Stretch marks are caused by rapid weight gain, with pregnancy and puberty being the most common times for them to occur.
When the body goes through a spurt of growing faster on the inside than the skin on the outside can keep up with, the fibrous and elastic layers deep in the skin stretch and tear. The stretch marks which form in the area are actually scar tissue which forms to heal the tears.
Stretch marks may also appear as a result of certain diseases of hormonal imbalance, such as Cushing's syndrome, and as a side-effect of certain steroid medications, such as prednisone.
Deficiency of zinc has also been associated with the development of stretch marks.