Stretch marks

What are they? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What are Stretch marks?

Stretch marks are when the skin's middle elastic layer tears, and shows up as visible lines. They show through the upper layer of the skin and are also referred to as stria or striae. They occur, as their name suggests, as a result of rapid over-stretching, usually due to excess weight gain and loss. They’re particularly common in pregnancy, with around 90% of expectant mums developing them as the breasts, thighs and belly become enlarged and the skin has to stretch. They vary in width from 1-10mm and can be several centimetres long.

Stretch marks don’t ever disappear, but they do fade with time. At first they can be pink, red, brown, black, silver or purple. They usually start off darker and fade over time, although they don’t usually cause pain. They can be itchy, though. Although stretch marks are commoner in women than in men, anyone can get them and they’re very common.

In some cases, stretch marks can be caused by corticosteroid treatments. They can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as Cushing's syndrome. In either case, they are usually more prominent and larger than standard stretch marks.

What are the symptoms of Stretch marks?

Usually, the skin where stretch marks occur begins to look thinner than usual. When the stretch marks develop they can feel raised and wrinkly as well as a bit itchy. The itch is caused by the stretching and usually wears off in time. As stretch marks fade – usually over a number of years – they flatten and become paler in colour, and becoming less visible.

What are the treatments and remedies of Stretch marks?

Severe cases of stretch marks can sometimes be improved with laser therapy or cosmetic surgery, though this is quite an extreme therapy. Oils, creams and lotions can help the skin to retain moisture and massaging the skin can be quite soothing and reduce itching. Some creams have also been clinical proven to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, so do your homework as to which ones work best. If you have the type of skin that easily develops stretch marks, then there is probably nothing you can do to avoid them completely.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 08454 242424, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net


Stretch marks