What causes stretch marks in pregnancy? Are they unavoidable? And more…
You've learnt to cope with surging hormones and morning sickness. Your expanding tummy is something you’re growing to love.
You're taking your pregnancy vitamins every morning without fail. And now the second trimester is looming, you're generally feeling a lot better.
You might even go as far as to say, in control.
Then, just as you’re getting used to all the disruption pregnancy throws at you, lines start appearing on your skin.
Across your tummy, around your chest, and maybe even on your thighs. Say ‘hello’ to your pregnancy stretch marks.
Want to learn more about them? Here, we answer some of your key questions about stretch marks in pregnancy:
What are stretch marks?
They’re marks on our skin that tend to form when we go through a growth spurt.
For instance, as teenagers start to develop into adults and grow outwards and upwards and, as women’s tummies grow as their pregnancies progress.
They are an extremely common thing for people to have.1
Generally speaking, stretch marks aren’t harmful and don’t cause any specific medical issues.
In terms of pregnancy stretch marks, they usually appear on the tummy. It’s also possible for women to get them on their upper thighs and breasts, as they get further-and-further into their pregnancy and their bodies expand to accommodate their growing baby.
Stretch marks are marks on our skin that tend to form when we go through a growth spurt – i.e. puberty, pregnancy or rapid weight gain.
What do stretch marks look like?
Stretch marks differ from person-to-person. Some pregnant women get them, some don’t. Some look shorter and some stretch marks look longer.
Some are deeper and some are more surface level. Stretch marks aren’t all the same colour either; it’s common for them to appear in different shades initially.
They can change shade over time too, depending on how new or old they are.
Stretch marks look like lines or streaks that are either pink, red, brown, black, silver or purple.
They usually start off darker and fade over time. Most people get them on their tummy, chest, upper arms, legs, bottom, hips or back.2
Stretch marks look different on different people.
They are usually pink, red, brown, black, silver or purple and change colour depending on how new or old they are.
Stretch marks during pregnancy
Stretch marks develop when your skin stretches too far over a short period of time.
Given all the physical changes that come with pregnancy, it’s no great surprise most women get them.
Why do we get pregnancy stretch marks?
According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, stretch marks, which are also referred to as striae gravidarum within the medical profession, are caused when the elastic fibres and collagen beneath our skin rapidly expands and becomes ‘disrupted.’
As our skin is pushed outwards, the elastin stretches on a molecular level.
And, unfortunately, it never 100% regains its original shape or tightness. As a result, stretch marks start to show on the skin’s surface.3
It’s believed genetics and weight gain are the two main reasons people get stretch marks.
While we can potentially control our weight gain, it’s not possible to change the fact you have ‘inelastic skin’, if you happen to be one of those people who happen to have been born with it.
Stretch marks develop when our skin stretches too far over a short period of time, which is what happens during pregnancy and why pregnancy stretch marks are such a common thing.
Not everyone gets pregnancy stretch marks – why’s that?
It’s true, not everybody gets stretch marks. But they are very common. In fact, pregnancy stretch marks affect around 8 out of 10 women.4
Whether you get them is very much down to your genes.
In simple terms, if your mum went through pregnancy without gaining a single line, you’re more likely to do the same. If she gained stretch marks, you may do so as well.
But genetics aside, you're also more likely to develop lines if your weight gain is bigger and faster than average.
For this reason, maintaining a healthy weight throughout your pregnancy is one thing you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting stretch marks.
Pregnancy stretch marks affect around 8 in 10 women. Weight gain and genetics are the two main culprits when it comes to whether you develop stretch marks or not.
When do stretch marks appear in pregnancy?
You may notice your skin feeling itchy first. This is often an early warning sign of stretch marks.
And even if you haven't got that tell-tale itch, looking at the statistics, it probably feels like it’s only a matter of time before your tiger stripes turn up.
Pregnancy stretch marks typically appear on your tummy, breasts and sometimes on your upper thighs.
When they make their mark differs from woman-to-woman. However, between 13 weeks and 21 weeks is a popular time. That’s just as your baby bump is starting to form.
Pregnancy stretch marks tend to appear around the 13 to 21-week mark as your baby starts getting bigger, and your belly does too!
How to get rid of stretch marks: Do creams work?
Is a stretch mark cream the key to getting rid of stretch marks?
How to get rid of stretch marks: Do creams work?
How to prevent pregnancy stretch marks
Unfortunately, pregnancy stretch marks are inevitable for some women due to their genetic make-up.
However, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t still try to help reduce how many stretch marks you do get and how they look.
Take a look at the practical stretch mark prevention tips below, which are just some of things you can do during and post-pregnancy to help tackle stretch marks:5
Moisturise as soon as you know you are pregnant
Apply a rich cream, such as coconut oil, shea butter or Vitamin E – that provides lasting hydration every day.
Be sure to focus on all areas of your body that may develop stretch marks, such as your tummy, lower back, breasts and hips.
In doing so, it may help maintain your skin’s elasticity and help reduce the likelihood of it tearing as you grow bigger.
Keep a close eye on your weight gain
Putting on a healthy amount of pregnancy weight (25 to 35 pounds for normal weight women) may help keep stretch marks to a minimum because it prevents your skin from overstretching.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
While you may be eating for two, it’s important you don’t overeat, as this can lead to rapid weight gain, which can cause stretch marks to develop.
For more on getting your pregnancy diet right read, ‘Nutritional needs for pregnancy.’
After your baby has been born alter your body cream
Apply a firming serum that’s been formulated to help tighten skin or you could seek medical advice.
Sometimes, prescription Retin-A is used to help minimise the appearance of your stretch marks.
Note: it’s reportedly most effective on brand new stretch marks.
Or try alternative methods, such as microdermabrasion
Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic procedure that uses fine crystals and a vacuum to remove dead skin cells and make skin smoother. It’s not suitable for everybody though.6
Dry brushing your skin
This may help topical stretch mark creams and gels work better by removing any dead skin cells, enabling any products you apply to be better absorbed by the skin.7
This involves injecting tiny needles into the skin to stimulate collagen growth and create plumper and firmer skin.8
Applying lemon juice or egg whites to your stretch marks
Lemon juice is known for its natural bleaching properties, so may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Apply fresh lemon juice or rub a lemon wedge on to your stretch marks daily. While egg whites eggs are full of protein and amino acids.
When applied to stretch marks, they may help lighten marks and tighten skin.9
There are several things you can do to try and prevent stretch marks from developing, ranging from moisturising your skin every single day to eating a healthy and balanced diet.
Stretch marks after pregnancy
First of all, stretch marks aren't harmful, so there’s no need to panic when you see them.
Will pregnancy stretch marks disappear on their own?
They vary in colour and will change over time.
Often, they will start out pink, red, brown or purple. It’s at this point that they’re referred to as, ‘striae rubra.’ They’re reportedly easier to treat when they are in this phase.10
Later, once your baby is born, you may start to see a reduction in the appearance of any marks naturally.
At this point, stretch marks are known as ‘striae alba.’ It’s at this point that they tend to fade to a silvery, grey colour.
So, although they may not completely disappear (it’s extremely difficult to completely get rid of stretch marks), they're likely to become a lot less noticeable in time.
If you are going to treat your stretch marks, it’s important you do it when they are in the striae rubra phase because they are more difficult to treat, as the marks are older, when they reach the alba stage.
Some stretch marks naturally fade over time, and some don’t.
If you want to try and do something to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks, it’s better you do it sooner while the marks are still fresh on your skin.
Last updated: 19 August 2021