They are often referred to by doctors as Stria or Striae and Striae Gravidarum during pregnancy. The areas of the body most often affected by stretch marks are the abdomen (tummy), buttocks, and thighs.
They develop when the the skin is stretched suddenly and the middle layer of your skin (the dermis) breaks in places, allowing the deeper layers to show through. The dermis can be stretched:
- during pregnancy
- as a result of weight gain
- due to growth spurts during puberty
Stretch marks are often red or purple to start with and will gradually fade to a silvery-white color. They are usually long and thin. Read more about the characteristics of stretch marks.
Can I get rid of stretch marks?
Most stretch marks are not particularly noticeable and will fade over time. If you have stretch marks that are unsightly or which affect a large area of your body, there are treatments available. Creams, gels or lotions, laser surgery and cosmetic surgery are all used to treat stretch marks. However, there is little in the way of medical evidence to show that these treatments are effective, so it's important to be realistic about what they can achieve. Also, laser treatment and cosmetic surgery are not available on the NHS, so treatment can be expensive.
You should see your GP if your stretch marks do not seem to be linked to weight gain or growth because they might be a sign of another condition. In rare cases, stretch marks can be a caused by conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome or Marfan syndrome.
Preventing stretch marks
In some situations, such as during pregnancy, it isn't possible to prevent stretch marks. However, controlling your weight and looking after your skin can reduce your risk of developing them. Stretch marks are very common and cannot be prevented altogether. However, the following advice may help reduce your risk of developing stretch marks.
Gaining weight rapidly over a short period of time is one of the most common causes of stretch marks. Diets that cause your weight to quickly go up and down can cause stretch marks to develop because your skin is stretched by the sudden increases and decreases in your size. Therefore,avoiding rapid weight gain and weight loss can help prevent stretch marks from occurring.
If you need to lose weight, you should do it slowly by eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting plenty of regular exercise. You should not lose more than 0.5kg (1lb) a week.
Massaging your skin every day with moisturizer or a massage glove can help improve your circulation and encourage new tissue growth. It is also important to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin E, vitamin C, and the minerals zinc and silicon. These vitamins and minerals will help keep your skin healthy.
Stretch marks that develop during pregnancy are usually due to hormonal changes that affect your skin. However, gaining pregnancy weight steadily may help minimize the effect of stretch marks. During pregnancy, it is normal for a woman to put on weight over a relatively short period of time. However, it is a myth that you need to 'eat for two', even if you are expecting twins or triplets. You do not need to go on a special diet if you are pregnant, but you should eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients for you and your baby. Your diet should be rich in wholewheat carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, as well as fruit and vegetables. During pregnancy, your weight gain should be slow and gradual. The amount of weight you put on will depend on the weight you were before you became pregnant. It is normal to gain 1-2kg (2.2-4.4lb) over the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
As a rough guide, during pregnancy, women who are:
- underweight (have a BMI of less than 18.5) should gain 12.7-18.1kg (28-40lb)
- a normal weight (have a BMI of 18.5-24.9) should gain 11.3-15.9kg (25-35lb)
- overweight (have a BMI of more than 25) should gain 6.8-11.3kg (15-25lb)
- Obese (have a BMI of more than 30) should gain 5-9.1kg (11-20lb).
Speak to your GP, midwife, or health visitor if you are worried you are not gaining weight at a healthy rate, or if you are concerned about your stretch marks.