American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

What are stretch marks and what can you do to get rid of them?

getting rid of stretch marks

Stretch marks are a type of scar to the skin, sometimes referred to as "striae" by doctors. They are caused by a tear in the dermis, or the deeper layer of skin, often from abrupt stretching of the tissue. This rupture of the collagen and elastin leaves a permanent scar when it heals, and from the surface, this develops into a visible stretch mark as we know it.

When they first appear, stretch marks are very dark in color, often purple or red. They can be raised above the skin and slightly puffy and itchy. The good news is that the appearance of stretch marks improves with time. Over a year, the color fades from red to a pale color, and the marks flatten or appear slightly depressed below the level of the surrounding skin.

Who is at risk for stretch marks?

Everyone has the capacity to develop stretch marks, but those with extreme hormone levels (such as pregnant women) or individuals with a family history of stretch marks may be more susceptible. I have heard many women call them their "tiger stripes," a physical representation of just what their abdomen did to accommodate their growing baby.

Outside of pregnancy, many teens develop stretch marks during puberty in response to their growing and changing body. Extreme muscle building and fluctuations in body weight may also cause stretch marks to appear as the body contour changes. The prolonged use of some medications which can thin the skin, like corticosteroids, may also cause stretch marks to appear.

How can you get rid of stretch marks?

Unfortunately, like a scar anywhere else on your body, stretch marks are permanent. But a scar massage may help to improve the appearance of your stretch marks if started early in the progression. Applying pressure to your scar or stretch mark may quicken the maturation of your scar and help to improve its appearance. Massages are recommended at least once daily as soon as the stretch mark or scar appears. After one year, the scar is typically fully mature.

If your stretch marks are red in appearance, there is limited research to show that the ingredients hyaluronic acid and tretinoin may have a small benefit in improving the pigment of your stretch marks. Vascular laser treatments may improve the redness or pigment changes in your stretch marks. While some of these modalities may help improve the appearance of your stretch mark, none of them will make it completely go away

Is there anything you can do to prevent stretch marks?

The quick answer to this question is maybe. Keeping the skin well hydrated and avoiding excessive weight gain may be your only chance to prevent permanent damage to the skin. While research has yet to find the perfect product to prevent stretch marks, controlling changes to our body and weight may be our best bet to keep our skin looking healthy and smooth.

Are there any surgical options?

If your stretch marks are on your lower abdomen after pregnancy, you are in luck. Stretch marks that are below your belly button can be surgically removed in a tummy tuck procedure. This surgery removes the skin below the belly button permanently and uses the upper skin to create a tighter abdomen and a smoother appearance.

It is important to meet with a board-certified plastic surgeon to discuss realistic expectations with this type of surgery, and to understand how this type of surgery will remove damaged skin and relocate upper stretch marks to a more hidden location near the bikini line.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


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