Stretch marks typically appear as bands of parallel lines on your skin. These lines are a different color and texture than your normal skin, and they range from purple to bright pink to light gray. When you touch stretch marks with your fingers, you might feel a slight ridge or indentation on your skin. Sometimes, stretch marks feel itchy or sore.
These lines commonly appear during or after pregnancy or after a sudden change in your weight. They also tend to occur in adolescents who are rapidly growing. Stretch marks aren’t dangerous, and they often disappear over time.
You can have stretch marks just about anywhere, but they’re most common on your stomach, breasts, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks.
Stretch marks are a result of skin stretching and an increase of cortisone in your system. Cortisone is a hormone naturally produced by your adrenal glands. However, having too much of this hormone can make your skin lose its elasticity.
Stretch marks are common in certain circumstances:
- Many women experience stretch marks during pregnancy as the skin stretches in numerous ways to make room for the developing baby. This continual tugging and stretching can cause stretch marks.
- Stretch marks sometimes appear when you rapidly gain or lose weight. Teenagers may also notice stretch marks after a sudden growth spurt.
- Corticosteroid creams, lotions, and pills can cause stretch marks by decreasing the skin’s ability to stretch.
- Cushing’s syndrome, Marfan’s syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and other adrenal gland disorders can cause stretch marks by increasing the amount of cortisone in your body.
The following put you at greater risk for developing stretch marks:
- being a woman
- being Caucasian (having pale skin)
- having a family history of stretch marks
- being pregnant
- having a history of delivering large babies or twins
- being overweight
- having dramatic weight loss or gain
- using corticosteroid medications
Your doctor can tell if you have stretch marks by simply looking at your skin and reviewing your medical history. If they suspect your stretch marks may be due to a serious illness, they may order blood, urine, or imaging tests.
Stretch marks often fade with time. If you don’t want to wait, there are treatments that can improve their appearance. However, no treatment can make stretch marks disappear completely.
There are several ways to improve the appearance of stretch marks:
- Tretinoin cream (Retin-A, Renova) works by restoring collagen, a fibrous protein that helps give your skin elasticity. It’s best to use this cream on recent stretch marks that are red or pink. This cream may cause skin irritation. If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t use tretinoin cream.
- Pulsed dye laser therapy encourages the growth of collagen and elastin. It’s best to use this therapy on newer stretch marks. Darker-skinned individuals may experience skin discoloration.
- Fractional photothermolysis is similar to pulsed dye laser therapy in that it uses a laser. However, it works by targeting smaller areas of your skin, causing less skin damage.
- Microdermabrasion involves polishing the skin with tiny crystals to reveal new skin that’s under the more elastic stretch marks. Microdermabrasion can improve the appearance of older stretch marks.
- The excimer laser stimulates skin color (melanin) production so that stretch marks match the surrounding skin more closely.
Medical procedures and prescription medicines aren’t guaranteed to cure stretch marks, and they can be expensive.
There are many products and procedures that promise to remove stretch marks, but there aren’t any that have proven effective so far. Moisturizing your skin may help to relieve the itchiness of stretch marks. Applying self-tanning lotion to your stretch marks is a temporary way to minimize the difference in color between your normal skin and your stretch marks.
There’s no way to prevent stretch marks completely, even if you regularly use lotions and creams. However, keeping your weight in a healthy range by eating well and exercising regularly can help to prevent stretch marks caused by sudden weight gain or loss.
While it’s healthy for you and your baby to gain weight when you’re pregnant, ask your doctor how much weight gain during pregnancy is right for you.