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If you’ve recently experienced a rapid change in weight or growth, or pregnancy, you may have been left with stretch marks. These marks often appear on the skin as pink, purple, or red indented streaks that can later fade to white or flesh-colored indentations. But what causes these undesirable marks, and how can you get rid of them? Read the facts below to learn more.

What Are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks — or striae — are a form of scarring that occurs as a result of rapid stretching of the dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin.

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What Causes Stretch Marks?

Adolescents who experience rapid growth during puberty commonly develop striae. Individuals who have gained or lost a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time, or pregnant women may notice the appearance of stretch marks after their pregnancy.

Other causes of stretch marks include:

  • Adrenal gland diseases
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Medications, such as systemic steroids, or overuse of corticosteroid creams can also cause stretch marks.

Where Do Stretch Marks Appear?

Stretch marks can show up anywhere that your skin is suddenly stretched but most commonly develop on the abdomen, breasts, buttocks, thighs, and upper arms.

When Should I Seek Treatment?

The earlier stretch marks are treated, the better the results will be. The best time to treat is when marks are in the pink, purple, or red stage.

Why Can’t Stretch Marks Be Prevented?

When your body changes quickly, such as during puberty or pregnancy, your skin does not have time to keep up. Marks often cannot be prevented during these changes since the fibers of the skin are rapidly stretching, creating the wrinkled external appearance.

A common myth is that cocoa butter or cream can prevent these marks from developing, which is not the case. If you avoid losing or gaining weight quickly, you may decrease the likelihood of developing marks.

How Are Stretch Marks Treated?

  • Stretch mark cream  Although preventing or eliminating striae completely is unlikely, some treatment options can minimize their appearance. Lotions and creams with retinoids, such as Retin-A®, can promote collagen production and reduce redness, which may be helpful with reducing the overall appearance of marks.
  • Laser treatment for stretch marks  When marks are newer and appear pink, purple, or red, a pulsed dye laser (PDL), like CynergyTM, can be used to reduce their color, making stretch marks less visible.

For marks that are flesh-colored or white, fractionated lasers, such as CO2RE® Fractional or PearlTM Fractional, can stimulate elastin production and help make stretch marks less noticeable.

While stretch marks may be unsightly, you do not have to live with them forever. There are a number of different ways to treat them through the use of the above procedures. The important thing is to find the treatment that is right for you and your body. If you think you may benefit from one of these treatments, talk to your dermatologist. For more information, please visit the UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center website.

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.