Stretch marks or striae (singular=stria) are a form of scarring on the skin with an off-color hue. Not every stretch mark looks the same. They can be red, pink or purple. Some are indented lines, while others are just streaks of color. They look like wiggly rivers with a slight indentation, almost like wood grain. The skin also tends to be a little shinier in the area. Stretch marks tend to be symmetrical and localized, occurring on both hips, both knees, and both breasts.
Seventy percent of women are affected by stretch marks. Stretch marks are often the result of the rapid stretching of the skin associated with rapid growth (common in puberty) or weight gain (e.g. pregnancy or muscle building) or in some cases, severe pulling force on skin that overcomes the dermis's elasticity.
Stretch marks may also be influenced by hormonal changes associated with puberty, pregnancy, muscle building, hormone replacement therapy for transsexuals, etc. Also, 90 percent of women are affected by stretch marks during pregnancy.
Stretch marks can appear anywhere on the body, but are most likely to appear in places where larger amounts of fat are stored. Most common places are the abdomen (especially near the navel), breasts, upper arms, underarms, back, thighs (both inner and outer), hips, and buttocks. They pose no health risk in and of themselves and do not compromise the body's ability to function normally and repair itself.
Over time stretch marks diminish but not disappear completely.
If severe stretch marks make your skin look like a highway atlas, then the answer isn't to try to cover it up with creams or makeup. They actually could be a road map to something more serious that's going on inside your body. First, you need to make sure that your adrenal gland isn't making too many steroids (that could be a sign of Cushing's disease).
If the marks are less than a year old and still have a purplish hue, you can have them lasered to lighten them, but other than that, only surgery can remove them.
Stretch marks are technically atrophic scars, meaning the skin is thinner and pulled.