Stretch Marks

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Stretch mark facts

  • The medical name for stretch marks is striae distensae.
  • Stretch marks are very common.
  • Stretch marks rarely are a sign of a significant medical problem.
  • Stretch marks are generally painless.
  • Stretch marks commonly develop in obese individuals and during pregnancy.

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks appear as linear streaks on the skin that has been overstretched, and they run perpendicular to maximum lines of tension in the skin. They begin as flat red lines, and over time they appear as slightly depressed white streaks. They tend to occur near the armpits, on the thighs, abdomen, chest, and groin. Their appearance is similar to changes seen in the surface of rubber balloons that have been overinflated.

What causes stretch marks?

There is some controversy over the precise mechanism by which striae occur. There seems to be damage to the elastic fibers of the dermis (the deeper layer of the skin) accompanied by inflammation which eventually results in scar-like changes. These changes appear to be induced by excessive physical stretching of the skin. There are a number of clinical situations which will predispose the skin to the formation of striae. These include rapid and excessive increase in body mass, the excessive use of topical or systemic glucocorticoid drugs (steroids), Cushing's disease (overproduction of glucocorticoids by the adrenal gland), puberty, Marfan's syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (two uncommon genetic diseases), excessively large breast implants, and pregnancy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/11/2015

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