Diagnosis

Stretch marks don't usually need to be diagnosed. Your doctor might examine your skin and review your medical history. If your doctor suspects an increase in your level of the hormone cortisol, you might be offered additional tests.

Treatment

Stretch marks don't require treatment. They are harmless and often fade over time. Treatment can make them fade, but they may never completely disappear.

The following treatments are among those available to help improve the appearance and texture of stretch marks. None has been proved to be more consistently successful than the others.

  • Retinoid cream. Derived from vitamin A, retinoids — such as tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova, Avita) — that you apply to your skin may improve the appearance of stretch marks less than a few months old. Tretinoin, when it works, helps to rebuild a protein in the skin called collagen, making the stretch marks look more like your normal skin. Tretinoin can irritate your skin.

    If you're pregnant or nursing, talk with your doctor about other treatment options, because possible side effects of retinoid cream may affect the baby.

  • Light and laser therapies. A variety of light and laser therapies are available that might stimulate growth of collagen or promote elasticity. Your doctor can help you determine which technique is appropriate for you.
  • Microneedling. This type of treatment involves a hand-held device with tiny needles that stimulate collagen growth. This technique has less risk of pigmentation changes than does laser therapy so is the preferred initial approach for people with skin of color.

Work with your doctor to choose the most appropriate treatment or combination of treatments for you. Factors to consider include:

  • How long you've had the stretch marks
  • Your skin type
  • Convenience, as some therapies require repeated doctor visits
  • Cost, as treatments to improve appearance (cosmetic therapies) often aren't covered by medical insurance
  • Your expectations

Lifestyle and home remedies

Many creams, ointments and other products claim to prevent or treat stretch marks. Products made of cocoa butter, vitamin E and glycolic acid, for example, aren't harmful, but they probably won't help much either.

Stretch marks usually fade and become less noticeable over time and don't require any specific self-care or home therapy.

Alternative medicine

The idea that you can prevent or treat stretch marks by rubbing creams, oils or lotions on your skin is not supported by strong evidence.

If you're pregnant, check with your doctor before using alternative products that claim to treat or prevent stretch marks.

Preparing for your appointment

If you seek treatment for stretch marks, prepare for your appointment by listing some basic questions to ask your doctor, including:

  • What is likely causing my stretch marks?
  • Other than the most likely cause, what are other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • What are my treatment options and the pros and cons for each?
  • What results can I expect?

Your doctor is likely to ask you several questions, such as:

  • When did you first notice the stretch marks?
  • Do you have other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Do you regularly use cortisone skin creams?