Stretch marks

What are they?
Fine lines on the skin, due to a reduction in collagen and elastin
New stretch marks look red-purple, while older ones look white or silvery

Why do they develop?
From rapid stretching of the skin, for example in puberty, pregnancy, and after rapid weight gain
Genetics, hormonal factors, certain medical conditions and medications also contribute

What treatments are available?
Topical retinoids and silicone gels

Stretch marks are really common, and many of us will develop some over the years. There’s a huge variation in how people are affected, with some people having one or two, and others having seemingly hundreds. Rest assured, in most cases they are completely normal, and treatment isn’t necessary. If you really want to try something to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks, read on to see what you should (and shouldn’t!) be trying. 

What are stretch marks, and why do they form?

Stretch marks, also known as striae, are common, occuring in up to 70% of people. They are fine lines that appear on the skin, often after a period of growth or stretching of the skin. When looked at under a microscope, there’s a reduction in collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep skin plump, firm and elastic. New stretch marks often look red, purple or pink, while older stretch marks look white or silvery. 

Stretch marks can develop during puberty, pregnancy, after weight gain, in weight lifters, and as a result of certain medications and medical conditions.

Why do some people get stretch marks, and some people don’t?

Some people are genetically more likely to develop stretch marks than others. In addition, hormonal factors, the rate of growth, other medical conditions and medications all contribute. 

How can I prevent developing stretch marks?

There aren’t any clinical studies that have shown with confidence that any treatment prevents stretch marks. Very weak evidence suggests that 15 minutes of massage with bitter almond oil, hyaluronic acid and Centella asiatica extract may reduce the development of stretch marks in pregnancy

What treatments are available for stretch marks? 

Treatment of stretch marks can be difficult, but they often become less visible with time. There are lots of topical preparations that claim to prevent or treat stretch marks, but most of these have limited or no evidence to support their use. Topical retinoids and silicone gels may help. Vascular laser may improve the colour of red stretch marks, and radiofrequency and certain other lasers may improve the appearance of stretch marks.

Al-Himdani S, Ud-Din S, Gilmore S, Bayat A. Striae distensae: a comprehensive review and evidence-based evaluation of prophylaxis and treatment. Br J Dermatol. 2014 Mar;170(3):527-47. 

Pongsrihadulchai N, Chalermchai T, Ophaswongse S, Pongsawat S, Udompataikul M. An efficacy and safety of nanofractional radiofrequency for the treatment of striae alba. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017 Mar;16(1):84-90. 

Ud-Din S, McAnelly SL, Bowring A, Whiteside S, Morris J, Chaudhry I, Bayat A. A double-blind controlled clinical trial assessing the effect of topical gels on striae distensae (stretch marks): a non-invasive imaging, morphological and immunohistochemical study. Arch Dermatol Res. 2013 Sep;305(7):603-17.

Wollina U, Goldman A. Management of stretch marks (with a focus on striae rubrae). J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2017;10(3):124-129.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…