Why stretch marks appear in pregnancy and how to get rid of them

By (embryologist), (embryologist) and (biochemist).
Last Update: 09/19/2023

Stretch marks are the scars and lines that appear in certain parts of the body, both in women and men, as a result of the rupture of collagen and elastin fibers in the skin.

In the case of pregnant women, stretch marks often appear on the breasts and abdomen due to the enlargement of the uterus from the second trimester of pregnancy.

What do stretch marks look like?

During pregnancy, it is quite common for women to develop stretch marks on the breasts or abdomen, as these are the areas where the skin stretches the most in a short period of time. Stretch marks that appear during pregnancy are called striae gravidarum.

Stretch marks may also appear on the buttocks, lower back and, in general, in any areas where fat tends to accumulate. There are two types of stretch marks that can be easily distinguished:

Red stretch marks
acquire a reddish or purplish hue on the skin, and usually a raised texture.
White stretch marks
appear in the final stage of stretch marks, when the skin is flattened and no longer rough. These stretch marks can be permanent if they do not fade.

Before stretch marks appear, the skin becomes thinner, tighter and pink. Women often notice itching due to the stretching of the skin.

Why do they appear?

Stretch marks are a tearing of the collagen and elastin fibers found in the dermis, the inner layer of the skin.

These fibers are elastic and allow the skin to adapt to changes in volume. However, when the skin is stretched abruptly, as happens in pregnancy, collagen production is affected and there is not enough time to produce it.

As a consequence, the elastic fibers break and scars appear on the skin, known as stretch marks.

In addition to sudden changes in weight, there are other causes of stretch marks, such as the use of corticosteroids, dry skin, poor diet or even hereditary causes.

Risk Factors

It is very common for pregnant women to present with stretch marks, especially in the second and third trimester. In addition, there are some risk factors that contribute to the formation of these skin microtears:

  • High body mass index (BMI)
  • Excessive weight gain during pregnancy
  • Number of weeks pregnant: they are more frequent the further along the pregnancy is
  • Maternal age: young women tend to get more stretch marks
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Second pregnancy
  • Polyhydramnios
  • Increased fetal weight

In addition to all the risk factors mentioned above, it is also important to take genetics into account. Daughters of women with stretch marks are more likely to have them.

Finally, smoking during pregnancy is not recommended. Smoking has a negative effect on the health of the pregnant woman and the foetus, but also on the woman's skin as it favours the appearance of stretch marks.

How to avoid stretch marks

First of all, it should be noted that there is no anti-stretch mark treatment that is 100% effective in preventing the appearance of stretch marks during pregnancy. However, it is a good idea for pregnant women to try to avoid stretch marks forming, as it is difficult to get rid of them once they have appeared. Here are some tips to prevent stretch marks.

Skin hydration
use of moisturizing or anti-stretch mark creams several times a day, especially after showering. The use of almond oil, rich in fatty acids and vitamin E, is also highly recommended to treat stretch marks. Creams and oils help to restore the skin's elasticity and regenerate it.
Drink lots of water
maintaining proper hydration of the body also helps to promote the elasticity of the dermis.
Exfoliate the skin
helps cell renewal and improves collagen production. It is preferable to do it very gently and use natural products.
Moderate physical exercise
being fit helps to tone the skin and keep it more elastic.
Circular massages
along with applying creams or oils to the most vulnerable areas, such as the breasts and belly, to stimulate circulation.
eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins A, C and E to promote collagen production.
Avoid exposure to the sun
skin becomes sensitized and dries out quickly when exposed to the sun. It is important to use sunscreens with a high protection factor and to cover the skin as much as possible.

In addition, it is advisable to continue with anti-stretch mark treatments after childbirth until the woman's skin returns to normal. It is therefore essential to take care of the skin during pregnancy and postpartum.

How to get rid of stretch marks

After the birth, stretch marks begin to be less noticeable, although they may not disappear completely.

Some of the effective treatments to eliminate stretch marks are the following:

creams containing vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, onion extract or centella asiatica are used to treat new, red stretch marks. Some interesting products are shea butter, rosehip oil and coconut oil.
Retinol peeling
retinol stimulates cell renewal and improves collagen production. The disadvantages are that it cannot be used during pregnancy and lactation, it is aggressive and can irritate the skin.
pulsed light is a painless treatment used to remove red stretch marks. On the other hand, fractional laser stimulates collagen production and reduces the texture of stretch marks after several months of treatment.
is a mechanical exfoliation that removes the most superficial layers of the skin and stimulates cell renewal.
injection of carbon dioxide gas into the tissues which contributes to oxygenation, circulation and the production of collagen and elastin in the tissues.

It is important to treat stretch marks as soon as possible, as it is easier to remove them when they are red than when they have already turned white.

FAQs from users

When do stretch marks appear in pregnancy?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

As pregnancy progresses and the uterus grows, stretch marks can appear at any time. Most commonly, they appear in the third trimester of pregnancy, when the belly is growing, although some women already have stretch marks in the second trimester.

What are the causes of stretch marks in pregnancy?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

The main causes of stretch marks are sudden changes in weight, hormonal excess or corticosteroid-based treatments. Dry skin and a poor diet can also favor their appearance.

Other risk factors include twin pregnancy, excess amniotic fluid, a second pregnancy, etc.

How can you get rid of pregnancy stretch marks?

By Zaira Salvador B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

In most cases, stretch marks disappear once the woman has given birth and recovers her muscle tone. However, it is best to use creams and oils on a daily basis throughout pregnancy and to maintain good hydration.

Is it advisable to use almond oil for pregnancy stretch marks?

By Marta Barranquero Gómez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Yes, the use of almond oil is one of the home remedies to prevent stretch marks in pregnant women. This oil helps to prevent the skin from drying out, thus restoring its elasticity. In addition, almond oil is rich in vitamin E and has antioxidant action.

In addition to preventing the risk of stretch marks, pregnant women should follow a series of precautions to maintain their health. For more information on this topic, you can continue reading here: Health in pregnancy: nutrition, care and potential problems

As we have said, physical exercise is very important to avoid stretch marks and, in addition, it has multiple benefits for pregnancy. You can read more about it in this article: Physical exercise in pregnancy: benefits and recommended sports.

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Tamar Matyashov, Ella Pardo, Reut Rotem, Yael Lichtman, Maayan Elnir Katz, Adi Y Weintraub, Amir Horev. The association between striae gravidarum and perineal lacerations during labor. PLoS One. 2022 Mar 15;17(3):e0265149. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0265149 (View)

FAQs from users: 'When do stretch marks appear in pregnancy?', 'What are the causes of stretch marks in pregnancy?', 'How can you get rid of pregnancy stretch marks?' and 'Is it advisable to use almond oil for pregnancy stretch marks?'.

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Authors and contributors

 Marta Barranquero Gómez
Marta Barranquero Gómez
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Graduated in Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences by the University of Valencia (UV) and specialized in Assisted Reproduction by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH) in collaboration with Ginefiv and in Clinical Genetics by the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH). More information about Marta Barranquero Gómez
License: 3316-CV
 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). Biotechnology Degree from the National University of Ireland en Galway (NUIG) and embryologist specializing in Assisted Reproduction, with a Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) More information about Zaira Salvador
License: 3185-CV
Adapted into english by:
 Michelle Lorraine Embleton
Michelle Lorraine Embleton
B.Sc. Ph.D.
PhD in Biochemistry, University of Bristol, UK, specialising in DNA : protein intereactions. BSc honours degree in Molecular Biology, Univerisity of Bristol. Translation and editing of scientific and medical literature.
More information about Michelle Lorraine Embleton

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