A baby bump is a beautiful thing, but stretch marks aren’t. Stretch marks are one of those things that go hand in hand with pregnancy. As if the weight gain, swollen ankles, and extra trips to the bathroom weren’t enough!
Many women wonder if there is anything they can do to treat or prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. There are so many stretch marks products out there, that it can all be a bit confusing.
Are you tired of treating stretch marks with products that don’t work? Dr. Bernard Beldholm, FRACS weighs in on the stretch mark treatments that help and which ones don’t.
What are stretch marks, anyway?
A stretch mark is a skin deformity that happens when the skin stretches rapidly. Over your lifetime, your body changes shape. Skin is quite elastic, but the collagen and elastin in your skin can become deformed if the skin stretches too quickly.
Common causes of stretch marks
Growth spurts, sudden weight changes, or muscle gain are other known causes. Unfortunately, stretch marks are a common side effect of pregnancy. The AAD suggests genetics, fluctuating hormones, and certain illnesses like Cushing’s disease or Marfan syndrome can also contribute to stretch marks.(9)
How do stretch marks form?
There are many changes that occur within your skin as stretch marks form. One important part of the formation process is called elastolysis.(10) Elastolysis happens when elastase, an enzyme that breaks down elastin, increases. This takes place in the deeper layers of your skin.
Meanwhile, mast cells in your skin cause inflammation. Vascular changes also occur, turning the skin red.(2) The collagen in your skin also toughens up, becomes thicker, and more concentrated.(4) This can contribute to the raised appearance stretch marks sometimes have.
What do stretch marks look like?
Stretch marks often resemble the shape of a tree branch. The marks tend to be red, purple, or brown depending on your skin tone, especially in the beginning. They can be raised above the skin and slightly itchy early on.
Stretch marks often have a smooth or even shiny appearance compared to the normal skin around it. As stretch marks mature, they often fade to pink or white. Raised stretch marks tend to level out with the surrounding skin eventually. Sometimes, mature stretch marks may even look slightly indented as time passes.(10)
Stretch marks are permanent. However, mature stretch marks usually blend into the skin fairly well after years have passed. If you have a darker complexion, stretch marks can appear more obvious. That is because they lose pigment and lighten as they heal. This makes them stand out more on darker skin tones.
Download our free pdf: “11 Exercises to Help with Muscle Separation Post Pregnancy”
Where do pregnant women usually get stretch marks?
Certain parts of the body are more prone to stretch marks than others. In pregnant women, the hips, tummy, and breasts may be affected. These areas tend to store more fat than other body parts in women.
For that reason, these areas of the body tend to gain the most weight during by pregnancy, causing the skin to stretch. Of course, your tummy also stretches a great deal to make room for baby. Many women get stretch marks on the belly that can last long after giving birth.
Stretch mark prevention tips that really work
Many women wonder how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. There are many stretch mark creams on the market as companies try to cash in on this. While many stretch mark creams are unproven, many do help to some extent by keeping skin moisturized.(8)
However, there are some ingredients that have been proven to work even better. The key is to start early in pregnancy, before stretch marks appear.
Can cocoa butter, vitamins, and bio-oil prevent stretch marks?
Research on using cocoa butter, almond or olive oils, and vitamin E to prevent stretch marks is hit or miss. According to the AAD, medical studies have not found much evidence to support their use.(9)
However, keeping your skin moisturized improves elasticity, which may help prevent stretch marks. Moisturization helps skin become more pliable so that it can stretch a little easier.
Products to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy
Research favors stretch mark products that contain centella asiatica or hyaluronic acid.(9)
Centella asiatica for stretch mark prevention during pregnancy
Centella is also known as gotu kola, among other names. It is a medicinal herb native to Asia. Being extremely hydrating, centella can help skin stay healthy and elastic so that it can stretch to accommodate a growing tummy during pregnancy.
But centella does more than moisturize. It contains active compounds such as triterpenes like asiaticoside, asiatic, madecassoside, and madecassic acids. It is proven to heal wounds, burns, hypertrophic scars, and many other skin conditions. It works by stimulating fibroblasts and aiding collagen synthesis, which help to strengthen skin as it stretches.(1) Centella also has anti-inflammatory effects.
Hyaluronic acid for stretch marks
Another ingredient proven to help avoid stretch marks is hyaluronic acid (HA). It is a powerful humectant. That means it draws moisture from the air to the skin. It can draw up to 6 liters of water per 1 gram of HA.(7) Moisture is a key part of keeping skin healthy and elastic.(8) This is especially important for skin that is being pushed to its limits by pregnancy.
The interesting thing about HA is that your body produces it naturally. It is most concentrated in skin, eyes, and connective tissue. Its main function is to keep tissue moist.
You can buy HA serums and lotions to add even more HA to your skin. Because it is naturally found in your body, topical HA is a natural ingredient that is well tolerated by most people.
Stretch mark treatments that can help improve their appearance
There are many ways to improve the look of stretch marks. This includes prescriptions, over the counter treatments, home remedies, and aesthetic treatments.
Which should you try? The truth is, there is no easy answer. What works for one person may not work for another. However, keeping skin moisturized, applying retinoids, and in-office medical treatments are promising for stretch mark removal.
Prescription creams for stretch marks
Hyaluronic acid and tretinoin are the two most promising stretch mark ingredients, according to the AAD.(9) Tretinoin is a type of retinoid, an active form of vitamin A. Vitamin A has all sorts of skin benefits. It works by rebuilding collagen. In one study, patients with stretch marks saw a significant improvement after two months of tretinoin compared to a placebo.(6)
Home remedies and OTC treatments
There are many creams, lotions, and gels that claim to treat stretch marks. You may have also heard of some popular home remedies like coconut oil or cocoa butter lotion.
