Why Stretch Marks Appear and What to Do For Them

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 8, 2022
Stretch marks, or striae, are a type of scar that develops when your skin stretches or shrinks rapidly, but what causes stretch marks? This stretching or shrinking can happen for a variety of reasons:
  • Growth spurts during puberty
  • Pregnancy (striae gravidarum)
  • Bodybuilding or gaining muscle mass quickly
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Breast augmentation
  • High amounts of steroids
  • Cushing’s Syndrome
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Ehler-Danlos Syndrome

You can develop stretch marks on almost any part of your body, but most people see them on the arms, back, breasts, buttocks, hips, shoulders, stomach, and torso. Despite how common stretch marks are, it's easy to feel insecure about having them. If you or a loved one is struggling with self-esteem issues, it's okay to reach out for help through an online therapy service.

Stretch marks develop when the skin is not elastic enough to handle the abrupt change of growing or shrinking. This sudden change causes collagen and elastin in your skin to rupture, and as your skin heals, stretch marks are left behind. Some risk factors of developing stretch marks include a family history of striae and a rapid diet change. Depending on your skin tone, new stretch marks typically start as bright red, purple, pink, or brown scars on the skin (striae rubra). They can be itchy, a different texture, and are often slightly raised when they first appear. Over time, striae become depressed and sink beneath the surface of the skin. The color of older stretch marks changes over time as well, and they usually fade or become white.

How Can You Get Rid of Stretch Marks?

Unfortunately, just like all scars, striae are usually permanent. However, they’re very likely to lighten up on their own over time. There are also a variety of treatments that can make them less noticeable, as well as ways to camouflage their appearance.

Home Remedies for Stretch Marks

While many creams, lotions, and other skin products gently claim to be a miracle cure for stretch marks, note that there are very few ingredients that have been scientifically proven to make a noticeable difference in the appearance of stretch marks. For example, many claim Vitamin E, olive oil, cocoa butter, and almond oil are effective treatments for stretch marks. Although there generally aren’t any downsides to using these, and they’re sure to moisturize your skin, the science shows that they’re simply not effective in making stretch marks disappear.

Tanning Vs. Self-Tanner

Some people think tanning may reduce the appearance of their stretch marks, but in reality, the opposite is true! Scars don't tan, so tanning (whether outside or in a tanning bed) will only make them more noticeable. What does help reduce the appearance of stretch marks is self-tanner. While it doesn’t get rid of these scars, it camouflages their appearance so that they appear to be the same color as your surrounding skin.

Body Makeup

There are many different brands of body makeup on the market that you can use to make your stretch marks blend in with your skin. Body makeup comes in a huge range of skin tones for different and can be very affordable depending on the specific product you choose and your skin type.

Over-The-Counter Ingredients

One over-the-counter ingredient that research has shown to reduce the appearance of new stretch marks is hyaluronic acid. Although reading the word “acid” may make you think this ingredient is harsh or painful, applying hyaluronic acid is safe as it is naturally present in your skin and is very gentle. You can find many moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid at your local drugstore, and they’re typically pretty affordable.

Prescription Ingredients and Procedures

If you’d like to take a more aggressive approach to stretch mark removal, it’s necessary to see a doctor and discuss your options. The following procedures and prescriptions are a few of the most common ones used to help make stretch marks less obvious.

Tretinoin/retinoid cream

Tretinoin, often called Retin-A, contains a similar compound to Vitamin A. It increases collagen production, encouraging the skin to renew itself and fading stretch marks. Tretinoin or Retin-A is also used for acne and wrinkle treatment. Although it’s effective, it can be irritating to the skin.

Light and laser therapy

Pulsed dye laser therapy is a medical procedure that can be used to get rid of stretch marks. It involves a pain-free blast of light on new striae, and the energy from the light calms blood vessels under the skin, thereby improving the appearance of them. Redness for a few hours afterwards is normal, but contact a doctor is symptoms persist for several weeks.

