Stretch marks (striae) are areas of skin that are marked by long, narrow bands of indented parallel lines. Most stretch marks have a branched or veiny pattern, exposing the areas where the skin has become thin or damaged. These striations are signs of growth that appear on your skin after it stretches or shrinks too quickly.
The stretch marks initially appear as raised red, pink, or linear streaks on the skin. Over time, as the blood vessels eventually heal, the lines fade into white or silvery color and become less noticeable. When you touch the stretch marks, you might feel a slight indentation or ridge on your skin. Sometimes, stretch marks feel sore or itchy.
Although not physically dangerous, stretch marks can be distressing and disfiguring. Your confidence and self-esteem may be affected by the unsightly lines. Hence, you may be wondering how to prevent stretch marks from forming.
Stretch marks occur when the skin has been stretched too rapidly, and the collagen in your body can’t keep up with your stretching skin, causing a tear to develop. This allows the blood vessels beneath the show through, leaving behind the characteristic parallel bands of thin red or purple striae.
Certain underlying conditions, such as Cushing syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Marfan syndrome, can cause stretch marks by increasing the amount of cortisone in your body.
Hormones and genetics
Teenagers who experience rapid growth and body changes during puberty may also develop stretch marks.
Overuse of cortisone creams
Stretch marks are likely to develop when there are high levels of circulating cortisone because cortisone weakens the elastic fibers in the skin and cause the skin to become thin over time. Some people also get stretch marks after using cortisone creams or ointments for the long-term.
Females are more likely to develop stretch marks than men. However, men can also develop stretch marks, especially during puberty.
Stretch marks tend to run in families. If your mother had stretch marks, you likely will too.
Pregnancy is one of the most common causes of stretch marks in women because the skin stretches to make room for the developing baby. Hence, stretch marks will develop around the abdomen, hip, and thigh areas, particularly during the second and third trimesters.
Rapid growth is typical in teenagers going through puberty or sudden growth spurt.
Losing or gaining a lot of weight in a short amount of time exerts pressure on your skin, which has to expand or contract to accommodate the weight fluctuation.
Rapid muscle growth
Both bodybuilding and weight training can sometimes cause stretch marks as the muscles become much larger in a short period. You may notice stretch marks on your shoulders, biceps, and thighs if you gain muscle mass rapidly.
Breast augmentation can result in skin stretching in the chest area. This is because breast augmentation enlarges the breast suddenly, forcing the skin to adjust quickly and increasing the risk of new scarring.
Common locations of stretch marks
Stretch marks may appear on various parts of the body, including:
- The thighs, buttocks, and breast in adolescent females
- The back in adolescent males
- The abdomen, breasts, and thighs during pregnancy
- The legs and arms of athletes who experience rapid muscle growth (e.g., weight training or bodybuilding)
Colors of stretch marks
In the early stages, the stretch marks may have a red or purple hue because the blood vessels can be seen through the stretched lines of the skin. Over time, your stretch marks will take on a white or silver appearance and may blend into the surrounding skin. The difference in color determines how old the marks are.
First stage: dark stretch marks
In the earlier stages of stretch mark development, you may notice red or purple jagged lines (striae rubra) on areas that have been stretched. The coloration may be because the microinjury expose the blood vessels beneath your skin. As stretch marks heal, they’ll eventually fade into white or silvery lines (second stage).
Second stage: white stretch marks
With time, the blood vessels will narrow and make it challenging to stimulate collagen production. Marks that were once red may fade into skin-colored, silver, or translucent and become shiny (striae alba).
There is no cure for stretch marks – once they appear, they do not resolve completely. Nevertheless, some dermatological treatments may improve or soften their appearance. The earlier you treat the stretch marks, the less visible they may be.
Laser or light therapy
Laser resurfacing therapy is a standard treatment option to soften the appearance of stretch marks. It uses rapid pulses of light to break up scar tissue, stimulate damaged tissues to repair themselves, and increase blood flow to the area. It does not promise to erase stretch marks, but for some people, it can fade them and make them less noticeable.
Though effective, laser therapy requires more than one session to produce noticeable results. You may need up to 20 sessions over several weeks.
Topical creams and gels
Topical creams, ointments, and gels can erase stretch marks by stimulating collagen production and cell growth, as well as improving skin elasticity and hydration.
Derived from vitamin A, retinoids may improve the appearance of stretch marks less than a few months old. It can penetrate through the upper layer of the skin and restore collagen, making the stretch marks less apparent.
One of the most common prescription retinoids is tretinoin (Retin-A), which is usually prescribed for new stretch marks that are red or pink. Once the stretch marks mature, tretinoin may be less effective.
Topical retinoids should be avoided during pregnancy or while nursing. Your doctor will likely recommend other alternatives instead.
Trofolastin cream and Alphastria cream
Both trofolastin cream and Aphastria cream can fade stretch marks by stimulating collagen production. Consult our doctor before using these creams if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Silicone gel can increase collagen levels and fade stretch marks. It also lessens striae-related itching.
A study showed that platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections could help rebuild collagen and revive skin, making stretch marks less visible (1). When coupled with ultrasound therapy, PRP therapy can be an excellent treatment for reducing stretch marks (2).
Microdermabrasion involves polishing the top layer of skin with tiny exfoliating crystals to reveal fresh skin underneath. This won’t completely eradicate stretch marks, but it can help minimize overall redness and appearance. A study showed that microdermabrasion is as effective as tretinoin cream on stretch marks (3).
