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What are stretch marks?

Close up image of stretch marks on skin
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Stretch marks are streaks or lines that appear on the skin. They can be many different colours, indented and vary in length. They are extremely common, particularly during pregnancy or if you suddenly gain weight, and are not harmful. Many people dislike the appearance of their stretch marks however it’s important to remember they are completely natural.

Here we share what causes stretch marks including possible treatments and ways to prevent them.

Stretch marks symptoms

Stretch marks can occur anyway on the body but are mostly found on the legs, hips, bottom, stomach, breasts/chest and back. They often first appear as a darker colour such as brown, red or pink, fading over time to a paler streak that can look purple, blue or silver. New stretch marks can be itchy but they aren’t painful and won’t cause any discomfort.

You don’t need to see a doctor if you have stretch marks, unless you believe it may be caused by another condition but please speak to your pharmacist if you are worried.

What causes stretch marks?

The majority of stretch marks are caused when your body suddenly changes in size, often due to weight gain, growth or pregnancy. This is because the skin can’t stretch enough, causing the elastic fibres to break.

Stretch marks are more likely if you:

  • Lose or gain weight quickly
  • Have a growth spurt during puberty
  • Are pregnant
  • Have implant surgery
  • Use high quantities of steroids
  • Have a family history of stretch marks
  • Practice bodybuilding
  • Have cushing’s syndrome

Pregnancy is one of the most common causes of stretch marks. Hormonal changes affect the skin, weakening its elasticity. When the skin then rapidly stretches around the growing bump, the middle layer (dermis) is strained and can break, causing the appearance of stretch marks.

Do stretch marks ever go away?

In most cases, stretch marks fade over time, becoming paler and less visible. However, they rarely disappear for good. Having stretch marks is very normal and natural therefore you shouldn’t worry about getting them or their appearance.

Treatments for stretch marks

There are various creams, lotions, oils and treatments that claim to prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. They vary from simple over the counter or home remedies to medical treatments. Some may help but there is little evidence that they will get rid of them completely.

There are various other treatments available including microdermabrasion or laser treatment but you will need to speak to your local GP surgery or a skin specialist about these and whether they would be suitable for you.

Shop stretch mark treatments

How to prevent stretch marks

It may not always be possible to prevent stretch marks. The best way to reduce your chances is by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Maintaining a healthy weight will mean your skin is less likely to stretch due to sudden weight gain or loss. Find out more about how to lose weight healthily and manage your weight. Staying hydrated by drinking at least 2 litres of water each day may also promote better skin elasticity.

In summary, stretch marks are small scars on the skin that occur when the body suddenly grows. The most common causes are weight gain, growth during puberty and pregnancy. They can appear anywhere on the skin, ranging in colour and size.

Stretch marks often fade over time but rarely disappear completely. Some products and medical treatments can help to reduce visibility, particularly for newer stretch marks. We offer a range of treatments for scars and stretch marks, as well as gentle mother and baby skincare.

Want to learn more about how to look after your skin? Read our advice on common skin conditions, including tips on pregnancy skincare.

References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/stretch-marks
www.nhs.uk/conditions/cushings-syndrome
www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/stretch-marks