Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2003.
Stretch marks are fine lines on the body that occur from tissue under your skin tearing from rapid growth or over-stretching. It is a common condition that does not cause any significant medical problems but can be of cosmetic concern for some people. Other names for stretch marks are striae rubrae (which are red) and striae albae (white) striae atrophicans (thinned skin), striae gravidarum (following pregnancy), striae distensae (stretched skin), striae nigrae (black) and striae caerulea (dark blue).
Stretch marks are very common, affecting 70% of adolescent girls and 40% of boys. They occur in certain areas of the body where skin is subjected to continuous and progressive stretching. These include:
Stretch marks can also occur from prolonged use of oral or topical corticosteroids and from anabolic steroids. They are also a feature of the disease Cushing syndrome, where increased adrenal cortical activity i.e. excessive circulating cortisol is implicated in their development. They are seen more often in people with Marfan syndrome.
An early sign of stretch marks developing is when an area of skin becomes flattened and thin with a pink colour. This may also occasionally be itchy. Soon reddish or purplish slightly swollen lines develop perpendicular to the direction of skin tension (striae rubrae). Over time, these lighten to become whitish or flesh-coloured and much less conspicuous (striae albae). Stretch marks are usually several centimetres long and 1–10 mm wide. Those caused by corticosteroid use or Cushing syndrome are often larger and wider and may involve other regions, including the face.
The histopathological features of striae rubrae include:
Striae albae ressemble scar tissue:
Stretch marks usually are only a cosmetic problem, but rarely, if extensive they may ulcerate or tear easily in an accident. Stretch marks occurring in adolescents become less visible over time and generally require no treatment. In other cases, if stretch marks are a cause of concern then the following treatments, or others, may be tried, but have not been proven to be effective:
See the DermNet NZ bookstore
© 2019 DermNet New Zealand Trust.
DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service. If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.