It’s often one of the first sacrifices a woman makes for her baby—the loss of a smooth, firm and unmarked abdomen. Stretch marks, clinically known as ‘striae,’ are a common badge of motherhood.

But new moms are not the only ones who develop these red or pink stripes on the skin. Fast-growing adolescents, bodybuilders, and people who experience significant weight gain or loss also may develop stretch marks, most commonly on the abdomen, breasts, hips, thighs, buttocks and back. They also may be associated with the long-term use of cortisone skin creams, diabetes or Cushing’s syndrome, a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure of the body’s tissues to high levels of the hormone cortisol.

“Stretch marks are areas in which the skin has thinned,” explains Dr. David Caplin of Parkcrest Plastic Surgery. “Think of a balloon being blown up—the color’s intensity changes as the balloon fills with air and the latex thins. Skin does the same thing.”

Although stretch marks naturally lighten over time, eventually becoming pale and crepe-like, Caplin says that once the skin has been damaged in this way, it won’t return to its original condition. “We’re not sure why some people develop stretch marks while others do not,” he says. “But there’s no way to add thickness back to the skin or make it more elastic to eliminate a stretch mark once it’s formed.”

However, stretch marks can be made less noticeable. For instance, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) can help minimize stretch marks. “If you excise skin, as in a tummy tuck, the skin will be tighter, and the stretch marks may be less noticeable,” he says. “But they’ll still be there. Like a fitted sheet on a mattress, the wrinkles are less apparent when the fabric is stretched tight, but they don’t go away completely.”

When stretch marks first appear as dark, discolored lines, they may respond to a FotoFacial or intense pulsed light treatment to reduce the redness and stimulate some collagen production, says Dr. Richard Moore of the The Lifestyle Center. “In addition, some topical products, such as Mederma, are sometimes helpful. Once stretch marks are in place, though, the actual marks do not tighten up appreciably, but the normal skin tissue between the stretch marks may tighten up in response to a skin-tightening device, such as ReFirme or Matrix RF,” he adds.

Dr. Richard Maack, medical director of Synergi MedSpa in Chesterfield, offers a stretch mark treatment using a profractional laser. “Patients can expect to have a diminished appearance and improved texture with each treatment,” he says. Laser treatments can lessen the depth of stretch marks in some patients and may stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, improving the skin’s appearance.

“The stretch marks didn’t happen overnight, nor will the results from treatment,” adds Carol Anderson, a nurse who works with Maack. “We recommend multiple treatments performed over a couple of weeks apart for optimal results.”