Stretch marks after weight loss: why they happen and what to do about them
LAST UPDATED: Sep 09, 2022
3 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
Whether you wear them with pride or hate them, stretch marks are a normal part of life for both men and women. Up to 90% of the general population in the US have stretch marks somewhere on their bodies. Stretch marks commonly appear on the stomach, butt, thighs, breasts, back, armpit, and groin areas (Oakley, 2022).
Although stretch marks are normal, certain people are more prone to them than others—including people on a weight loss journey. Visible stretch marks after weight loss are a reality for many, but evidence has not shown any treatment option to be particularly effective at treating them. Understanding stretch marks after weight loss, why they happen, and what to do about them can help those who may be concerned about them feel more prepared.
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Types of stretch marks
Stretch marks are fine lines or discolored streaks on the skin caused by the skin stretching and tearing from rapid growth. The stretching and tearing disrupt connective tissue and collagen production in the skin, causing it to lose its elasticity (Oakley, 2022; Al-shandawely, 2021).
After the stretching and tearing, stretch marks appear dark, shiny, or raised. Over time, however, stretch marks may look similar to scars with more light or silvery coloring. In most cases, stretch marks have a different texture and color than your normal skin.
The technical, medical term for stretch marks is striae distensae (stretched skin). Stretch marks can be red, white, black, or dark blue (Oakley, 2022):
What causes stretch marks?
There are many different causes for stretch marks, but stretch marks during pregnancy are prevalent. It affects 50–90% of pregnant women, and researchers have determined that there are very few ways to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. After all, skin stretching is a necessary part of pregnancy (Korgavkar, 2015).
Other causes of stretch marks include (Wollina, 2017):
Puberty-induced growth (e.g., breasts and hips)
Muscle growth (hypertrophy), including bodybuilding activities
Side effect of too much use of topical corticosteroids
Side effect of breast augmentation
Certain medical conditions, including diabetes and adrenal illnesses
Risk factors for stretch marks
Although many factors are at play, certain risk factors have been shown to increase the chances of developing stretch marks, including (Oakley, 2022):
Having family members with a history of stretch marks
A genetic condition called Marfan syndrome
Delivering large babies or twins
High body weight
Significant weight gain
Taking topical corticosteroid treatments
Can you get stretch marks from losing weight?
For people with overweight or obesity, losing weight can have significant benefits for physical and emotional health. These are great outcomes, but weight loss does have a potential downside: stretch marks.
The risk for stretch marks is particularly high in people with excess weight who lose that weight very quickly. Although there is no surefire way to prevent excess skin or stretch marks following rapid weight loss or gain, there are ways to help minimize the risk.
Staying hydrated, eating a nutritionally-balanced diet, and getting regular exercise can all contribute to healthier skin. Additionally, talking to your healthcare professional when trying to gain or lose weight can help you achieve your ideal weight steadily and safely, thereby potentially lowering your chances of stretch marks.
Do stretch marks go away when you lose weight?
Stretch marks from gaining too much weight are not likely to go away, even if you lose the weight. That said, stretch marks can heal if they’re still red (indicating new stretch marks). Older stretch marks that are translucent are the most difficult to address.
How do you get rid of stretch marks?
Although many products on the market promise results when it comes to minimizing the appearance of stretch marks, clinical research has shown few treatments to be universally effective. If you’re going to try a topical cream or ointment, read reviews and keep your expectations in check. There is no guaranteed way to get rid of these marks, and older stretch marks tend to be the most stubborn.
Over time, stretch marks can fade, but in most cases, they never completely go away. Some people, however, may experience good results from specific stretch mark removal procedures performed by dermatologists or plastic surgeons. Treatments that may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks in certain people include (Wollina, 2017; Oakley, 2022):
These procedures are considered cosmetic and typically not covered by insurance. Beyond cost, it’s also critical to understand the risks involved with each option, especially if you take medications or have a health condition. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if any of these options are right for you before making your own treatment decisions.
Despite what some product manufacturers claim, there are no miracle cures for stretch marks. The good news is that, with time, stretch marks tend to fade and become less noticeable. Keeping up with your skin health and wellness, including staying in a healthy weight range and staying hydrated, may help minimize the extent to which your stretch marks are noticeable over the long run.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Al-shandawely, A. A., Eldawla, R. E., Salah, F. E., et al. (2021). An update in the etiopathogenesis of striae distensae: A review article. Sohag Medical Journal, 25 (3), 39-44. Retrieved from https://smj.journals.ekb.eg/article_198390_a2b138a796c222463f54be31e39c20ca.pdf
Korgavkar, K. & Wang, F. (2015). Stretch marks during pregnancy: a review of topical prevention. The British Journal of Dermatology , 172 (3), 606–615. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25255817/
Myriam, M., Sabatier, M., Steiling, H., & Williamson, G. (2006). Skin bioavailability of dietary vitamin E, carotenoids, polyphenols, vitamin C, zinc and selenium. British Journal of Nutrition, 96 (2), 227-238. doi:10.1079/BJN20061817. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/skin-bioavailability-of-dietary-vitamin-e-carotenoids-polyphenols-vitamin-c-zinc-and-selenium/85439C77CB11E1A101461FA1B1F661FB
Oakley, A. M. & Patel, B. C. (2022). Stretch marks. StatPearls . Retrieved on July 31, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28613776/
Wollina, U. & Goldman, A. (2017). Management of stretch marks (with a focus on striae rubrae). Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, 10 (3), 124–129. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29403182/