Red stretch marks are common and benign. They typically occur when the skin stretches due to the rapid increase in size of underlying structures.

Red stretch marks are not harmful. However, some people may wish to treat them or reduce their appearance with topical creams and other therapies.

This article discusses the causes of red stretch marks and lists some treatment options.

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Red stretch marks, or striae rubrae, are breaks or lesions that happen when a person’s skin stretches rapidly to keep up with underlying growth.

According to a 2016 review of studies, red stretch marks occur during the acute phase of this stretching, while white stretch marks are characteristic of the chronic phase. White stretch marks are also known as striae albae.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association say that red stretch marks may be itchy and appear slightly raised. As they fade to white, they may feel slightly depressed or like grooves in the skin.

Red or white stretch marks are not physically harmful, but some people may wish to treat them to reduce their appearance.

Stretch marks are very common during pregnancy, affecting 50–90% of pregnant people.

Some other potential causes include:

  • muscle hypertrophy, in which a person gains muscle so quickly that their skin growth cannot keep up
  • breast augmentation surgery
  • rapid weight gain or obesity
  • endocrinopathies, such as Cushing’s syndrome
  • topical corticosteroid use
  • rapid growth during puberty

Some common areas on which a person may experience stretch marks include the:

  • breasts
  • upper arms
  • thighs
  • abdomen

Stretch marks are like scars. There is no way to permanently get rid of them, but treatment can help reduce their appearance.

According to one review of studies, topical ointments and creams have a limited effect on stretch marks, or none at all. Moisturizers also do little to prevent them during events such as pregnancy.

Instead, the researchers recommend that people use laser therapy early in the development of stretch marks for the best results.

In the same review of studies, the researchers found a lack of quality information and peer reviewed research on the effectiveness of creams, ointments, or other topical treatments for stretch marks.

Another review of studies backs up these findings. The researchers looked at 74 studies and found that most were small and low quality and used a variety of protocols and procedures.

The authors conclude that not enough research exists to make any definitive statements about the success of lotions or creams in reducing the appearance of stretch marks.

However, the American Academy of Dermatology Association do provide some research-backed suggestions on how to use creams and lotions to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Here are some suggestions they recommend:

  • Massage the lotion, cream, or ointment into the skin for the best results.
  • Use the product every day for several weeks because it can take a long time for results to appear.
  • Treatment tends to work best on red stretch marks before they mature, so a person may wish to treat the stretch marks early for the best results.
  • Talk with a doctor about prescription creams, such as hyaluronic acid or tretinoin.

If over-the-counter (OTC) creams do not work, a person can consider talking with their doctor about other therapies, such as laser treatment.

According to a 2019 review of studies, some therapies that a healthcare professional can perform to potentially help include:

In addition to these, the American Academy of Dermatology Association identify ultrasound as a potential therapeutic intervention.

A healthcare professional may try more than one procedure to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

As with OTC creams, limited evidence supports the use of home remedies for reducing the appearance of stretch marks.

According to one review of studies, some potential home treatments include products such as:

  • almond oil
  • palm oil
  • cocoa butter
  • olive oil
  • coconut oil

A person can massage these oils into the red stretch marks.

Some people may prefer these oils since they are natural alternatives to OTC lotions and creams.

Whether or not a person contacts a doctor for red stretch marks is a personal decision. Stretch marks are not physically harmful and not likely to be a symptom of any undiagnosed medical condition.

However, some people may feel self-conscious about their stretch marks and wish to seek treatment. A doctor may recommend additional therapies that may help reduce their appearance.

Red stretch marks can occur when the skin stretches. There are several common causes of this, including pregnancy, rapid weight gain, breast augmentation, and extreme muscle gains.

A person can try to treat the stretch marks with lotions and creams. Although anecdotal evidence may suggest that these options work, high quality research evidence indicates that they are not likely to be very effective.

A person may find success with laser treatments and should talk with their doctor if they want to try additional therapies.