Microneedling

This medical procedure for stretch marks involves a handheld device with tiny needles. Microneedling results in increased collagen production. Since it comes with less risk of hyperpigmentation than light and laser therapy, it’s often preferred by those with darker skin tones but has similar results.

Chemical peel

Chemical peels don’t eliminate stretch marks, but they can lessen their appearance. A chemical peel works by applying an acidic solution to the skin. It essentially burns off the top layers of skin, removing damaged and dead skin cells. Then, the chemicals in the peel boost new skin growth.

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is often used in conjunction with chemical peels. It’s somewhat similar to microneedling, but instead of using tiny needles, it employs small crystals which remove the top layer of skin. Microdermabrasion has been shown to fade stretch marks, but it doesn’t remove them completely.

Radiofrequency

Radiofrequency isn’t used as often as some of the other procedures on this list. It has only been proven to improve the appearance of stretch marks by one small study, so more research is needed. This procedure uses radio wave energy to create heat and encourage collagen production.

Ultrasound

Similar to radiofrequency, ultrasound treatment for stretch marks sends sound waves deep into the skin. These sound waves heat the skin, tighten it, and stimulate new collagen production to lighten stretch marks.

Cosmetic surgery

A more invasive approach, cosmetic surgery for striae usually refers to a tummy tuck. While this does remove the extra skin containing mature stretch marks, it’s usually expensive and painful, and it leaves behind new scars.

5 Tips to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin

We’ve gone over many ways to camouflage and lighten your stretch marks, but often the best choice is to learn to accept them! Having confidence and healthy self-esteem goes a long way, not just with stretch marks but with any aspect of your appearance that you don’t necessarily love. Remember, about 80% of Americans have stretch marks, so you’re in good company! Here are a few ways to encourage self-love and feel comfortable in your own skin.
  1. Switch up your social media.

Social media can cause major problems with self-esteem, especially if you tend to compare yourself to others. Start by unfollowing anyone who makes you feel insecure (you can also hide their posts if you don’t want to unfollow them). Then, seek out others with a similar body type to yours that you think look great. Better yet, ditch social media altogether, even for just a few days, and notice the way your inner critic becomes much quieter.

  1. Identify the things you love about yourself.

You are more than just your body! Make a list of ten things you love about your personality and character. Maybe you go above and beyond for the people you care about, or maybe you’re great at setting and achieving goals. Perhaps you’re a talented singer, a passionate artist, or an awesome person to see for advice. Keep the list handy, so you can refer back to it anytime you’re feeling down.

  1. Focus on what your body does rather than what it looks like.

Your body has brought you this far in life- give it some credit and respect! Consider everything your body does for you on a daily basis and give it some much-deserved praise. Keeping the focus on what you can do rather than what you look like can make a huge difference in your mindset, especially if you commit to this perspective long-term.

  1. Take care of your body.

Give your body the love and care that it deserves by nourishing it with healthy foods, getting daily exercise, drinking lots of water, and sleeping for seven to nine hours each night. Not only will this make you feel better physically, but it will also make you feel more comfortable and confident in your own skin.

  1. Choose clothing that flatters your body.

Many people who feel insecure about their bodies choose to wear loose, plain clothing. Instead of trying to make yourself less noticeable, dress the way you want to feel. Imagine yourself as a truly confident person; what would you wear? Take the time to find clothing that makes you feel good about yourself, and wear it with pride!

Are You Struggling with Self-Confidence?

BetterHelp is here to help you! BetterHelp is an affordable, accessible online counseling platform that matches you with a certified therapist. The same services, specialized to teens, are offered through TeenCounseling for ages 13-19. During weekly text, phone, or video sessions, you can discuss self-esteem, confidence, and anything else that may be negatively affecting your mental health. You may be surprised to see just how much speaking with a therapist can change your perspective and improve not just your self-esteem but your overall health!

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