Stretch mark science: What happens to your skin when pregnancy gives you a stretch mark?

“Most of the existing products aren’t based on solid scientific research,” said Frank Wang, M.D., assistant professor and dermatologist at the University of Michigan Health System. “Very few to none of the items touted to prevent or fix stretch marks really work.”

For a new study in the British Journal of Dermatology, Wang’s team investigated what could be causing stretch marks at the molecular level.

Wang has spent more than eight years studying stretch marks, a field that hasn’t received much research attention because they’re not viewed as medically dangerous.

“Because stretch marks may compound the stress of new motherhood for many women, it’s important to learn more about them,” Wang said. “Some women feel like their self-esteem, quality of life and willingness to engage in certain activities are affected.”

The line-shaped lesions also known as striae gravidarum affect 50 percent to 90 percent of women. However, some women are at higher risk than others, due to factors like family history, how much weight they gain in pregnancy, whether it’s a single or multiple birth and whether they’ve had stretch marks before for another reason like obesity.


Researchers studied skin samples from 27 pregnant women who had recently-formed stretch marks, comparing the stretch mark skin to both nearby stretched skin on the abdomen and to less-stretched skin on the hip.

Wang and his colleagues found the elastic fiber network in the dermis gets disrupted in a stretch mark. After giving birth, this network remains disrupted. Elastic fibers give skin its elasticity, or the ability to “snap back,” after stretching. The skin tries to repair the disrupted elastic network but it does not appear to be effective, which in turn promotes the lax, loose skin seen in more mature stretch marks.

Unfortunately, present research of topical treatment options doesn’t find anything currently available to effectively repair those disrupted elastic fibers.

“It may, therefore, make more sense to focus on preserving the elastic fibers you have rather than repairing damaged ones within stretch marks,” Wang said. “Regardless, it’s more complicated than just rubbing something on your stomach.”

Looking forward, Wang is already continuing his research with the end goal of helping pregnant women prevent or effectively improve the appearance of stretch marks. Another study in the works examines changes in collagen in stretch marks. Collagen is what gives skin its strength and support.

Wang’s team is also studying changes in more established stretch marks that have become less visible, and finishing a survey study of about 200 pregnant women to learn more about the effect on quality of life.

The authors see the potential for expanding this knowledge to other reasons people get stretch marks, such as obesity, growth spurts or steroid usage.

Stretch marks

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks are fine lines on the body that occur from tissue under your skin tearing from rapid growth or over-stretching. It is a common condition that does not cause any significant medical problems but can be of cosmetic concern for some people. Other names for stretch marks are striae rubrae (which are red) and striae albae (white) striae atrophicans (thinned skin), striae gravidarum (following pregnancy), striae distensae (stretched skin), striae nigrae (black) and striae caerulea (dark blue).

Who gets stretch marks?

Stretch marks are very common, affecting 70% of adolescent girls and 40% of boys. They occur in certain areas of the body where skin is subjected to continuous and progressive stretching. These include:

  • Abdomen and breast in pregnant women
  • Adolescents undergoing growth spurts (thighs, buttocks, breasts)
  • Shoulders in body-builders
  • Obese or overweight people

Stretch marks can also occur from prolonged use of oral or topical corticosteroids and from anabolic steroids. They are also a feature of the disease Cushing syndrome, where increased adrenal cortical activity i.e. excessive circulating cortisol is implicated in their development. They are seen more often in people with Marfan syndrome.

What do stretch marks look like?

An early sign of stretch marks developing is when an area of skin becomes flattened and thin with a pink colour. This may also occasionally be itchy. Soon reddish or purplish slightly swollen lines develop perpendicular to the direction of skin tension (striae rubrae). Over time, these lighten to become whitish or flesh-coloured and much less conspicuous (striae albae). Stretch marks are usually several centimetres long and 1–10 mm wide. Those caused by corticosteroid use or Cushing syndrome are often larger and wider and may involve other regions, including the face.

Stretch marks (striae)

Microscopic features

The histopathological features of striae rubrae include:

  • Lack of mast cells
  • Elastolysis
  • Structural changes in collagen bundles
  • Prominent fibroblasts
  • Dermal oedema
  • Perivascular lymphocytes
  • Reduced fibrillin microfibrils

Striae albae ressemble scar tissue:

  • Epidermal atrophy
  • Loss of skin appendages
  • Densely packed collagen bundles parallel to the skin surface

What treatment is available?

