Stretch marks (striae) are indented streaks that often appear on the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs. Over time they become less noticeable. Stretch marks are particularly common in pregnant women, especially during the last trimester. Treatment can make stretch marks fade, but it won't completely remove them.
Stretch marks aren't painful or harmful, but some people feel distressed about the way they make their skin look.
Stretch marks don't all look alike. They vary depending on how long you've had them, what caused them, where they are on your body, and the type of skin you have. Common variations include:
- Indented streaks or lines in the skin
- Pink, red, black, blue or purple streaks
- Bright streaks that fade to a lighter color
- Streaks on the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks or thighs
- Streaks covering large areas of the body
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you're concerned about the appearance of your skin or if the stretch marks cover large areas of your body. Your doctor can help determine the cause of the stretch marks and discuss treatment options.
Stretch marks seem to be caused by a stretching of the skin. Their severity is affected by several factors, including your genetic tendency, degree of stress on the skin and cortisone level. Cortisone — a hormone produced by the adrenal glands — weakens elastic fibers in the skin.
Anyone can develop stretch marks, but some factors increase your likelihood of getting them, including:
- Being female
- Having a personal or family history of stretch marks
- Being pregnant, especially for younger women
- Being overweight or obese
- Rapidly gaining or losing weight
- Using corticosteroid medication
- Undergoing breast enlargement surgery
- Having Cushing's syndrome, Marfan syndrome or certain other genetic disorders
The best way to reduce the likelihood of getting stretch marks is to maintain a healthy weight. During pregnancy you'll gain weight over a relatively brief period. Work with your doctor to avoid gaining too much by eating well and exercising. This not only minimizes stretch marks but also is healthy for you and your baby.