What Are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are a type of scar that appears due to the skin growing or shrinking quickly.

While stretch marks are usually not a sign of any underlying health issue, many people feel self-conscious about their stretch marks for cosmetic reasons and want to find ways to make them less noticeable.

This article will discuss stretch marks, their signs and symptoms, why stretch marks form, and how to treat them.

A woman with stretch marks on her stomach

Michael Heim/EyeEm/Getty Images

What Are Stretch Marks?

A stretch mark is a type of scar that occurs when the skin either grows or shrinks rapidly. Stretch marks can appear during pregnancy, during growth spurts in puberty, and from significant weight gain or loss.

Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body but usually appear on the breasts, hips, thighs, buttocks, and abdomen.

Stretch marks are very common during pregnancy. Stretch marks can affect about 90% of pregnant people.

Symptoms

Stretch marks appear as bands or stripes that run across the skin. However, the color, size, and length of stretch marks will vary from person to person based on various factors.

General signs and symptoms of stretch marks include:

  • Discolored, indented streaks: These will be either pink, purple, red, blue, or brown, depending on your skin color.
  • White streaks: If the stretch marks are old and have had time to fade, the lines will be white or silver.
  • Skin irritation and itchiness: These symptoms will happen before the scars form.

Understanding the Coloring of Stretch Marks

Newer stretch marks will be more vibrant in color, such as red, purple, or pink, while older stretch marks will be white or silver.

Causes

Stretch marks are caused by the skin either rapidly shrinking or growing. This growth or shrinkage affects the collagen (a protein in connective tissue) and elastin (the main protein of elastic connective tissue) specifically, which causes these support materials to rupture.

Collagen and elastin are responsible for skin elasticity, the skin's ability to stretch and bounce back into place.

Related Conditions

Several conditions are associated with stretch marks, including:

Treatment

Stretch marks will fade on their own over time. However, there are several ways to treat stretch marks and help lessen their appearance. It's important to remember that treatment works best on fresh stretch marks, as opposed to ones that have already matured.

Some treatment options for stretch marks include:

  • Ensuring the skin is adequately moisturized
  • Trying stretch mark–targeting gels, lotions, and creams
  • Applying self-tanner to camouflage the marks
  • Using topical prescription medication that contains hyaluronic acid or tretinoin
  • Getting professional services such as a chemical peel, laser therapy, microdermabrasion, or radiofrequency

Lifestyle factors may also help prevent stretch marks, such as staying hydrated, daily exercise, and eating a balanced diet.

Summary

Stretch marks are scars that occur after rapid growth or shrinkage of the skin. Stretch marks form because of damage to the skin's elastin and collagen, two supportive proteins vital to skin elasticity. Stretch marks are permanent but will gradually fade over time. To further diminish the appearance of stretch marks, there are several steps you can take, including proper moisturizing of the skin.

A Word From Verywell

Stretch marks are a common skin condition estimated to affect up to 90% of people. Stretch marks occur for several reasons. Despite how common they are, some people may feel embarrassed about their stretch marks for cosmetic reasons. If you are experiencing insecurity due to stretch marks, adhering to treatments such as medication creams and gels can help diminish the appearance. You can also discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider or dermatologist.

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. American Academy Of Dermatology Association. Stretch marks: why they appear and how to get rid of them.

  2. MedlinePlus. Stretch marks.

  3. Korgavkar K, Wang F. Stretch marks during pregnancy: a review of topical remediesBJD. Sept. 2014. doi:10.1111/bjd.13426

  4. Oakley AM, Patel BC. Stretch marks. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

  5. Cedars Sinai. Collagen for Your Skin: Healthy or Hype?