Stretch marks usually are only a cosmetic problem, but rarely, if extensive they may ulcerate or tear easily in an accident. Stretch marks occurring in adolescents become less visible over time and generally require no treatment. In other cases, if stretch marks are a cause of concern then the following treatments, or others, may be tried, but have not been proven to be effective:

  • Moisturisers
  • Topical retinoid therapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Pulsed dye laser therapy
  • Fractional thermolysis
  • Skin needling


While we all aim for smooth and even skin, sometimes things don’t always go our way. At one point or another, most of us will have to deal with stretch marks, so it’s best to know the facts and face them head on. Whether you’re wondering how you got them, how to help them, or even how to hide them – we’ve got you covered. Below, you will find everything you need to know when it comes to tackling stretch marks, so you’ll never have to be self conscious about them again.

1. They happen in different places for different reasons. Stretch marks occur when the dermis, the middle layer of your skin, is stretched to a point where its elasticity begins to break down. This then causes microscopic bleeding along with tissue inflammation, which gives us the raised reddish purple look of newly formed stretch marks.

2. Some people are more susceptible to them. Pregnant women, weight lifters, and adolescents are among those who are most likely to get stretch marks because of the changes their bodies go through during pregnancy, muscle growth, and puberty.

MORE: Why You Should Double-Cleanse Your Face

3. Genetics also play a big role. Stretch marks are also caused by genetics, so regardless of the circumstances, some people may just be prone to them. For this reason, you cannot completely prevent stretch marks, but they can be treated.

4. They are classified into two categories. Doctors identify stretch marks as either rubra or alba. At first, they appear as rubra, when they are pink, red, or purplish and inflamed. Over time, they turn silvery white, becoming alba.

5. Treat them early. When stretch marks reach the alba stage, they are fully mature so there is not much you can do. To reduce the appearance of new stretch marks, apply a Vitamin A oil or an over-the-counter cream with retinol once a day.

6. Try using a face cream. If you’re having trouble finding a body cream that contains retinol, opt for a face cream! While many body creams may not contain retinol, most face creams do.

MORE: An Even Score: Get the Complexion You Want

7. Look for other key ingredients. Vitamin C and peptides both stimulate collagen, so products containing them can also help reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Plus, they are safe to use during pregnancy, while retinol isn’t.

8. Self-tanner can help conceal. To make stretch marks completely vanish, there is always the option for laser treatment. However, self-tanner is a great alternative as it works wonders to camouflage stretch-marks and is also much a simpler and budget-friendly alternative.

9. Exfoliate. Since exfoliation helps remove old and worn out skin cells and replaces them with fresh new tissue, it’s also a great way to help get rid of stretch marks. For best results, practice regular exfoliation techniques using some essential oils such as tree tea oil, and a cleanser with both cleaning properties as well as an abrasive, twice a day.

10. Use massaging techniques. Not only should you just apply cream to the affected area, but you should use it to assist in massaging it as well. General massage techniques will help to break down the scar tissues that has accumulated and also increase blood circulation, which will help reduce the look of stretch marks.

Understand Why You Get Stretch Marks and How You Can Minimize or Eliminate Them

Stretch marks, known medically as striae, are a type of scarring that occurs when the dermis layer of skin tears. They’re generally the result of rapid body growth that causes the skin to stretch faster than its elastic limits will allow without tearing. Stretch marks are most common during pregnancy, but they can also occur from other types of weight gain such as puberty and weight gain.

Stretch marks caused by pregnancy are known more specifically as striae gravidarum. They’re usually on the belly, but stretch marks can also develop on the breasts, hips, thighs and lower back. Their appearance depends on skin color, but they’re usually red at first before fading to pink and then white.

Minimizing the stretch marks from pregnancy consists of both prevention and treatment strategies. Prevention is preferable, since it’s more difficult to treat stretch marks after they’ve already occurred.


