Stretch marks, also known as striae, are a form of scarring on the skin with an off-color hue. Overtime may diminish, but will not disappear completely. Stretch marks formed during pregnancy, usually during the last trimester, and usually on the belly, but also commonly occurring on the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back and buttocks, are known as striae gravidarum.
Stretch marks are caused by tearing of the dermis. This is often from the rapid stretching of the skin associated with rapid growth or rapid weight changes. Stretch marks may also be influenced by hormonal changes associated with puberty, pregnancy,bodybuilding, or hormone replacement therapy.
There is no evidence that creams used during pregnancy prevent stretch marks. Once they have formed there is no clearly useful treatment, though various things are tried.
Signs and symptoms
Striae, or “stretch marks”, begin as reddish or purple lesions, which can appear anywhere on the body, but are most likely to appear in places where larger amounts of fat are stored; the most common places are the abdomen (especially near the navel), breasts, upper arms, underarms, back, thighs (both inner and outer), hips, and buttocks. Over time, they tend to atrophy and lose pigmentation. The affected areas appear empty, and are soft to the touch.
Stretch marks occur in the dermis, the resilient middle tissue layer that helps the skin retain its shape. No stretch marks will form as long as there is support within the dermis; stretching plays a role in where the marks occur and in what direction they run, however, there are a number of contributing factors (see: “Causes”, below) to their formation. They can (but do not always) cause a burning and itching sensation, as well as emotional distress. They pose no health risk in and of themselves, and do not compromise the body’s ability to function normally and repair itself, however, they are often considered a cosmetic nuisance. Young women are generally affected the most and often seek treatment for them from a dermatologist and following pregnancy