Stretched skin as a result of weight gain is often associated with the development of visible lines called stretch marks, but stretch marks from losing weight are also possible.

Stretch marks, also known as striae, typically appear on the skin as discolored, parallel lines of varying length and thickness. They often start as red, brown, or purple irregular streaks that eventually fade to a pale hue.

Stretch marks can happen anywhere on your body, but they’re commonly found in areas where body fat is stored.

When you put on weight rapidly, it makes sense that your skin has to adjust by stretching, but stretch marks from losing weight are also possible. In this scenario, your skin is stretching for a different reason.

Stretch marks are incredibly common, affecting as many as 90% of people. While they are more common among people assigned female at birth, people assigned male at birth can also develop stretch marks.

Overall, significant weight gain or rapid growth changes in the body are why the majority of people develop stretch marks. Pregnancy, puberty, and obesity are all factors that commonly cause stretch marks to develop.

When it comes to weight loss, stretch marks may not be as common, but they’re still possible if your weight change is rapid or dramatic.

Stretch marks during weight loss are usually “striae distenseae,” a specific type of stretch mark resulting from stretching of the skin. Other types of stretch marks exist, such as stirae atrophica, a type of stretch mark that develops when the skin becomes too thin.

During slow, incremental weight loss, your skin is able to adjust by contracting and tightening. When weight loss happens too rapidly or changes your weight dramatically, your skin may not be able to keep up with your new body composition.

This causes excess skin that hangs and pulls on the skin around it, creating tears in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin.

When there’s a tear in your dermis, it triggers an inflammatory response which increases blood flow to that area, creating the red, brown, or purple colors of a new stretch mark.

Over time, the tears in the dermis heal and scar over, and the pale, visible lines characteristic of older stretch marks are what remain.

While anyone can develop stretch marks from weight loss, other factors like genetics, hormones, and underlying medical conditions may increase your chance.

For some people, stretch marks may appear more severe after weight loss.

If you gained weight rapidly, such as during pregnancy, and developed stretch marks but then lost weight rapidly after giving birth, your skin may experience additional stretching.

The initial stretch from the weight gain can be worsened by the stretch caused by loose skin during weight loss.

Not everyone notices worsened stretch marks after weight loss. The development, appearance, and progression of striae depend on your individual circumstances. In some cases, stretch marks may even appearless noticeable with weight loss.

Stretch marks are common, but it’s possible to reduce your chances of developing them during weight loss.

Lose weight slowly

Stretch marks during weight loss are less likely if you lose weight slowly. By keeping the process consistent but slow, you allow your skin the time it needs to adjust to the changes in underlying tissues.

Moisturize and massage

According to a 2022 review, some research indicates massaging vitamin-rich moisturizers into your skin may help prevent stretch marks. However, it’s unclear if the moisturizing or the massage is more beneficial.

Consume skin-friendly foods

Foods that support your skin’s elasticity and suppleness may help it withstand stretching caused by weight loss.

The American Pregnancy Association recommends drinking plenty of water and focusing on foods that contain:

Work with a dermatologist

If you’re entering a time when weight loss is planned, working with a dermatologist from the start can help you maintain your skin health. Dermatologists have in-depth knowledge about the skin at all stages of life. They can also prescribe medications, like topical creams, that may make a difference.

You can treat stretch marks, but no singular approach works for everyone. Supporting research for most options is limited.

Topical therapies include:

Available physical treatments and procedures include:

Some skin types may not be candidates for every available stretch mark treatment. Your dermatologist can help you decide which therapies make sense for your unique skin needs.

Do stretch marks ever go away?

Stretch marks may become less visible over time after the inflammatory response is long gone and they’ve fully healed.

However, due to structural changes in the deeper middle layer of the skin, the natural shedding of surface skin cells over time won’t be enough to make most stretch marks vanish completely.

Depending on the location, size, number, and visibility of stretch marks, you can often improve their appearance with treatment. To date, no therapy is universally effective at completely removing stretch marks.

Stretch marks, known as striae, are associated with both weight gain and weight loss. When losing weight rapidly or dramatically, the pressure of excess skin causes tearing in the skin’s dermis, or middle layer, leaving a stretch mark.

Losing weight slowly can help prevent stretch marks during weight loss. However, genetics, hormones, and other factors also increase the chance of this skin condition.

While stretch marks don’t usually vanish on their own, topical therapies and dermatological procedures can improve their appearance.