The dermis is a middle layer of skin that helps the skin to retain its shape, although it’s still resilient. The location of stretch marks and the direction in which they run depends primarily on how the skin is being stretched, but other factors such as genetics also play a role. A burning, itching sensation is often a sign that stretch marks are developing, although this isn’t always the case.

Stretch marks initially appear as red, purple or blue lesions due to ruptured blood vessels. The specific color depends on whether these blood vessels were arteries or veins, but skin color also plays a part in determining the initial color of stretch marks. They will gradually lose pigmentation over time, causing them to fade to pink and eventually to white. Stretch marks can virtually disappear or remain clearly visible, primarily depending on their size.

Stretch marks don’t pose any health risk by themselves, nor do they compromise the skin’s ability to function and repair itself. However, they’re usually considered cosmetically undesirable and are often emotionally distressing. Younger women are particularly motivated to prevent and minimize the stretch marks that occur during pregnancy.


Stretching of the skin is the immediate cause of stretch marks, but a variety of factors influence their development. These include pregnancy, medication and existing health conditions.


Pregnancy is one of the most significant causes of stretch marks, as it affects most pregnant women to some extent. Striae gravidarum is a specific type of stretch mark that occurs on the abdomen due to the rapid growth of the uterus, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy.

A 2006 study in British Journal of Dermatology examined 324 women who had just given birth to determine contributing factors for stretch marks. Researchers found that a high body mass index (BMI) and larger babies were both independent factors for the development of stretch marks, especially when the mother gained more than 33 pounds during pregnancy. A 2004 study in Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology studied 128 new mothers and found that young mothers were at greater risk for stretch marks, especially teenagers.

This study also estimated that up to 90 percent of all pregnant women get stretch marks, largely due to the combination of hormonal changes and stretching of the skin. Some researchers have suggested that the increased water retention that occurs during pregnancy increases the probability of stretch marks. Water retention occurs in pregnancy when increased levels of cortisol, estrogen and relaxin cause muocopolysaccharides to accumulate in connective tissue. This action causes the connective tissue to absorb more water, making it more vulnerable to tearing in response to mechanical stress.

The prevalence and severity of stretch marks during pregnancy varies considerably. A significant minority of women develop stretch marks before the 24th week, especially during their first pregnancy. However, many women who get stretch marks in their first pregnancy don’t additional stretch marks in later pregnancies. A 2007 study in American Family Physician also found that genetic factors such as race and family history also affect the likelihood of stretch marks.

Loose skin is another issue that affects almost all women after giving birth and is especially prevalent on the abdomen. While stretch marks are generally caused by rapid weight gain, loose skin is caused by rapid weight loss. Loose skin is especially common among women who begin a rigorous diet and exercise program to quickly regain their pre-pregnancy condition.

However, gradual weight loss allows the skin more time to regain its elasticity, allowing it to return to its previous shape without becoming loose. In addition to slow weight loss, women can also reduce their chances of developing loose skin by drinking plenty of water to keep the skin hydrated.

Other Contributing Factors

The Mayo Clinic reports that an increase in cortisone levels can increase the severity of stretch marks. Cortisone is a hormone produced during times of stress, including pregnancy. It can reduce the skin’s pliability by preventing fibroblasts in the dermis from forming the collagen and elastin needed to support the skin. This loss of support can lead to tearing when the skin is stretched, resulting in stretch marks. Cortisone is particularly likely to cause stretch marks during pregnancy, when the growth of new tissue interferes with the skin’s underlying support by displacing existing tissue.

Drugs and medical conditions can also increase the probability of stretch marks appearing. Topical applications such as creams and lotions that contain corticosteroids are a common contributing factor for stretch marks, as are pills and other oral forms of steroids. Medical conditions that may contribute to stretch marks include Cushing’s syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome. Diseases of the adrenal gland can increase cortisone production, so they’re also contributing factors for stretch marks.


Strategies for preventing stretch marks primarily consist of skin-firming lotions.


Elasticity Belly Oil is specifically formulated to protect your belly from stretch marks during pregnancy by providing your skin with deep hydration. It contains a blend of pure plant extracts that have been scientifically researched to provide effective skin care and relaxing aromatherapy. Belly Elasticity Oil is also an ideal massage oil, especially during pregnancy.

