Who's At Risk
In the US, almost all pregnant women, 70% of teenaged (adolescent) women, and 40% of adolescent men have stretch marks. These are due to growth and stretching of the skin. They are more common in women and occur equally in all races.
Stretch marks are also seen in people who use oral or topical corticosteroids, have a disease of the adrenal gland, or have rare hereditary (genetic) disorders.
Signs and Symptoms
Stretch marks are usually seen on the belly and breasts during pregnancy; the thighs and lower back of adolescent men; and the thighs, buttocks, and breasts of adolescent women. They are common on the shoulders of bodybuilders. Lesions may be widespread or occur in other locations in people who are using corticosteroids or have an underlying disease.
Stretch marks change in appearance with time. At first, they are faint pink, appearing in a line (linear), or they are parallel band-like marks, which might be slightly itchy. They gradually enlarge and become red to purple, often with a wrinkled surface. Finally, they become white, slightly flatter (depressed), with a crepe paper appearance of linear marks 1-10 mm wide and many centimeters long.
- Stretch marks appearing in adolescence often improve with time. No treatment is needed.
- Stop using topical corticosteroid creams in that skin area. Over-the-counter creams are useless.
When to Seek Medical Care
See your doctor if stretch marks appear without an obvious cause (pregnancy, rapid weight gain, adolescent growth).
Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe
If the stretch marks are cosmetically distressing, early red areas can be medically treated, but treatments are not be covered by insurance. Treatments include:
- Tretinoin cream
- Laser treatments
- Chemical peels
If the diagnosis is uncertain, a biopsy and blood tests might be done.
Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology
, pp.1542-1543. New York: Mosby, 2003.
Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine
ed. pp.1028. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.