You might notice stretch marks if you've gained or lost weight. But if your weight has stayed the same and you see them, you might wonder what causes them and what, if anything, you can do about them. There's no one proven treatment to make stretch marks disappear, but a few methods do hold some promise.
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What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks (also called "striae") are indented streaks that appear on the abdomen, breasts, hips, butt, thighs, upper arms or lower back, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They tend to start out as red or purple and might become silver or white with a glossy sheen over time.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
"Stretch marks arise from tension across the skin," says Heather Furnas, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon at Plastic Surgery Associates in Santa Rosa, California and adjunct clinical associate professor in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. The force of that tension injures the skin, and as it heals, red blood cells come to the rescue with extra oxygen.
"Tiny blood vessels called capillaries grow to bring the extra blood flow, which is why new stretch marks are usually pink, but after they have healed, the color fades," she says.
Health Conditions That Cause Stretch Marks
- Growth during adolescence
- Growth of the breasts or abdomen during pregnancy
- Breast enlargement surgery
- Genetic conditions like Cushing's syndrome or Marfan syndrome
- Steroid medications
Your genes may make it more likely that you'll develop stretch marks, too, Dr. Furnas says.
Read more: 3 Skin Concerns Linked to Obesity
How to Prevent Stretch Marks
Though there are no tried-and-true methods that guarantee stretch mark prevention, your doctor still may have some suggestions if you expect to undergo rapid weight loss or gain, as is common in pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
A March 2015 review in the British Journal of Dermatology found that while cocoa butter and olive oil have been proven ineffective at preventing stretch marks, centella (a medicinal herb) and massage with bitter almond oil might have potential, but the results aren't conclusive and more research is needed.
It's never a bad idea to make sure you stay hydrated and get the nutrients your skin needs, too. Drinking enough water keeps skin soft and can make it less likely that stretch marks will develop, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Reach for skin-healthy foods that contain zinc, protein and vitamins A, C and D. Nuts, fish, carrots, citrus fruits and milk are a good place to start.
Can You Get Rid of Stretch Marks?
Many people have scratched their heads over this question, and there's still not a great answer. There's no strong evidence that any specific treatment gets rid of stretch marks, though there are some methods that might diminish their appearance, such as:
- Retinoid cream, which is derived from vitamin A, might be helpful if applied to your skin within a few months after the stretch marks have appeared, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Tretinoin is a prescription cream that some studies have found works to make marks less noticeable, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
- Light and laser therapies can help the skin be more elastic and grow more collagen, per the Mayo Clinic.
- Microneedling is a treatment that uses tiny needles to stimulate the growth of collagen, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Abdominoplasty, or a "tummy tuck," removes some of the skin below the bellybutton, so it's a reliable way to get rid of stretch marks when they're in that area, Dr. Furnas says.
Check with your doctor if you're pregnant or nursing to make sure prescription or even over-the-counter creams are safe for you. According to the AAD, creams should be used early on, massaged into the stretch marks well and used consistently for several weeks.
Read more: Does Exercise Make Stretch Marks Go Away?
- Cleveland Clinic: “Stretch Marks”
- Heather Furnas, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon, Plastic Surgery Associates, Santa Rosa, California; adjunct clinical associate professor, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
- Mayo Clinic: “Stretch Marks: Symptoms & Causes”
- British Journal of Dermatology: “Stretch Marks During Pregnancy: A Review of Topical Prevention”
- American Academy of Dermatology: “Stretch Marks: Why They Appear and How To Get Rid Of Them”