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.
- Stretch marks may also occur as a side effect of certain medications and because of certain diseases.
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 they appear as slightly depressed white streaks over time. They tend to occur near the armpits, on the thighs, abdomen, chest, buttocks, 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 atrophic scar-like changes. Excessive physical stretching of the skin appears to induce these changes. There are a number of clinical situations that will predispose the skin to the formation of striae. These include rapid and excessive increase in body mass (weight gain), the excessive use of topical or systemic glucocorticoid drugs (steroids), Cushing's disease (overproduction of glucocorticoids by the adrenal gland), puberty, Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (two uncommon genetic diseases), excessively large breasts or breast implants, and pregnancy.
Stretch Mark Prevention
After working out for two months, I've noticed that I have small stretch marks on my arms from lifting. How can I prevent them?
Stretch marks occur when the elastic middle layer of skin called the dermis is stretched. Stretching leads to a breakdown of connective tissue, inflammation, and then scar formation as the injury heals. It's the scarring that causes stretch marks to appear. Stretch marks are common during puberty and rapid growth spurts in adolescence (they typically heal by the late teens or early 20s), pregnancy, excessive weight gain and obesity, when muscle mass increases rapidly and stretches the skin (like during bodybuilding), and sometimes when individuals use topical or high doses of ingested steroids for many weeks or months. Stretch marks are not a health risk but can be cosmetically unappealing.
As for prevention, lotions and creams are largely ineffective and costly (although some of the tanning creams may cover up stretch marks but not heal them), and there isn't any medication that you can take to prevent or remove them either.
What are risk factors for stretch marks?
Excessive rapid weight gain and pregnancy are the two most common risk factors. Other risk factors include the conditions described above that predispose the skin to developing stretch marks.
What are symptoms and signs of stretch marks?
Striae are rarely painful or itchy. They do not produce troublesome symptoms. They begin as linear red streaks and eventually mature into linear white lines.
How do health care providers diagnose and assess stretch marks?
Since stretch marks are quite common, most people are familiar with their appearance. They are identifiable on visual inspection by patients and doctors.
What is the treatment for stretch marks?
There is a wide variety of treatments, but none of them seem to be particularly valuable in preventing or treating this condition. Medical professionals generally agree that there is no good medical evidence that any creams or ointments will produce any sustained improvement in the appearance of stretch marks. The use of physical modalities such as lasers, ultrasound, and microneedling holds some promise, but currently there is little compelling evidence that any treatment is safe and effective.
Are there any home remedies for stretch marks?
No, there is no evidence that any home remedies can improve the appearance of stretch marks.
What is the prognosis of stretch marks?
As the striae mature, they become less apparent but they rarely disappear. They do not cause any health problems.
Is it possible to prevent stretch marks?
Aside from maintaining a normal weight and avoiding the long-term use of potent topical steroids under occlusion (wrapping and securing the skin after application of steroid preparations) or oral steroid drugs, little can be done to prevent stretch marks from developing.
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Medically Reviewed on 10/22/2018
Aldahan, Adam S., et al. "Laser and Light Treatments for Striae Distensae: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature." Am J Clin Dermatol Feb. 29, 2016. DOI 10.1007/s40257-016-0182-8.
Elsaie, Mohamed, L., Leslie S. Baumann, and Lotfy T. Elsaaiee. "Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks) and Different Modalities of Therapy: An Update." Dermatol Surg 35 (2009): 563-573.
Park, Kui Young, Hyun Kyu Kim, Sung Eun Kim, Beom Joon Kim, and Myeung Nam Kim. "Treatment of Striae Distensae Using Needling Therapy: A Pilot Study." Dermatol Surg (2012): 1-6.
Ud-Din, S., D. McGeorge, and A. Bayat. "Topical Management of Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks): Prevention and Therapy of Striae Rubrae and Albae." JEADV 30 (2016): 211-222.