Male Stretch Marks Symptoms and Causes

Table of Contents
View All

We tend to think of stretch marks, also known as striae distensae (SD), as something that affects women much more than men, but that is actually not true. Men can—and do—get stretch marks and for many of the same reasons as women.

Although the skin is incredibly flexible, it does reach a point where it can no longer stretch (or stretch fast enough) without causing the tears and scarring we recognize as stretch marks.

Male Stretch Marks Causes
Verywell / JR Bee

Symptoms

Stretch marks develop when the underlying tissues grow faster than the skin can stretch. It takes place in the middle layer of skin, called the dermis, which is responsible for retaining the overall shape of the skin.

The rapid stretching tears and visibly thins the dermis, which is what causes linear striations (stretch marks) on the upper layer of skin (epidermis).

The tear also causes tiny blood vessels in the skin to break, giving the stretch mark its characteristic pinkish or purplish hue.

When they first develop, stretch marks may cause a burning or itching sensation. Over time, the normal pigmentation of the skin may return, although the tissues themselves may appear slightly shiny.

While stretch marks aren't harmful, they may be unpleasing and cause emotional distress.

Tanning tends to enhance rather than diminish the appearance of stretch marks.

Causes

While the causes of stretch marks in men are not all that different than in women, they're primarily associated with three physiological conditions:

  • Rapid growth during puberty, which primarily leaves horizontal stretch marks on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and back
  • Rapid weight gain and obesity, in which the accumulation of subcutaneous fat causes vertical stretch marks on the abdomen
  • Bodybuilding, in which the rapid growth of muscle triggers stretch marks along the perimeter of a muscle (such as the outer edge of the chest muscle or in tandem with the striations of the shoulder muscle)

Anabolic steroids used by some bodybuilders can also contribute to SD.

Related Conditions

Some men may be more predisposed to stretch marks than others. This is especially true in men with health conditions that cause the overproduction of hormones known as corticosteroids.

Among their many functions, corticosteroids regulate the production of certain skin cells: keratinocytes in the epidermis and fibroblasts in the dermis.

Fibroblasts are especially important, as they produce collagen that the body uses to keep the skin supple. If there's an overproduction of corticosteroid, less collagen is produced and the skin is less able to flex.

Corticosteroid overproduction is often associated with disorders of the adrenal glands, including:

Corticorticosteroid drugs are used to treat a wide range of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. They can lead to a loss of collagen and an increased risk of stretch marks. Even topical corticosteroids, if overused, can cause a thinning of the skin.

Treatment

Stretch marks can have a profound effect on a person's self-confidence, particularly if they are extensive or severe.

To get rid of them, many people resort to products that claim to prevent and/or reduce the appearance of SD. To date, though, there's little clinical evidence to support these claims.

Even so, some over-the-counter and natural products that are believed to work better than no treatment at all.

Topical Tretinoin Cream

Tretinoin cream is probably best known by the brand name Retin-A. It's also sold as Avita and Renova.

A small randomized study conducted in 2014 suggested that a 0.05% tretinoin cream may lessen the appearance of new stretch marks but not long-established scars.

This medication is widely used to treat acne.

Centella Asiatica

Also known as Gotu Kola, centella Asiatica is a perennial herb that's used topically to prevent SD.

Some older studies suggested it was more effective than a placebo (56% versus 34%). However, these studies are considered poorly designed and didn't explore other possible explanations for the results.

Microdermabrasion and Laser Treatments

Microdermabrasion and laser treatments may help SD by improving the overall appearance of the skin, especially if your stretch marks are deep.

A small study conducted in 2016 suggested that these procedures worked better than topical tretinoin creams.

If you have stretch marks, you may be able to prevent the further spread by losing weight. You can also reduce their appearance by using sunscreen outside and avoiding tanning and tanning beds.

A Word From Verywell

Despite what some people may tell you, no diet can reduce the risk of stretch marks and no mechanical techniques, such as heating pads or massage, can prevent or treat SD. Collagen supplements appear to have little, if any, impact.

If your stretch marks bother you, talk to your doctor about what treatment(s) may be most appropriate for you.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. Oakley AM, Patel BC. Stretch Marks (Striae) [Updated 2018 Dec 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. 2019. 

  2. Farahnik B, Park K, Kroumpouzos G, Murase J. Striae gravidarum: Risk factors, prevention, and management. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2017;3(2):77-85. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2016.11.001

  3. Wollina U, Goldman A. Management of stretch marks (with a focus on striae rubrae). J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2017;10(3):124-129. doi:10.4103/JCAS.JCAS_118_17

  4. Hexsel D, Soirefmann M, Porto MD, Schilling-souza J, Siega C, Dal'forno T. Superficial dermabrasion versus topical tretinoin on early striae distensae: a randomized, pilot study. Dermatol Surg. 2014;40(5):537-44. doi:10.1111/dsu.12460

  5. Ud-din S, Mcgeorge D, Bayat A. Topical management of striae distensae (stretch marks): prevention and therapy of striae rubrae and albae. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016;30(2):211-22. doi:10.1111/jdv.13223

  6. Karia UK, Padhiar BB, Shah BJ. Evaluation of various therapeutic measures in striae rubra. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2016;9(2):101-5. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.184056

Additional Reading