Women who have used this oil report that it makes their skin look and feel healthier. They have also said that it provides deep hydration and makes the skin softer. Some women also report that Belly Elasticity Oil soothes in itching belly.

The formulas for Belli skincare products are carefully researched to ensure they’re safe to use during pregnancy and while nursing. Our products contain no gluten, parabens, artificial dyes and artificial fragrances. They’re also cruelty-free and tested for allergens.

Elasticity Belly Oil contains the following ingredients:

  • Sweet almond oil (Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis)
  • Grape seed oil (Vitis Vinifera)
  • Lavender oil (Lavandula Angustifolia)
  • Vitamin E acetate (tocopheryl acetate)
  • Cocoa butter (Theobroma Cacao)
  • Sunflower seed oil (Helianthus Annuus)
  • Gotu Kola extract (Centella Asiatica)
  • These ingredients perform a variety of functions that often overlap each other. For example, cocoa butter provides deep moisturization for the skin. Lavender oil also nourishes and moisturizes the skin, while soothing the senses. Vitamin E and Gotu Kola help protect skin from stretch marks.


    Treatments for stretch marks generally focus on minimizing their appearance rather than eliminating them entirely. These techniques may be classified into medical and non-medical methods.

    Medical Methods

    A 2014 review in British Journal of Dermatology examined medical methods treating stretch marks, including glycolic acid, laser treatments and microdermabrasion. These methods were able to achieve significant improvements in the appearance of stretch marks, based on various imaging modalities and subjective visual scoring. However, this review also cited the need for more randomized controlled trials in evaluating stretch mark treatments.

    Non-medical Methods

    Non-medical methods don’t require any type of healthcare professional, as anyone can do them based individual capabilities and product availability. These methods of treating stretch marks include the following:

  • Topical cream
  • Diet
  • Hydration
  • Exercise
  • Exfoliation
  • Ice
  • Relaxation
  • Topical Cream

    Topical creams like Belli Stretchmark Minimizing Cream are formulated to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks for all skin types, including color and texture. Women who have used this minimizing cream report that their stretch marks have become noticeably smaller and less discolored after only three weeks. They have also stated that it minimized surgery scars.

    The active ingredients in Belli Stretchmark Minimizing Cream include darutoside and regestril, both of which have been scientifically shown to be effective at minimizing stretch marks. Other active ingredients in this minimizing cream include the following:

  • Avocado (Persea Gratissima) oil
  • Gingseng (Acanthopanax Senticosus) root extract
  • Green bean (Phaseolus Lunatus) seed extract
  • Mandarin Orange (Citrus Nobilis) peel oil
  • Shea (Butyrospermum Parkii) butter
  • Vitamin E acetate (tocopheryl acetate)
  • These active ingredients serve different purposes in minimizing stretch marks. For example, avocado oil helps soften the skin by moisturizing it, while ginseng helps to even out skin tone.

    The inactive ingredients in Belli Stretchmark Minimizing Cream primarily consist of deionized water, glycerine and cetearyl alcohol.


    Following a healthy diet helps you maintain your body weight, which can help prevent stretch marks from happening in the first place. It also provides your body with the nutrition it needs to repair stretch marks that developed during pregnancy. A good diet should be high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein, which will generally allow you to keep your skin healthy.

    For example, proteins contain collagen, which is needed for skin repair. It helps the skin to maintain its elasticity and retain moisture needed to minimize stretch marks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for the skin and are found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines. Zinc is another nutrient that’s good for the skin, which you can find in nuts, seeds, peanuts and oatmeal.

    Vegetables that can help your body repair stretch marks include avocados, bell peppers, broccoli, cucumbers and tomatoes. Any type of leafy green vegetable is also a good choice for maintaining skin health. The best fruits for minimizing stretch marks include blueberries, melons and oranges. Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas should also be a regular part of your diet.


    It’s essential to remain fully hydrated for good health in general, but it’s especially important for skin health. Water helps make skin more elastic, which can help it recover from pregnancy stretch marks more effectively. It also allows the body to burn fat more efficiently, leading to faster weight loss. You should drink about two quarts of water per day, even if you’re not physically active.

