Stretch marks, also called striae distensae or striae gravidarum, look like indented streaks in your skin. They may be red, purple, or silver in appearance. Stretch marks most often appear on the:
They’re common in pregnancy, but anyone can develop stretch marks in any phase of life. Some people are more susceptible to them. If your mom, dad, grandparents, or other blood relative has stretch marks, you’re more likely to get them.
Even if you’re at increased risk of stretch marks, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk and treat the stretch marks you already have.
One of the most helpful things you can do to prevent stretch marks, whether you’re pregnant or not, is to maintain a healthy weight. Stretch marks can happen when your skin pulls apart quickly due to rapid weight gain. You may also notice stretch marks after rapid weight loss. Some people develop stretch marks during growth spurts, such as during puberty. Other people, like bodybuilders, notice them after big gains from working out or using steroids.
Working to control body changes from happening too quickly may be your best bet. Eat a healthy diet and exercise to help you manage your weight. If you do notice rapid weight gain or weight loss, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor to find out why.
Drinking enough water may help keep your skin hydrated and soft. Soft skin doesn’t tend to develop stretch marks as much as dry skin does. The Institute of Medicine’s current recommendations for daily water intake are 104 ounces for men and 72 ounces for women.
Drinking caffeinated beverages, like coffee, may actually increase your risk of developing stretch marks. If you drink coffee, make sure you’re balancing out your fluid intake with plenty of water, herbal tea, and other caffeine-free fluids.
Stretch marks may also occur if you lack nutrition in certain areas. Eating foods that boost skin health may help. Make sure your diet includes foods rich in:
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
One way to make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients is to choose unprocessed foods in various colors. For example, a breakfast of eggs, whole wheat toast, and mixed berries adds many colors to your plate while packing in a variety of nutrients.
Collagen plays a role in keeping your skin strong and elastic. It helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles, but it may also be important for preventing stretch marks.
Vitamin C is an important nutrient for the development of collagen. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons, are especially good sources of vitamin C.
One study found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and the incidence of stretch marks. More research is needed, but results suggest that maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D may reduce your risk of stretch marks.
The easiest way to get vitamin D is through exposure to the sun. The vitamin is also commonly added to bread, cereal, and dairy products like milk or yogurt.
Zinc is an important nutrient for skin health. It helps reduce inflammation and plays a role in the wound healing process. There is very little evidence to date of a connection between zinc and stretch marks, but including zinc-rich foods in your diet, such as nuts and fish, may help keep your skin healthy.
If you can’t totally prevent stretch marks on your skin, you can work to minimize their appearance so they aren’t as noticeable in the long run. Make an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist to discuss your options if you have fresh stretch marks. Your doctor can help determine what is causing your marks, and they may be able to suggest treatment options that work best on new stretch marks.
Some people are more likely to develop stretch marks. Risk factors include:
- being female
- having a family history of stretch marks
- being overweight
- being pregnant
- gaining or losing weight quickly
- using corticosteroids
- having breast augmentation
- having certain genetic disorders, such as Cushing’s syndrome or Marfan syndrome
Pregnancy is one of the most common times when women notice stretch marks. In fact, it’s estimated that 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women will develop stretch marks before delivery. So, are pregnancy stretch marks different from the ones that other people get? Maybe.
Some experts believe that hormones during pregnancy may make you more prone to stretch marks. The hormones may bring more water into the skin, relaxing it and making it easier to tear when stretched. This idea is up for some debate. Regardless, a good number of pregnant women will notice stretch marks starting in the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy.
In recent study published by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 78 percent of respondents used a product to prevent stretch marks. Of these women, a third of them said they tried two or more products, with Bio-Oil being the most frequently used. Still, 58.5 percent of the women who used this oil developed stretch marks.
That said, the best way for pregnant women to prevent stretch marks is to gain pregnancy weight slowly and steadily. You can work with your healthcare provider to find a diet and exercise plan that will help you avoid gaining too much while also giving you the nutrition you need to nourish yourself and your baby.
If you do develop stretch marks during pregnancy, you may be glad to know that they will eventually fade. Over time, the red or pink color will mature into a pale silver or white color.
Preventing stretch marks may be difficult, but there are many treatments that may lessen their appearance.
Retinoid cream is a topical medication that comes from vitamin A. The appearance of your skin may improve after applying retinoids, especially if your stretch marks are relatively fresh. The cream helps rebuild the collagen in your skin and makes the marks look more like the rest of your skin.
Speak with your doctor about this treatment if you are pregnant or nursing, as most physicians agree that topical retinoids should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing because their risk-benefit ratio remains questionable.
Laser therapy is another option for reducing stretch marks. The lasers can help stimulate collagen or elastin in your skin to grow. There are various types of laser therapy, and your doctor can help you choose the kind that is right for you.
Glycolic acid creams and chemical peels are other treatments for stretch marks. Many of these treatments are expensive and may not be covered by your insurance. They work to help lessen the appearance of current stretch marks, but they do not keep new ones from forming.
Stretch marks often fade to become less noticeable with time. Preventing them can be difficult, and no miracle products have been scientifically proven to work.
Many creams, oils, and other personal care items claim to help prevent stretch marks, but many of these claims lack scientific backing. They may not help, but in most cases they aren’t likely to hurt, either.
Keeping your weight in check, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, and seeking treatment soon after the marks appear may help. Call your doctor if you notice an increase in stretch marks or if they cover a large area of your body. Your doctor may be able to help you figure out what is causing them and suggest treatment options.