Glycolic acid and chemical peels
Glycolic acid creams and chemical peels can help exfoliate and smooth out the existing stretch marks. However, they do not prevent new ones from forming.
If other treatments are unsuccessful, plastic surgery is an option. This expensive yet effective option can permanently erase stretch marks. It may be suitable for people who have sagging skin as a result of drastic weight loss of pregnancy.
Self-care and home remedies
There are several affordable home remedies that you can try to minimize the appearance of stretch marks and help them fade more quickly. Nevertheless, check with your doctor before using these stretch mark remedies if you are pregnant or breastfeeding because some products may contain ingredients that could harm the baby.
Dermaroller for stretch marks
Also known as collagen induction therapy, dermarolling targets the dermis layer of your skin where stretch marks form. Derma rollers are especially useful for people with darker skin. During the procedure, tiny needles are inserted into your skin to increase collagen synthesis to promote skin regeneration
To effectively treat stretch marks, you may need six treatment sessions over six months for maximum results.
Regular exfoliation is a simple technique for combating stretch marks. It involves the removal of dead skin and facilitates skin regeneration. It also allows other treatments to penetrate more deeply.
Some essential oils have been shown to minimize the appearance of stretch marks significantly. Dilute with a carrier oil before application.
Bitter almond oil
The use of bitter almond oil in massage therapy can prevent the formation of pregnancy-related stretch marks.
Bitter orange oil
The bitter orange essential oil may condition and tone the skin, as well as prevent skin fragility. Side effects of bitter orange oil include irritation and photosensitivity.
Pomegranate oil and dragon’s blood extract
The lavender essential oil can heal stretch marks by increasing the production of collagen and facilitate healing.
Topical application of virgin coconut oil might help to:
- Promote collagen turnover
- Keep the skin hydrated, elastic, and supple
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce healing time
- Reduce itching of stretch marks
- Improve the appearance of stretch marks
You can try massaging the coconut oil directly onto your stretch marks. It is generally considered safe unless you’re allergic to coconut.
Castor oil is rich in monosaturated fat that helps balance oil moisture while conferring profound conditioning effects. This can prevent stretch marks fro dehydrating and may help reduce the appearance of fresh stretch marks, so they fade over time. It also helps to soothe itchiness.
Gently massage a liberal amount of castor oil into your stretch marks. Apply it twice a day, in the morning and night.
Massage the skin
Massage the skin to help increase blood flow and collagen production, which may help fade the stretch marks. Using the fingertips, gently apply pressure in repetitive, circular motions to the stretch marks for at least 30 seconds.
Use stretch mark removal cream
OTC stretch mark creams contain ultra-moisturizing ingredients, such as shea butter, cocoa butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and vitamin E. Use these stretch mark creams as soon as the stretch marks appear. Massage them thoroughly into the area daily for several weeks.
Use proper sun protection
Sunscreen can improve the appearance of stretch marks. Allow the sunscreen to absorb for 30 minutes before going out into the sun. Reapply it at least every 2 hours.
Hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate) can stimulate collagen production and make stretch marks less noticeable. It is available in a range of serums, lotions, and moisturizers. You may see optimal results if you use it over a long period.
How to make stretch marks less noticeable?
Applying self-tanning lotion (sunless self-tanners) is a temporary way to camouflage the discoloration of the stretch marks by filling in the color of the stretch marks so that they appear closer to your skin color. It comes in the form of lotions, creams, and sprays.
When applying a self-tanner, use the following steps to achieve better results:
- Exfoliate the skin to remove any dead skin cells. Take extra precaution with areas of thicker skin, such as the knees, ankles, and elbows.
- Dry the skin thoroughly before applying the self-tanning lotion. For a more natural look, blend the self-tanner well.
- Wash your hands with water and soap after applying the lotion to avoid staining the palms of the hands orange.
- Give the skin at least 10 minutes to absorb the product before dressing. Avoid tight-fitting clothing and any activity that can cause sweating.
Use body makeup
If you want to cover up your stretch marks temporarily for several hours, using a foundation makeup that matches your skin tone can help camouflage your stretch marks. It can also reduce the redness of your stretch marks during the healing process. Make sure to look for waterproof formulas so that it stays intake in the humidity and heat.
There’s no method to prevent stretch marks completely. However, you may reduce your risk by managing your weight, eating a nutrient-dense diet, and by limiting your use of corticosteroids.
Control your weight
Prevent rapid weight fluctuations by maintaining your weight in a healthy range. You can do so by exercising regularly and eating well to avoid sudden weight gain or loss, thereby preventing the skin from stretching.
If you are pregnant, work with your doctor towards a gradual and healthy weight gain. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists propose 25-35 pounds of total weight gain for pregnant women.
Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Eat nutritious, skin-friendly food so that you get adequate amounts of vitamins, which help to maintain the suppleness of the skin.
Make sure your diet incorporates foods rich in:
- Vitamin C (e.g., citrus fruits)
- Omega 3 (e.g., cold-water fish)
- Zinc (e.g., fish, nuts)
Avoid corticosteroid and anabolic steroid
Corticosteroid creams and anabolic steroids can decrease the stretchability of the skin, which can exacerbate your risk of developing stretch marks. Avoid them if possible. Use them only for as long as necessary before switching to a milder alternative. However, speak to your doctor before discontinuing them.
The Bottom Line
Stretch marks may be unsightly. If it affects your self-esteem, you can try a myriad of cosmetic treatments or home remedies to fade it.