What to Know About Pregnancy Stretch Marks

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Stretch marks and pregnancy often go hand in hand, as there is no magic pill or topical product proven to prevent them and still no cure.

While it may seem like there is no rhyme or reason to which people will or won't get stretch marks, there are some known contributing factors.

This article discusses the risk factors, treatment, and prevention of stretch marks.

Stretch Marks and Pregnancy

Getty Images

How Common Are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks affect up to 90% of pregnant people.

What Are Stretch Marks?

Skin that has been stretched by rapid growth either from pregnancy or weight gain or has shrunk because of weight loss can result in stretch marks, also called striae distensae.

During pregnancy, the skin stretches in many ways to accommodate a growing baby. After this stretching, the skin doesn't bounce back to normal and a scar may form instead.

Fresh stretch marks start off as:

  • Red
  • Pink
  • Purplish
  • Reddish-brown
  • Dark brown

Over time, stretch marks become fainter streaks of white lines. When stretch marks first appear, they can be raised or itchy.

When Do Stretch Marks Typically Occur During Pregnancy?

Stretch marks typically surface during the second and third trimesters.

Stretch marks commonly appear in these places during pregnancy:

  • Stomach
  • Hips
  • Low back
  • Thighs
  • Breasts

The severity of stretch marks can range from mild to extreme. They aren't medically dangerous but can be disfiguring and create anxiety and emotional distress in people who have them.

Risk Factors

If you're pregnant, gaining too much weight can increase the chances of stretch marks. So gradually gaining weight over the course of nine months and staying within the guidelines of only gaining 25-35 pounds with a single baby may help prevent them.

Other additional risk factors that may make stretch marks more likely include:

  • Being female
  • Having a personal or family history of stretch marks. If your mother had stretch marks, you have a higher chance of getting them.
  • Being pregnant, especially if you're young. Younger skin is tauter, so when it's stretched it's more likely to tear.
  • Rapid growth during adolescence. Hormone changes can make the skin more fragile and more prone to tearing and creating stretch marks.
  • Using corticosteroids. Topical corticosteroids can thin the skin if they're applied too frequently for a long time. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can lead to permanent stretch marks.
  • Having breast enlargement surgery
  • Exercising and using anabolic steroids. Steroids can rapidly increase muscle mass and skin tears because they can't keep pace.
  • Having a genetic disorder such as Cushing's syndrome or Marfan syndrome

Treatment

There is no cure for stretch marks, but there are treatment options that may make them less noticeable. It's important to check with a board-certified dermatologist who can determine the best options for your specific case. If your stretch marks also itch, a dermatologist can treat that as well.

Treatments that your dermatologist may suggest include:

Your dermatologist may use more than one procedure to optimize results. But they can be expensive and require frequent follow-up visits.

Of all the options, Retin-A cream is the standard treatment for stretch marks. However, it is not safe during pregnancy.

Warning About Retin-A

Retin-A is not safe during pregnancy and can also cause serious side effects including:

  • Severe burning, stinging, or irritation of treated skin
  • Severe skin dryness
  • Severe redness, swelling, blistering, peeling, or crusting

Over-the-Counter and Home Remedies

There are countless creams, oils, and lotions that claim to treat stretch marks, but the fact is that stretch marks are permanent scars. Cocoa butter, glycolic acid, and vitamin E, for example, are common ingredients in stretch mark products, but there are no scientific studies that prove they effectively prevent or eliminate them.

To make the most of an over-the-counter skin product, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start using them early when stretch marks form.
  • Massage the cream into your stretch marks. A study has shown that massaging oils into the skin was more effective than using products without massage.
  • Use the product consistently for weeks before stopping.

Risks

If you decide to have your stretch marks professionally treated, remember that with all procedures side effects are possible.

In the hands of a board-certified dermatologist, side effects tend to be minor and temporary. It’s common to have some redness and swelling after a procedure. The redness and swelling tend to disappear in a few hours or days.

If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, it's important to check with your healthcare provider before using stretch mark products, even if they are over-the-counter. Certain ingredients could cause bleeding or cramping in pregnant people. Some can also be dangerous to your baby if they are passed through breastmilk.

Prevention

You can't prevent the stretching of skin while you're pregnant, so the best thing you can do is manage how much weight you gain.

Elasticity is also important when your skin is stretching. Staying well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water can help keep the skin more pliable. Still, other factors out of your control, such as genetics, will also play a role in whether you get stretch marks even if you only gain the recommended amount of weight.

There are limited studies about widely used treatments for stretch marks during pregnancy. More rigorous studies are needed to prove any specific product is effective, so you may want to manage your expectations when using stretch mark-reducing products.

Many people try cocoa butter or olive oil, but studies fail to show they work.

A Word From Verywell

Stretch marks can be emotionally daunting, but over time they fade. If you want to take a more proactive approach, you can also see a dermatologist to weigh treatment options.

Most over-the-counter treatments won't do any harm but probably won't give you the results you're dreaming about. It's best to check in with your doctor before trying one if you're pregnant.

Was this page helpful?
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Korgavkar K, Wang F. Stretch marks during pregnancy: a review of topical remedies. BJD. Sept. 2014. doi:10.1111/bjd.13426

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Stretch marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them.

  3. National Eczema Association. Risks of topical corticosteroids.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Stretch marks: Common causes, treatment and prevention. Updated February 21, 2014.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Tretinoin.