Stretch Marks - Causes and Treatment

Stretch marks are skin lesions in the form of lines that occur due to hormonal factors and a rapid growth or weight gain. These scars are very common and do not cause any significant medical problems, but can be cause for aesthetic concern for some people.

Stretch marks
Stretch marks

Why do stretch marks appear?

Our skin has elastic properties that make it capable of stretching and shrinking according to the growth of the individual. However, this flexibility has a limit. A rapid and exaggerated distension of the skin causes lesions that are known as stretch marks. Striae appear in areas subject to continuous and progressive sieving. When stretched too tightly, the elastic fibers of the skin undergo scarring lesions.

The situations that most commonly cause stretch marks are:
  • Gain weight fast: it usually causes stretch marks on the abdomen and hip.
  • Pregnancy: usually causes stretch marks on the breasts and abdomen on the shoulders of people.
  • Rapid gain of muscle mass: it usually causes stretch marks on the shoulders.
  • Pubertal stretch: usually causes stretch marks on the hips and thighs. In girls, there may be stretch marks on the breasts.

Adolescents and pregnant women are the most at risk groups; 70% of adolescent females and 40% of adolescent males develop stretch marks at this time of life. In pregnant women the occurrence of stretch marks is even greater, reaching 90%. The greater the baby's weight, the greater the risk of developing stretch marks in the belly.

Genetic factors are also important; some people are more likely to develop stretch marks than others. If a close relative has stretch marks, their chances of also having them are great.

Striae may also arise due to diseases, most of them uncommon, such as Cushing's syndrome, Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Some medicines can cause stretch marks as a side effect, the most known are corticosteroids, whether in tablets or creams.

Signs and symptoms of stretch marks

Stretch marks arise when the skin needs to stretch relatively quickly, that is, over a few days. The lesions initially are purplish/reddish lines that over time tend to be make them lighter. In some cases, the stretch marks may become almost imperceptible after a few years. When they appear in adolescence they tend to improve after a few years.

The sites that most commonly develop stretch marks are the abdomen, hips, breasts, thighs, buttocks and shoulders.

In pregnancy, striae usually appear after the 6th month of gestation.

The striae caused by corticosteroids are thicker, darker and occur in greater amounts, and can affect up to the face. In cases of topical corticosteroids (creams and ointments), when the first signs of stretch marks appear, early discontinuation of treatment may prevent the progression of the lesions.

In addition to the unwanted aesthetic effect, which can lead to severe psychological consequences in some cases, striae do not cause major health problems.

How to avoid stretch marks

There are no 100% effective treatments against the appearance of stretch marks. The best way is not to get fat so there is no skin tightening. However, preventing the pregnant women's belly from growing and adolescents growing is impossible.

So what you can do is try to soften the appearance of the scars, how to use moisturizing creams on the most susceptible areas of the skin, drink water frequently to stay hydrated, avoid weight gains and practice physical activities.

Pregnant women know in advance that when the belly begins to grow there will be a great risk of striae. Therefore, it is important to keep the skin of the abdomen always well hydrated from the beginning of pregnancy and avoid getting fat so that the belly does not grow beyond what is necessary.


There is no treatment that completely eliminates stretch marks. Forget highly effective products. You will probably spend money and you will be frustrated with the results. Treatment should only be done under the guidance of a dermatologist. Do not go out buying stretch mark creams before a medical evaluation.

The best results happen when the treatment is done early, in the phase in which the striae are still purplish.

The treatment options for most used stretch marks are:
  • Retinoic acid or tretinoin - If used early can help relieve stretch marks. Retinoic acid helps rebuild the collagen in the skin, making the stretch marks less obvious. There may be skin irritation as a side effect. This treatment is not effective on the old stretch marks, it is contraindicated in pregnancy and one should not get sun during its use.
  • Peeling - Acts similarly to retinoic acid, but more intensely.
  • Microdermabrasion - This type of treatment involves the use of crystals in the skin in order to sand it, with subsequent removal of the desquamated cells. The microdermabrasion gently removes the top layer of skin, which results in new skin growth, which is more elastic. This therapy is an option for the older marks of estria.
  • Laser - Age stimulating the growth of collagen and elastin. It is most effective when stretch marks are new, but the Laser can still have some effect on older marks. It is a treatment currently used by dermatologists as it usually has good results.

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