Why Do People Get Stretch Marks—And Can They Go Away

Stretch marks are colorful streaks that appear on the skin due to skin stretching. These marks can develop during pregnancy, puberty, times of rapid weight change, or as a result of a medical condition. While stretch marks never disappear completely, they usually become less noticeable as they fade to a lighter color over time. Treating stretch marks effectively is difficult, though there is limited evidence that certain treatments may improve their appearance.1

What Are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are discolored, narrow lines that can appear on the skin. A stretch mark is actually a type of scar, typically developing when the skin stretches quickly, such as during puberty or pregnancy. The medical term for stretch marks is striae.2

The most common locations for stretch marks are on the stomach, breasts, thighs, and buttocks, but you can get stretch marks in other locations where your skin becomes rapidly stretched.1

Of the entire population, it's estimated that anywhere between 11-88% of people are affected by stretch marks.1 The scars are more common among specific populations.

The majority of stretch marks occur on teenagers as they go through a period of rapid growth and on people who are pregnant as they experience rapid body changes and growth.1 In fact, researchers have estimated that between 50-90% of people who are pregnant get stretch marks.3

Stretch marks are not harmful to your physical health. However, their appearance may negatively affect some people's mental health. Research has shown that having stretch marks can cause emotional distress and reduce a person's perceived quality of life.4

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks develop when your skin stretches quickly, over a short period of time. When this stretching happens, the collagen and elastin in your skin breaks apart. Stretch marks are the scars that form when this damaged skin begins to heal over.5

You'd more likely experience stretch marks during puberty or pregnancy. But stretch marks can also develop under other circumstances. You might notice stretch marks if you:3

Experience quick gain weight

Increase your muscle mass when bodybuilding

Have Cushing's syndrome (when your body makes too much of the hormone cortisol)

Get breast implants

Use topical corticosteroids treatments (anti-inflammatory skin creams)

Receive tissue expanders (a rare complication)

Risk Factors

In general, having a family history of stretch marks means you are likelier to get stretch marks. Hormonal fluctuations, such as during puberty and pregnancy, also increase the risk of developing stretch marks.5

If you are pregnant, you may be more likely to develop stretch marks if you have other family members with stretch marks, are younger, weighed more than recommended before or during your pregnancy, or are carrying a larger baby.3

What Do Stretch Marks Look and Feel Like?

Stretch marks look like parallel stripes, bands, streaks, or lines on the skin.2

What your stretch marks look and feel like will depend on which phase they are in. Stretch marks go through two main phases: a pigmented (colored) phase and a color-fading phase.

In the first phase, the stretch marks are referred to as striae rubrae.1 During this stage, the color of your stretch marks will depend on your skin tone. Stretch marks first present as red, pink, dark brown, purple, reddish/purplish, or reddish-brown. In this stage, stretch marks may look raised or glossy. It’s common for the skin to be itchy as it stretches.25

In the second phase, the stretch marks are referred to as striae albae. During this stage, the stretch marks will fade to a whiteish color or to a lighter version of your skin tone.6 The marks might also sink into your skin so that when you run your hands over the area, you'll feel a little groove.5

Do Stretch Mark Go Away on Their Own?

Stretch marks don't completely go away on their own. In fact, the second stage of a stretch mark, the striae albae phase, is considered chronic. That means the stretch marks will remain as they look and feel after they have faded.1

While stretch marks do not go away on their own, they can fade on their own. For some people, this fading will happen within a matter of months after the initial colorful marks appear. For others, it may take a year or longer for the marks to fully fade.6

How Do You Remove Stretch Marks?

Since stretch marks are a kind of scar, they can’t be removed completely. There is limited evidence that certain treatments may help reduce the appearance of the scar. While no one particular treatment is known to be most effective at decreasing the severity of the scar, there are some treatments that have more evidence of effectiveness than others.1

Topical Treatments

There are many creams, lotions, and gels you can apply to your skin that are marketed as helping to minimize the look of stretch marks. Some are available over-the-counter, and some you can get with a prescription.5 The following treatments have some evidence of being effective for stretch marks, though they may not work for everyone and they might not help all the time:1

Tretinoin (sold under brand names like Renova and Avita)

Silicone gel

Hyaluronic acid

Some topical treatments might not work at all. For example, there isn’t evidence that popular at-home treatments such as olive oil, vitamin E, cocoa butter, or almond oil actually reduce stretch marks.5

If you want to see if one of the more effective topical treatments works for you, apply the product as soon as you notice the stretch mark. Applying the treatment early makes it more effective, with topical treatments not usually working on older stretch marks. When applying the cream, lotion, or gel, take some time to massage the treatment thoroughly into the stretch mark. And finally, have patience. After all, treatments can take several weeks to become effective.5

Before trying any topical treatment for stretch marks, though, consult with a healthcare provider. Certain treatments may not be advised for pregnant people or people with certain health conditions. For instance, some products may contain ingredients like retinol that can harm your baby when you are pregnant or breastfeeding.5


A healthcare provider like a dermatologist might be able to perform one or more procedures to minimize your stretch marks. The following procedures may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks:5

Laser and light therapy

Chemical peels


Radiofrequency energy devices



A healthcare provider may recommend the best option for you based on factors like your age and how long you've had the scars.

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

Stretch marks are common during pregnancy, adolescence, and times of fast weight gain. If your stretch marks are linked to one of these circumstances, you don’t need to visit your healthcare provider unless your stretch marks are becoming irritated or excessively itchy. You can also contact your provider if you have any questions or concerns.2

However, if your stretch marks—or marks that resemble stretch marks—seem to have come out of nowhere and you don’t know the cause, you should contact a healthcare provider.

You should contact a dermatologist if you are interested in treatments for reducing the appearance of your stretch marks, especially if you have tried numerous treatments and are not seeing results.5

How Are Stretch Marks Diagnosed?

Usually stretch marks don’t require a formal diagnosis, especially when connected to pregnancy, weight gain, or puberty. But when your stretch marks are not linked to these, your healthcare provider may need to figure out what the underlying cause is.

Diagnosing stretch marks will usually require your healthcare provider to physically examine you and ask you a series of questions. They may ask you questions about when the stretch marks appeared, what medications you are taking, and any other symptoms you have. Further screening and diagnostic tests may be needed, depending on what the suspected cause of the stretch marks is.2

How Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?

It’s not clear if stretch marks can be prevented. Many of the popular remedies marketed to prevent stretch marks, such as oils and creams that you massage into your skin, don’t have any evidence of working.5

There has been some limited evidence that products containing bitter almond oil, centella (an herb), or hyaluronic acid can help prevent stretch marks.3