Stretch Marks


Stretch marks or striae, as they are called in dermatology, are a form of scarring on the skin with a silvery white hue. They are caused by tearing of the dermis, and over time can diminish but not disappear completely. Stretch marks are generally associated with pregnancy, obesity, and can develop during rapid muscle growth from body building. Stretch marks are the result of the rapid stretching of the skin associated with rapid growth (e.g. puberty) or weight gain (e.g. pregnancy), and anabolic steroid use. Although the skin is fairly elastic, rapid stretching of the skin will leave permanent stretch marks. (Source: WD Writers). Stretch marks (also referred to as striae distensae. Medical terminology for these kinds of markings include striae atrophicae, vergetures, striae cutis distensae, striae gravidarum (in cases where it is caused by pregnancy), lineae atrophicae, striae distensae, linea albicante, or simply striae.

Symptoms and signs

They first appear as reddish or purple lines, but tend to gradually fade to a lighter color. The affected areas appear empty and soft to the touch.

Human skin has three different layers: the epidermis (outer layer), the dermis (middle layer), and the subcutaneous stratum (innermost layer). Stretch marks occur in the dermis, the resilient middle layer that helps the skin retain its shape. No stretch marks will form as long as there is support within the dermis. Stretching plays more of a role in where the marks occur and in what direction they run. Stretching alone is not the cause.

Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body. They are most likely to appear in places where larger amounts of fat is stored. Most common places are the abdomen (especially near the belly-button), breasts, upper arms, underarms, thighs (both inner and outer), hips, and buttocks. They pose no health risk in and of themselves, and do not compromise the body's ability to function normally and repair itself.


Stretch marks occur when the skin is stretched suddenly. The outer layer of skin is not affected, but the dermis becomes thinner and develops tiny tears. The blood vessels that lie under the skin show through, giving the marks a reddish colour. Later, when the blood vessels contract, the purplish colour fades to silvery white.

Stretch marks appear most often in the following cases:

Pregnancy:  Between 75 and 90% of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy. As you put on weight, the abdomen (stomach) is gradually stretched further and further, usually causing stretch marks to appear in the sixth or seventh month. Stretch marks can also appear on the thighs, and on the breasts as they get bigger and heavier.

Adolescent growth spurt: Boys and girls tend to grow very quickly during puberty. Boys often get stretch marks on the shoulders, and girls get them on the hips, thighs, and breasts.

Athletes: Athletes who train their muscles to get bigger and stronger over a short period of time sometimes get stretch marks. This is particularly common in bodybuilders.

Weight loss or gain: Putting on a lot of weight over a short period of time can cause stretch marks to form. If you are constantly on and off diets, stretch marks can also form, as your weight goes up and down rapidly. If you are dieting, it is important to lose weight slowly so that strain isnt put on the skin.

However, not everyone gets stretch marks. Doctors think some people get stretch marks because their bodies produce more of the hormone, corticosteroid, than normal. This hormone decreases the amount of collagen in the skin. Collagen is a type of protein in the fibres of the skin that keeps it stretchy.

Occasionally, stretch marks can be a symptom of Cushings syndrome, a condition caused by too many steroid hormones. For more information, please see the separate encyclopaedia entry on Cushings syndrome.


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