Stretch marks (also called striae) are a very common skin condition affecting both men and women; approximately 50-90% of the world population has or has had stretch marks. 
Although this skin condition is not life-threatening (just like cellulite), it may significantly decrease self-confidence and negatively impact quality of life.
But how to recognize stretch marks? What causes them? What are available treatment options?
The goal of this article is to provide better understanding of this disease process as well as answer common questions associated with stretch marks.
Let’s get started!
How do you recognize stretch marks?
Stretch marks may appear at first as red, purple, pink, reddish-brown or darker brown.
Stretch marks usually appear quickly on specific body areas like breasts, abdomen, thighs, buttocks, adn upper arms, but can also affect other skin areas, depending on hormonal changes, your body composition or predisposition to weight gain. Factors that play a significant role in stretch mark formation and potential treatment options include:
- Body area
- Color (and color changes)
- Shape (lines, streaks)
- Speed of appearance
- Scar-like presentation
What causes stretch marks?
The stretch marks appear when the skin is put under a lot of pressure (stretch) for a short duration. In this case, the skin cannot bear the fast stretch, and the connective tissue, composed of collagen and elastin (located in the second skin layer- dermis) is harmed.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology , there are specific triggers which lead to the development of stretch marks:
- Puberty secondary to rapid growth spurts
- Hormonal imbalance. For example, high cortisol levels not only stimulate weight gain, but may also weaken the elastic fibers in the dermis, increasing the chance of stretch mark formation. 
- Intake of certain medications, like corticosteroids. 
- Obesity, rapid weight gain and weight loss 
- Rapid muscle growth secondary to weight training
Stretch mark treatment options
Unfortunately, we have yet to discover a cure for older stretch marks and the vast majority do not fade or disappear over time. However, you can play a role in preventing the formation of stretch marks as well as help to fade the appearance of certain types of newer stretch marks.
According to a 2016 paper published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, anti-stretch mark creams containing retinol, tretinoin, peptides, and hyaluronic acid may effectively prevent striae by stimulating collagen and elastin synthesis in the skin. 
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that you can increase the effect of topical creams by using them only on new stretch marks (there is little effect on more mature stretch marks so please do not waste your money), massaging the product gently onto the skin, and applying it daily for several weeks as time is of importance here. 
Different types of light and laser therapies may fade certain types of stretch marks, particularly the red stretch marks or striae rubra.
Radiofrequency is considered as an effective, safe, and well-tolerated method for treating specific types of stretch marks, as it stimulates skin recovery and collagen synthesis. 
Microneedling is repeatedly puncturing the skin with tiny needles to increase collagen synthesis and temporarily improve the stretch marks’ appearance. Talk to your board-certified dermatologist to see if your stretchmarks can benefit from this treatment option and remember this is temporary. 
Microdermabrasion stimulates skin cells to replenish, It can be used to fade stretch marks by improving the skin tone and overall top skin layer appearance on specific types of stretch marks. 
Ultrasound therapies for stretch marks can significantly improve skin elasticity and appearance by stimulating collagen synthesis and skin replenishment. For best effect, they can be used in combination with microneedling. 
Camouflage tattoos are used as a quick-fix to even out skin tone and cover the appearance of the stretch mark and even out skin tone. This is the fastest way to hide stretch marks, but may fade over time.
What more to consider?
The efficiency of the mentioned treatment methods for stretch marks highly depend on the application frequency, size of the stretch marks, stretch mark duration, and combination with other therapies. For best results, consult your dermatologist, who can give you tailored advice and prescribe you an effective combination of different stretch mark therapies.