Red, White, and Annoying: The Causes of Stretch Marks

Causes of stretch marks and how to prevent them

Credits: Saildancer at
Chau Phan
Edited By:
Hadar Lev-Tov , MD, MAS

These are troubling times: Your feet are swollen (at least they feel swollen because you can’t actually see them, and they don’t fit into your cute shoes anymore). You can’t go anywhere that’s not near a bathroom and, now, angry lines are being drawn on your belly. You are experiencing one of the more annoying symptoms of pregnancy – stretch marks.


Stretch Marks: What Causes Them?

Stretch marks are a type of scarring that shows up on the skin as parallel stripes in various colors from red or purple to white. Their coloring is different from the surrounding skin, even in the later phases when they are paler than when they first show up.

They are the result of explosive growth of the skin, which doesn’t have time to build collagen and elastin to help it stay evenly healthy-looking as it is stretching. 


The Reddish-Purplish Stage of Stretch Marks

In this first phase of a stretch mark’s lifespan, it is dark red or purple because the blood vessels just below the skin’s surface are pushing upward and showing through the tears in that upper layer. If caught early enough, these early-stage stretch marks can respond well to pulsed dye laser treatment, which helps reduce the red-purple appearance by going after the hemoglobin that gives blood it's coloring.


The Pale Stage

Later-stage (white) stretch marks pose more of a challenge. Two types of laser therapy have been known to work, each with its own plusses and minuses: fractional ablative laser therapy and non-ablative laser therapy. Medical professionals usually recommend the non-ablative kind – because, unlike ablative laser therapy, non-ablative does not involve painful removal of a layer of skin, so recovery time is shorter and patients have less risk of developing an infection.


Preventive Measures: The Truth

First off, it’s important to stress that tretinoin cream is a no-no for preventing or treating stretch marks during pregnancy. It is (meaning the medication has been shown in studies to affect the fetus in a negative way) for use by pregnant women because it can hurt the baby.

Many of the treatments online or in the local pharmacy that promise to stop stretch marks from appearing have not necessarily delivered on their promise. Remedies such as cocoa butter and creams containing vitamins E or A, and/or hyaluronic acid can certainly help reduce the itch that comes with stretch marks by keeping the skin hydrated. As long as women understand what they’re buying, they won’t be disappointed by the results.

At Pleasant Care Pharmacy, we offer a high-grade Pracaxi Oil blended with aloe vera that my sister and I have both used during our pregnancies. We found that the oil helped reduce (not eliminate entirely) the number of stretch marks that occurred. And the stretch marks that did appear were less prominent.

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