Alternative names: Striae; Striae atrophica; Striae distensae
Definition: Stretch marks are irregular areas of skin that look like bands, stripes or lines. Stretch marks are seen when a person grows or gains weight rapidly or has certain diseases or conditions.
The medical name for stretch marks is striae.
Stretch marks can appear when there is rapid stretching of the skin. The marks appear as parallel streaks of red, thinned, glossy skin that over time become whitish and scar-like in appearance. Stretch marks may be slightly depressed and have a different texture than normal skin.
They are often seen when a woman’s abdomen gets larger during pregnancy. They can be found in children who have become rapidly obese. They may also occur during the rapid growth of puberty. Stretch marks are most commonly located on the breasts, hips, thighs, buttocks, abdomen and flank.
Causes of stretch marks may include any of the following:
- Cushing syndrome (disorder that occurs when the body has a high level of the hormone cortisol)
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (disorder marked by very stretchy skin that bruises easily)
- Abnormal collagen formation or medicines that block collagen formation
- Overuse of cortisone skin creams
There is no specific care for stretch marks. Marks often disappear after the cause of the skin stretching is gone.
Avoiding rapid weight gain helps reduce stretch marks caused by obesity.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If stretch marks appear without clear cause, such as pregnancy or rapid weight gain, call your health care provider.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms, including:
- Is this the first time that you have developed stretch marks?
- When did you first notice the stretch marks?
- What medicines have you taken?
- Have you used a cortisone skin cream?
- What other symptoms do you have?
If the stretch marks are not caused by normal physical changes, tests may be done. Tretinoin cream may help reduce stretch marks. Laser treatment may also help. In very rare cases, surgery may be done.
James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Abnormalities of dermal fibrous and elastic tissue. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrews’ Diseases of the Skin. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 25.
Patterson JW. Disorders of collagen. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon’s Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2016:chap 11.