    You should also avoid exposure to the sun, which can dehydrate your skin and make stretch marks more noticeable. It’s especially important to cover areas with stretch marks while you’re outside.


    Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight after giving birth, which is essential for preventing more stretch marks from developing. You should get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, or about 30 minutes five days per week. Exercise also helps you heal more quickly and builds muscle, which can tighten loose abdominal skin. Walking and yoga are great ways to develop the muscles in your belly, hips and thighs.


    Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. It helps promote healing of the deeper layers where stretch marks form. Use a skin scrub like Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub at least once per week. Apply the scrub to a loofah, brush or your hand. Rub it onto your skin with a circular motion to exfoliate the skin and rinse it off.

    The active ingredients in this scrub include the following:

  • Olive oil extracts
  • Peppermint (Mentha Arvensis) leaf oil
  • Ginseng (Acanthopanax Senticosus) root extract
  • Green tea (Camellia Sinensis) extract
  • Peppermint oil helps invigorate the skin and also provides aromatherapy. Ginseng and green tea are rich in antioxidants, which provide nourishment for the skin.

    The inactive ingredients in Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub include deionized water and sodium laureth sulfate, which is a foaming agent. The scrubbing particles are made of polyethylene.


    Stretch marks can swell and become inflamed while they’re healing, making them look worse than they normally do. Cold can help relieve this swelling and inflammation by applying a cold pack or ice to the affected area. Make your own cold pack by placing ice cubes in a zip lock bag and wrapping that in a thin dish towel to prevent the ice from directly touching your skin.

    Hold the cold pack in one place with stretch marks for up to 10 minutes before moving it to another area. Repeat this process for all areas with swollen or inflamed stretch marks. Replace melted ice as needed.


    Hormones like cortisol are released during times of stress, which slow the healing process. Relaxation is therefore an essential part of any regimen intended to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. The exact form of a relaxation routine is highly specific to each individual, but it might include listening to music, reading a book or simply meditating. The most important thing is to schedule time for yourself each day.


    Stretch marks may be unavoidable due to the rapid growth of your body during pregnancy and genetics. You should expect prevention strategies to reduce the probability of stretch marks occurring rather than eliminate the possibility entirely. Similarly, stretch mark treatments typically minimize the appearance of existing stretch marks instead of making them disappear completely.


    Important Facts About Stretch Marks

    When it comes to having a baby, there is a lot of preparation and change that come with the territory. It is an entire lifestyle change and although you have prepped your home and car for the new arrival, there is also a big change that will happen and that is your body!

    The female body goes through a big change throughout the course of a pregnancy and one of those changes are stretch marks. It is important to find out what causes stretch marks during our pregnancies and other important facts for treating them. Read more to find out who is more prone to developing them, and if stretch marks are preventable!

    What is the main cause of stretch marks?

    It’s a clear fact that when pregnancy happens, our belly grows! What causes stretch marks is not the weight gain by itself, but rather when the body is increasing in size faster than the skin can manage. This comes with weight gain as well! If you have noticed if you were to gain weight slowly over a long period of time, the chances of stretch marks appearing will be less likely in comparison to gaining weight over a short period of time. When it comes to pregnancy weight, the faster you gain weight in the beginning may determine the amount of stretch marks you develop.

    What is the average amount of weight gained during pregnancy?

    The amount of weight gained during a pregnancy is all dependent on each individual woman. On average, statistics have shown that women gain an average of 30 pounds during the course of their pregnancy. But if you are around a healthy weight at the beginning of your pregnancy, the average weight gain is between 25 and 35 pounds.

    Who is prone to developing stretch marks?

    Most women are prone to getting stretch marks, with the percentage being as high as 90 percent! It is also good to know if your mother experienced stretch marks, as this is a key indicator that you may too have them.

    What do stretch marks look like?

    Based on your skin color, stretch marks may differ. For those with a darker complexion, stretch marks will appear lighter than the skin while those with a lighter complexion will have pink stretch marks.

    Can you prevent stretch marks?

    There may be products claiming that they can stop stretch marks from forming, but this is not true. Stretch marks are not preventable, although they can be treated after your pregnancy.

    Treatment Options

    There are a variety of options available to help fade away the appearance of stretch marks.

