What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks (striae) are a common form of skin scarring that appear on the skin as red, purple, or light-colored lines. Stretch marks are harmless but can be upsetting for patients who are unhappy with their appearance.
There are two main types of stretch marks:
- Striae rubra, which are red or purple in color
- Striae alba, which are white to silver in color
Stretch marks commonly appear on the:
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks usually occur on parts of the body that grow rapidly, such as stretch marks that commonly appear on a woman’s abdomen or breasts when she is pregnant (striae gravidarum).
Risk factors for developing stretch marks during pregnancy include:
- A family history of striae gravidarum
- Higher pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI)
- Higher weight gain during pregnancy
- Higher birth weight and gestational age
- Multiple gestation pregnancies
- Excessive amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
Aside from pregnancy, other causes of stretch marks include:
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Bodybuilding exercise
- Growth spurt in adolescents
- Medical conditions
- Use of certain medications
- Breast augmentation
- Tissue expanders
- Tension-requiring skin sutures
- Organ transplantation
- Cardiac surgery
How Are Stretch Marks Diagnosed?
Stretch marks are diagnosed with a physical examination and a patient’s medical history. No testing is needed.
What Is the Treatment for Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are a cosmetic problem and do not cause other symptoms so treatment is not needed unless patients wish to improve the appearance of the affected skin.
Treatment of pregnant patients is usually delayed until after delivery because of concerns over the effects of treatments on the fetus.
The first line treatment for red- and purple-colored stretch marks (striae rubra) includes:
- Pulsed dye laser therapy
- Topical retinoids: must be used daily for several months
The first line treatment for white- and silver-colored stretch marks (striae alba) includes:
- Fractional laser therapy
- May be combined with the delivery of radiofrequency energy (RF microneedling)
- Topical retinoids: not as effective for striae alba as for striae rubra
Other treatments that may improve the appearance of stretch marks have limited evidence for their effectiveness and include:
- Superficial dermabrasion
- Chemical peels
- Intense pulsed light (IPL)
- Radiofrequency devices
- Infrared laser
- Other treatments: further study is needed to determine the effectiveness of these regimens
- 20% glycolic acid, topical silicone or non-silicone gels applied with massage
- Sand abrasion and trichloroacetic acid
- Succinylated atelocollagen
- Products containing onion extract and Centella asiatica
- Home remedies: these products may soften skin but there is no evidence they help prevent or treat stretch marks
- Vitamin E oil
- Shea butter
- Cocoa butter
- Olive oil
Do Stretch Marks Ever Really Go Away?
Stretch marks never really go away, but they may fade over time and their appearance may be reduced with treatment.