Stretch Marks Explained: Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

Striae—more commonly known as stretch marks—are scars that form in the middle layer of skin. They appear initially as red or purple lines that may feel indented depending on the severity of the scarring, but they often fade and become lighter over time. Common places on the body where stretch marks form include abdomens, arms and armpits, breasts, thighs, and buttocks, but they are not exclusive to these areas and can develop anywhere on the body. Stretch marks can form on both women and men.

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks generally form when the body changes shape rapidly, forcing skin to expand or contract. Pregnancy and weight gain are common causes of stretch marks, but stretch marks also frequently form after starting a new bodybuilding or weightlifting routine, during rapid weight loss, and during puberty when an adolescent has a growth spurt.

While rapid stretching or contraction of the skin is generally the catalyst for stretch mark development, it’s not the direct cause. The direct cause of stretch marks is diminished skin elasticity, usually as a result of inefficient collagen production in the body. Collagen is a protein produced naturally in the body. When collagen production is diminished, skin becomes more brittle and likely to tear and scar if combined with rapid changes in the shape of the body.

Preventing Stretch Marks

While some inescapable factors come into play in your likelihood of developing stretch marks—genetics, for example—there are ways to reduce your chances of stretch mark scarring:

  • Harmful UV rays can diminish the body’s production of collagen, so wearing sunblock and avoiding tanning beds can assist in preventing stretch marks.
  • Drinking the recommended amount of water each day can keep skin hydrated and less likely to tear when stretched.
  • Eating certain foods like berries, green vegetables, and lean meats can encourage collagen production in the body and reduce your likelihood of developing stretch marks.
  • Gaining or losing weight gradually rather than rapidly will reduce your chances of stretch marks forming by giving skin time to prepare for changes in shape.
  • Frequent application of a stretch mark cream or lotion can reduce your chances of developing stretch marks by softening skin and increasing skin elasticity.

Stretch Mark Treatments

Sometimes even the best efforts in prevention go unrewarded, and you end up with stretch marks anyway. Unfortunately, stretch marks will not go away on their own; while they may fade in time, getting rid of stretch marks completely requires treatment. There are a number of ways to treat stretch marks:

  • Microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser treatment are common ways to treat stretch marks and can be performed by a qualified doctor. However, these treatments can be expensive and time consuming.
  • In extreme cases when stretch marks scarring on the abdomen is combined with excess skin due to weight loss, a tummy tuck can be performed to remove excess skin and stretch marks.
  • Over the counter stretch mark removal products can be effective in reducing the appearance of stretch marks or eliminating them altogether. These products are less expensive alternatives to physician treatments and much safer than surgery.

Stretch Marks Q&A: What You Need to Know About Striae

Whether you’re currently suffering from stretch marks or are trying to prevent them, these answers to common questions will help you learn more about preventing and treating striae.

What causes stretch marks?

A number of factors can lead to developing stretch marks. A lack of collagen in skin caused by aging or sun damage can increase your likelihood of developing stretch marks. Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, puberty, and steroid use can also increase your chances of getting stretch marks. Most commonly, people get stretch marks when the shape of skin changes rapidly: during pregnancy, after gaining or losing a lot of weight, after rapid muscle development, or after an adolescent growth spurt.

How do you prevent stretch marks?

Most commonly, people who are at risk of developing stretch marks use a stretch mark prevention cream to soften, strengthen, and elasticize skin. Other ways to prevent stretch marks include drinking the recommended amount of water each day to keep skin hydrated, eating foods that promote your body’s natural development of collagen to strengthen skin, and avoiding exposure to the sun without sunblock to avoid damaging skin and increasing skin brittleness.

Do stretch marks go away?

No. While stretch marks may fade in color over time—generally they start out as red and fade after a few months to a lighter white color—they will not go away on their own and must be treated to be removed.

Can men get stretch marks?

Yes. Men and women alike are susceptible to developing stretch marks. You may hear women talking about stretch marks more often simply because of the high risk of developing stretch marks during pregnancy, but men often develop stretch marks as well when gaining muscle rapidly due to bodybuilding or weightlifting, or when going through significant weight changes due to rapid weight gain or rapid weight loss.

How do you get rid of stretch marks?

There are many options available for fading and eliminating stretch marks. One popular and cost-effective option is to use a stretch mark removal cream. Available for purchase over the counter, a stretch mark removal cream may fade stretch marks and make them less noticeable. A doctor can also perform several types of treatments to fade or remove stretch marks, including microdermabrasion, chemical peels, microneedling, and laser treatment. However, keep in mind that these treatments can costs thousands of dollars and require many months of recurring procedures to be fully effective.

How can you tell if you will get stretch marks?

It’s impossible to know for sure if you will get stretch marks, so it’s important to take measures to prevent stretch marks when you’re experiencing an event where stretch marks are likely to form. Some medical professionals believe stretch marks may be genetic, so if one or more of your parents have stretch marks, you may be more likely to get them. Additionally, while some people report itching prior to stretch marks appearing, most often they form with no symptoms at all.

Symptoms of Stretch Marks: Are You at Risk?

Stretch marks are a form of visible scarring of the skin that occurs when skin is stretched rapidly over a short period of time. While some people report a burning or itching sensation prior to stretch marks appearing, in many cases no symptoms are noticed prior to the development of stretch marks.

Since stretch marks do not have signs and symptoms that could be recognized, it’s better to understand if you’re among the types of people who are at high risk for developing stretch marks in order to take steps to try and prevent their development. Stretch marks commonly develop on the following individuals:

Pregnant Women

Because the body grows so rapidly in order to support a growing baby, pregnant women are at high risk for developing stretch marks. It’s common for stretch marks to develop on expecting mothers in their second and third months of pregnancy. Stretch marks most commonly appear on a pregnant woman’s abdomen and/or breasts due to the rapid growth experienced in those areas.


While some children grow at a slow, sustained pace, others experience tremendous growth spurts. When an adolescent child goes through an extreme growth spurt, stretch marks can sometimes appear on his/her body as a result of stretching of the skin. Adolescent girls may also develop stretch marks on their breasts due to the sometimes rapid growth in that area during puberty.

Body Builders

Body builders commonly develop stretch marks on places like arms, thighs, and buttocks when muscles grow rapidly in those areas. Body builders who use aids such as steroids or human growth hormone are at an even greater risk for developing stretch marks because of the rapidity with which muscles can grow while using these supplements.

People Experiencing Rapid Weight Gain or Loss

Individuals who gain or lose weight very rapidly are very likely to develop stretch marks. Stretch marks due to weight gain can appear anywhere on the body, but they commonly appear on the upper arms, underarms, abdomen, back, and hips. Stretch marks due to weight loss are typically the result of losing weight rapidly, so individuals on drastic diets or who have undergone surgical procedures to lose weight are at a much higher risk for stretch mark development than individuals who lose weight at a sustained pace over time.

How to Avoid Getting Stretch Marks

If you’re in a high risk category for stretch marks, there are things you can do to help prevent their development. Exercising regularly can help slow the pace at which your skin stretches, lessening the chance that stretch marks will appear. Avoiding steroids and other supplements that encourage muscles to develop rapidly will also help discourage stretch marks.

There are also many products available that can help strengthen skin and prevent stretch mark development. Lotions and creams can be applied to the areas of your body that are at risk for stretch marks that will make your skin more pliable, discouraging the stretching that causes stretch mark scarring. Check out our catalog of stretch mark prevention products to find one that will work best for you.