    These treatments include:

    • Retinoid (prescribed by a dermatologist)
    • Laser Treatments
    • Gels (made of onion extract and hyaluronic acid)
    • Dermabrasion


    Although preventing stretch marks is not possible, gaining weight at a moderate speed during pregnancy and treatment options after giving birth may help minimize the appearance of stretch marks.

    Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Leo Grübler

    Stretch Marks Facts and Fiction

    Stretch marks are slightly depressed linear marks with varying length and breadth found on certain parts of the body in conditions like pregnancy, obesity, puberty etc due to the excessive stretching of skin for a long period.


    • Only women are affected by stretch marks.
    • Only obese and pregnant ladies get stretch marks.
    • They persist forever.
    • They increase with time.
    • They spread all over the body.
    • Stretch marks indicate ill health.
    • They indicate loss of physical beauty.
    • They can progress to leucoderma.
    • They are contagious.


    • Both sexes are affected by stretch marks.
    • People in both extremes of life are affected.
    • Both obese and slim people get stretch marks.
    • 70% of teenage girls get stretch marks.
    • 90% of pregnant ladies get stretch marks.
    • Stretch marks may persist for a long time but become less noticeable later.
    • Regular exercise prevents stretch marks, whereas vigorous exercise and bodybuilding can result in stretch marks.
    • Modern treatment methods are effective, but expensive.
    • Chemical peeling and laser therapy may cause pain and scarring.
    • Natural methods are cheap and free from side effects.
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    Facts about Stretch Marks

    Learning about stretch marks can be helpful for women and men who are prone to developing them. By knowing some facts about stretch marks, they can prevent their occurrence or at least reduce their size.

    Fact 1- Pregnancy is a main factor of stretch marks

    Appearance of stretch marks is among the number of bodily changes that a woman goes through in pregnancy. Stretch marks start appearing after second trimester of pregnancy. Hormones produced during pregnancy soften the ligaments which are getting prepared for delivery, as well as soften the skin fibres. This increases the chances of developing stretch marks.

    Fact 2- Most stretch marks develop during puberty

    At the time of puberty, rate of growth of teenagers is very fast. Thus, it puts additional strain on the dermis. Women get stretch marks usually on their breasts, thighs, arms and hips whereas men get these only on their back. Women are much more prone to stretch marks than men.

    Fact 3- Sudden weight gain and rapid weight loss result in stretch marks

    If a person increases his weight a lot within a short period, he/she is more likely to develop stretch marks. Strict dieting for extended period and subsequent fast weight loss is a major cause of stretch marks.

    Fact 4- Stretch Marks occurs in dermis

    Stretch Marks develop when the dermis (middle layer of the skin) is stretched considerably over a short period, as it happens in pregnancy, followed by sudden weight gain. The dermis is torn in places to relieve the pressure of skin stretching. When dermis starts to repair itself, it fails to acquire the regular appearance of normal skin and stretch marks can be seen.

    Fact-5 – Skin toners make stretch marks worse

    When skin toner is applied on areas with stretch marks, such as thighs, breasts, abdomen and arms, they pull the skin tighter and further raise the stretch marks. Keep yourself adequately hydrated and moisturised to prevent the noticeable appearance of stretch marks.

    Fact-6 – Reduce excessive weight to reduce stretch marks

    Improve muscle tone and shed extra fat from areas affected by stretch marks. This fades the appearance of stretch marks.

    Fact-7- Stretch marks are scars

    Stretch marks are scars and can be treated similarly. The appearance of stretch marks varies in different people, as it depends on the skin’s overall health and elasticity. Genetic history as well as lifestyle factors affect the look of stretch marks.

    Fact 8- Treatment for Stretch Marks

    Plethora of creams is available over the counter to reduce stretch marks. However, they are of little use. Various medical and surgical treatments are available for reducing stretch marks and they work much better. These treatments include laser treatments, dermabrasion or prescription retinoid.

    Pregnant women should ask their doctor or midwife to prevent stretch marks. People looking to lose/gain weight can take the help of a dietician and trainer, to know the diet as well as exercises which can prevent excessive stretching of skin.

    Read more articles on Body Surgeries

    Scientific name for stretch marks

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