While humans come in all shapes, sizes and colors, almost all of us get these: stretch marks. Women develop them during pregnancy, kids can develop them during puberty and anyone who has gained or lost a significant amount of weight has had to deal with them too.
So, what are stretch marks, and most importantly, can you get rid of them?
What are stretch marks?
“The technical term for stretch marks is striae distensae,” said Emilee Sandsmark, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, CO. “They are a common form of dermal or skin scarring that tend to not be symptomatic or dangerous, but they can be cosmetically distressing to some.”
Stretch marks develop when our skin stretches or shrinks quickly. These abrupt changes can cause the collagen and elastin, which support our skin, to rupture. When the skin starts to heal, you may notice red, purple or dark brown lines crop up on your abdomen, hips, thighs and even breasts. This discoloration is known as striae rubra. Over time, these lines will evolve into striae alba, which appear hypopigmented (lighter in color than your overall skin tone) and scar-like.
Not everyone will develop stretch marks, but fluctuating hormones—and possibly even genetics—may play a role. If you develop stretch marks, you’re most likely to develop stretch marks during growth spurts, pregnancy and rapid weight loss or gain.
Can you prevent and get rid of stretch marks?
There are plenty of over-the-counter topical treatments, creams and oils on the market and home remedies you can Google that claim they can prevent and treat those ridges and indentations. But they aren’t a genie in a bottle. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prevent them and sometimes they may never fully go away.
That being said, we asked Dr. Sandsmark to give her professional opinion about some of the most commonly marketed products for stretch marks.
Cocoa butter and olive oil
Things like cocoa butter and olive oil have been proposed as preventive measures and treatment, but they haven’t been shown to make a significant difference. “Neither of these are associated with harm and are safe during pregnancy, so they couldn’t hurt to try,” Dr. Sandsmark said.
Creams containing Centella asiatica extract, vitamin E and collagen-elastin hydrolysates
Some creams like Mederma that contain an herb called Centella asiatica extract have been shown to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks, but Dr. Sandsmark said further research is needed regarding safety and efficacy.
Pregnancy shapewear and belly belts
Often these products are marketed to pregnant women to help prevent and reduce stretch marks, but there is no evidence of reduction. “The reason may be because these types of products are typically and realistically worn intermittently, which may not be enough to reduce stress on the skin and create a real difference,” Dr. Sandsmark said.
“Some dermatologists routinely recommend this product for scar reduction once an incision is healed,” Dr. Sandsmark said. “Since stretch marks are a type of scarring, this is something that could also be tried (and may even be more effective than say cocoa butter).”
This type of cream was beneficial in improving the appearance of striae in some studies but not others. “This is essentially the only topical, nonprocedural option that’s been shown to have any benefit and has been studied enough to potentially recommend,” Dr. Sandsmark said. “However, tretinoin cream isn’t considered safe to use during pregnancy, so hold off until after your baby is born.”
To use, patients will need to apply a thin film of retinoid products to the affected area for at least three to six months (or longer) before seeing any improvements.
In-office procedural therapies
Procedural therapies include pulsed dye lasers, fractional lasers, microneedling, dermabrasion and phototherapy. Chemical peels and radiofrequency devices have also been shown to have modest benefits. When it comes to these types of therapy treatments, however, you’ll want to discuss with a dermatologist who incorporates cosmetic procedures into their practice. They can determine which method to use depending on your skin type and the location and extent of your stretch marks.
Embracing your body
As we grow, age or expand and contract, our bodies are continually evolving. We have to resign to the fact that nobody’s body is perfect. There will always be something here and something there we want to change. So, while you can try out many of these treatment and therapy options to reduce stretch marks, the best remedy may just be embracing your body—lines and all.