.
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 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.
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.
Research suggests that some home remedies may help treat or prevent stretch marks, including:
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.
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.
Stretch marks will eventually go away or become less noticeable on their own. You don’t necessarily need to treat your stretch marks.
In general, stretch marks take between six and 12 months to fade. With treatment, they often fade faster.
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:
Exercise increases circulation and helps your body produce collagen. Increased circulation and collagen help your skin stay strong and stretchy.
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/04/2022.
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