Do pregnancy stretch marks go away?

I've noticed some stretch marks on my stomach recently. Never had ones before. Are they forever?


F, 39, Delaware

Tags:woman age 35-44 stomach stretch marks permanent

Stretch marks or striae occur when your body grows faster than your skin. While the skin is fairly elastic, when it’s overstretched collagen production is disrupted. Collagen is an essential protein that makes up the connective tissue in the skin's dermis. The skin tries to repair the disrupted elastic network but it cannot effectively do so, resulting in the lax, loose skin visible in more mature stretch marks.

The body changes significantly as it moves through pregnancy and childbirth. One of the most common changes are stretch marks, which affect approximately 90% of pregnant women and usually occur towards the end of the second trimester/third trimester. Women most commonly experience stretch marks on their bellies and breasts during times of rapid weight gain or growth as their skin stretches. Stretching may be accompanied by feelings of tightness in the skin, or an itch.

One observation that experts have made is how quickly pregnant women gain the weight is as important as how much weight they gain. Healthy weight gain of between 25 and 35 pounds is fine, but greater than this may increase the likelihood of stretch marks occurring. In addition, it is recommended that women gain the weight slowly and steadily rather than in short bursts. Another factor that influences stretch marks is genetics. If your mother had stretch marks it's likely that you will experience them as well.

After childbirth the marks usually fade from red or purple to white or gray. Women with darker skin tend to have stretch marks that are lighter than their skin tone. There’s no dermatological evidence that topical creams or lotions have any efficacy in treating stretch marks, so unfortunately the treatment options are very limited.

Skin creams that contain Retin-A may slightly improve the appearance of new, fresh stretch marks, but older stretch marks are almost impossible to correct. Some patients experience an improvement with fractional or non-ablative laser treatments like Fraxel Restore Dual or Smartxide Dot laser. These will not completely erase the striae, however, but better blend the affected and non-affected areas, making them less visible. Three to five treatments are needed for optimal results.

Pregnancy and childbirth is a time of incredible change in a woman's life. One common change that is less welcome is the emergence of stretch marks around the abdomen and breasts. Stretch marks can have a detrimental impact on a woman's self-esteem and hinder her desire to engage in certain activities where they are exposed.

Most pregnant women will notice stretch marks occurring towards the end of their pregnancy, as their stomach rapidly expands to accommodate their growing child. Clinical studies suggest they occur because collagen and elastic cannot be produced sufficiently by the body as the skin grows and stretches, causing an alteration in the connective tissue layer. Swelling occurs in the deeper layers of skin, with increased blood vessels and inflammation resulting in the pink/purple discoloration characteristic of new stretch marks.

Many natural remedies, such as cocoa butter, claim to get rid of stretch marks or improve their appearance, however, this simply isn’t true. There are no skin care products that can sufficiently penetrate the skin layer to reach the deep layer of connective tissue where stretch marks occur. Nor will chemical peels, such as glycolic acid peels, create a significant effect.

Tretinoin, a topical retinoid derived from Vitamin A, can have some success with certain patients. It can help soften the appearance of stretch marks by stimulating new collagen to thicken the skin. Some emerging evidence suggests that stretch marks are more responsive to treatment while still fresh. Laser therapy may also be beneficial in some cases; schedule an appointment with a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist to explore your options.

It is important to understand that no non-invasive treatment will completely eradicate stretch marks. The only procedure that can do this is surgery: abdominoplasty will excise loose, stretch-marked skin to create a taut, smooth abdomen.

The good news is that with time stretch marks often fade on their own, shifting from a darker red or purple shade to a white or silvery wrinkled appearance as the healing process progresses. Many stretch marks end up almost imperceptible.

They fade but unfortunately, do not go away.  Collagen boosters like retinol and vitamin C can be helpful as can fractionated CO2 laser systems like the MIXTO to improve their appearance. 

Thank you for sharing your question.  The stretch marks will not go away, but will fade.  You might notice they are darker than your skin, and slightly pink or purple in color.  Over about a year they will fade to your skin color, or lighter.  They will be less noticeable then.  I hope this was helpful to you.  

Best Wishes, Dr. B.