According to the AAD, research suggests home remedies like almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, or vitamin E do not help existing stretch marks.(9) None of these ingredients will make stretch marks worse, but they are highly moisturizing, so you can still try it to stop stretch marks from getting worse. Just don’t expect miracles.
These ingredients are better for prevention rather than fixing stretch marks that have already formed.
Instead, look for products containing centella asiatic or hyaluronic acid. Research shows that these are two of the most beneficial ingredients for treating stretch marks(1) A prescription is not required.
Microdermabrasion, chemical peels, RF and pulse dye lasers can help improve existing stretch marks.
It can be tricky to get rid of stretch marks. Your doctor may recommend combined treatments. Bear in mind you probably won’t be able to make stretch marks disappear entirely. These treatments may just help them look better.
The idea is to get the marks to blend in better with nearby skin. No one wants obvious stretch marks on stomach, and these clinical options can help a lot. Many pregnant women have softened the appearance of stretch marks with combined medical treatments.
How long does it take to see results?
It can take anywhere from weeks to months to see results from topical products. Medical treatments can take anywhere from 3-10 sessions to start working.
Everyone is different. Your age, skin quality, severity of symptoms, health, and lifestyle factors make each case unique. Be patient and consistent with treatment. It takes time to see results.
Keep in mind, stretch marks are permanent. There is no miracle cure or overnight fix for stretch marks, despite what clever marketing hype you read. However, you can make stretch marks look significantly better so that they blend in with the rest of your skin.
How to optimise results from stretch mark treatments
Now you know about some common stretch mark remedies. So, how do you maximize the results of treatment? Read on for some important tips.
Start treatment early
Pregnant women should moisturize their tummy every day before stretch marks develop.
If you notice stretch marks forming, it is important to treat them as soon as possible. Early treatment is the first line of defense against stopping stretch marks in their tracks.
Keep an eye out for early signs of stretch marks. This can include mild itching and soft red or pink streaks. Once you notice a stretch mark forming, you can apply a stretch mark product to help prevent it from getting worse.
As stretch marks mature, they can be harder to treat. Old stretch marks will not respond to treatment as well as newer stretch marks. Prevention works better than treating them after the fact.
Massaging stretch mark cream into your skin may also improve your results.(5) Massage boosts circulation, thereby helping your body deliver key nutrients and blood cells to the skin to help recovery. Press your fingertips into the affected area using moderate pressure for a few minutes every day.
Stretch marks need consistent care. Once you start treatment, be consistent. That means using the product religiously for at least several weeks to months.
Be sure to use enough product and apply every day. It can help to leave the bottle or tube somewhere you can’t miss when you step out of the shower. You might leave it right by the sink or on your vanity table.
Make it part of your routine
A good time to apply stretch mark cream is right after a shower. There are two reasons that bathing time is ideal for stretch mark care.
First, damp skin is more absorbent. That means skincare products can penetrate your skin better. Second, it is easy to remember to apply the product after you shower. After a few days, it will quickly become a part of your routine. That way, you won’t miss a day.
Towel dry your skin beforehand, then apply the product to the affected area.
Protect skin from sun exposure
Avoid tanning beds or sunbathing if you notice stretch marks forming. This can make them appear worse.
Not only does the sun break down collagen and elastin that help skin stretch(3), it can also add unwanted pigmentation to stretch marks. While you treat the condition, it is important to keep the skin protected. Sunscreen is a must. Not convinced? Learn more about the dangers of sun tanning here.
Another option for stretch marks after pregnancy
Did you know that if you get a tummy tuck or mummy makeover with Doctor Bernard, it can remove many of the stretch marks during pregnancy? When the extra skin is removed, many of the stretch marks go along with it.
- Bylka, Wieslawa, et al. “Centella Asiatica in Cosmetology.” Postepy Dermatology, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2013, pp. 46–49.
- Devillers, C., et al. “High Resolution Skin Colorimetry, Strain Mapping and Mechanobiology.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science, vol. 32, no. 4, 2010, pp. 241–245., doi:10.1111/j.1468-2494.2009.00562.x.
- Dhital, Basant, et al. “Ultraviolet Radiation Reduces Desmosine Cross-Links in Elastin.” Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports, vol. 10, 2017, pp. 172–177., doi:10.1016/j.bbrep.2017.04.002.
- Gilmore, SJ, et al. “A Mechano‐Chemical Model for Striae Distensae.” Math Biosci, vol. 240, 2012, pp. 141–147., doi:10.1007/springerreference_42626.
- Huizen, Jennifer. “Stretch Marks on Breasts: Types, Treatment Options, and Risk Factors.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319800.php.
- Kang, S, et al. “Topical Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid) Improves Early Stretch Marks.” Arch Dermatol, vol. 101, no. 1, 1 May 1996, p. 256., doi:10.1097/00006534-199801000-00083.
- Manjula Jegasothy, S, et al. “Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-Hyaluronic Acid in Humans.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 7, no. 3, Mar. 2014, pp. 27–29.
- Moldovan, Mirela Liliana, et al. “Preliminary Study on the Development of an Antistretch Marks Water-in-Oil Cream: Ultrasound Assessment, Texture Analysis, and Sensory Analysis.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Volume 9, 2016, pp. 249–255., doi:10.2147/ccid.s107298.
- “Stretch Marks: Why They Appear and How to Get Rid of Them.” Stretch Marks: Why They Appear and How to Get Rid of Them | American Academy of Dermatology, AAD, www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/skin-care/stretch-marks.
- Ud-Din, S., et al. “Topical Management of Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks): Prevention and Therapy of Striae Rubrae and Albae.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, vol. 30, no. 2, 2015, pp. 211–222., doi:10.1111/jdv.13223.