Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks Summary
Stretch marks occur in the dermis, the elastic middle layer of skin that allows it to retain its shape. When the skin is constantly stretched, the dermis can break down, leaving behind stretch marks.
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Stretch mark facts

  • The medical name for stretch marks is striae distensae.
  • Stretch marks are very common.
  • Stretch marks rarely are a sign of a significant medical problem.
  • Stretch marks are generally painless.
  • Stretch marks commonly develop in obesity and during pregnancy.

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks appear as linear streaks on the skin that has been overstretched, and they run perpendicular to maximum lines of tension in the skin. They begin as flat red lines, and over time they appear as slightly depressed white streaks. They tend to be present near the armpits, on the thighs, abdomen, chest, and groin. Their appearance is similar to changes seen in the surface of rubber balloons that have been overinflated.

What causes stretch marks?

There is some controversy over the precise mechanism by which striae occur. There seems to be damage to the elastic fibers of the dermis (the deeper layer of the skin) accompanied by inflammation which eventually results in scar-like changes. These changes appear to be induced by excessive physical stretching of the skin. There are a number of clinical situations which will predispose the skin to the formation of striae. These include rapid and excessive increase in body mass, the excessive use of topical or systemic glucocorticoid drugs (steroids), Cushing's disease (overproduction of glucocorticoids by the adrenal gland), puberty, Marfan's syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (two uncommon genetic diseases), excessively large breast implants, and pregnancy.

What are risk factors for stretch marks?

Excessive rapid weight gain and pregnancy are the two most common risk factors. Other risk factors include the conditions described above that predispose the skin to developing stretch marks.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/25/2013

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Stretch Marks - Effective Treatments Question: What kinds of treatments have been effective for your stretch marks?

Stretch Mark Prevention

After working out for two months, I've noticed that I have small stretch marks on my arms from lifting. How can I prevent them?

Stretch marks occur when the elastic middle layer of skin called the dermis is stretched. Stretching leads to a breakdown of connective tissue, inflammation, and then scar formation as the injury heals.

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