From why they appear to how you can help fade them, a dermatologist answers all our questions on stretch marks

Stretch marks are a natural part of life that almost all of us will get at one point or another. They’re harmless and usually get less noticeable over time. 

Despite being extremely common, it’s only in recent years that stretch marks have become normalised – largely in part down to social media and positive advertising. More and more women are celebrating and owning their ‘tiger stripes’ with several celebrities (including Ashley Graham, Demi Lovato and Lizzo) leading the way. These real images and honest conversations are redefining what was once considered a ‘flaw’

While we’re fully behind this movement and encourage everyone to wear their stripes with pride, we also know that, for some, stretch marks can knock their self-confidence and they may want to minimise their appearance. 

Here, we break down everything you may want to know about stretch marks – from what they are to why they appear, as well as the treatments and products that can help soften their appearance, should you want to. 

What are stretch marks? 

"Stretch marks, also known as striae, are actually a form of scarring," explains Dr Sophie Shotter, consultant dermatologist and founder of Illuminate Skin Clinic. "They look like soft lines or streaks across the skin that naturally become less visible with time." 

"When they first appear, they are often pink, purple or red in colour, but as they mature, they become silvery or white. This is because the blood vessels under the skin, that give stretch marks that initial red or purple colour, begin to heal." 

What causes stretch marks? 

"Stretch marks occur when the dermis (aka the middle layer of skin) tears during periods of rapid growth, such as during puberty or pregnancy," explains Dr Shotter. They can appear anywhere on the body, but are most common on the tummy, breasts, chest, upper arms, legs, bottom or back. 

And while the prevalence is higher among women, men do get them, too. "Men have more collagen and more robust skin, meaning the dermis tears less easily," explains Dr Shotter, "nevertheless, they can still appear during puberty and are common in men who weight train and bulk-up rapidly."

Can you get rid of stretch marks? 

"As with any scar, it’s impossible to get rid of them completely," says Dr Shotter, "but if you’re self-conscious about stretch marks, there are ways to minimise their appearance." For this, Dr Shotter recommends in-clinic treatments. "Options include fractional radiofrequency, mesotherapy, microneedling, laser and chemical peels," she says. These treatments focus on building collagen and resurfacing the affected area. 

"In my opinion, best results tend to happen when we combine treatments and homecare," continues Dr Shotter. And while there’s no magic cream for stretch marks, there are products that may help reduce their appearance. "Retinoids can be an excellent choice if used on fresh stretch marks, but please remember that these shouldn't be used during pregnancy," says Dr Shotter. "Regular exfoliation is also a great way of minimising the appearance of fresh stretch marks. This can be via chemical exfoliants or mechanical exfoliants." Hyaluronic acid may also help if used on new stretch marks. Check out our guide to the best hyaluronic acid serums to find your perfect match. 

It’s also worth noting that you should see your GP if you have large stretch marks and:

• More fat on your chest and tummy, but slim arms and legs
• A build-up of fat on the back of your neck and shoulders
• A red, puffy, rounded face

These could be symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

How to prevent stretch marks 

While stretch marks are a normal part of life for most people, "keeping skin hydrated may help prevent them", says Dr Shotter, who points out that this means inside and out. "Drink plenty of water, minimise caffeine intake and ensure your diet is rich in vitamins C, D, E, zinc and protein."

Our edit of some of the best stretch mark-friendly products
 Boots Maternity Scar & Stretch Oil

• Size: 250ml

• Suitable for all skin types

• Non-comedogenic

Loaded with nourishing vitamin E, this lightweight body oil has been specifically formulated to help improve the appearance of scars and stretch marks. Massage onto skin twice daily for best results.

Weleda Stretch Mark Massage Oil

• Size: 100ml
• Suitable for all skin types
• Natrue and UEBT certified

With four awards under its belt, this massage oil gets high praise – and for good reason. Brimming with vitamins A, D and E, as well as essential fatty acids and warming arnica, it soothes and softens skin to help prevent stretch marks.

No7 Beautiful Skin Perfecting Body Polish

• Size: 200ml

• Hypoallergenic

• Don't apply to broken or irritated skin

Gentle enough for everyday use, this physical exfoliator helps sweep away dead skin cells to reveal smoother-looking, softer skin. To use, work it into skin in small, circular motions before rinsing away. Follow with your favourite moisturiser or oil.

Bio-Oil For Scars, Stretch Marks and Uneven Skin Tone

• Size: 125ml
• Non-comedogenic
• Suitable for sensitive skin

A cult favourite, Bio-Oil has long been touted as a skin-savvy miracle oil that aims to help improve the skin’s texture and increase its elasticity. This is thanks to a cocktail of vitamins A and E, plant extracts and PurCellin Oil.

The takeaway

It’s important to emphasise that stretch marks are a perfectly normal part of being human and can be the result of any number of reasons – including genetics. Our stretch marks map out our life stories, but it’s also OK if you’d like some help with fading them, using either in-clinic treatments or skincare products. The bottom line? Wear your stripes in a way that works for you.