Stretch marks can happen to anyone. Just ask Chrissy Teigen. If you’ve ever dealt with a weight fluctuation—especially that ultimate weight fluctuation, pregnancy—then you may be all too familiar with them. Those little red or purplish marks that pop up, particularly in the thigh and tummy areas, are more common than you think. In fact, a 2015 study found that more than half of pregnant women develop stretch marks. Less common? An easy solution.
While Teigen has made peace with hers (“Whatevs,” she tweeted), based on the staggering number of creams, lotions and laser treatment options on the market, there are ways to get rid of stretch marks or take measures to prevent future stretch marks from forming should you want to do something about them.
So what are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are reddish, purple or pink (or sometimes brown, depending on your skin tone) depressed streaks that can be found on your breasts, stomach, butt, hips and thighs—to name just a few places where they commonly appear. Stretch marks are actually scars from your skin tearing as your body grows rapidly during pregnancy.
Are stretch marks permanent?
“Once stretch marks occur, they are permanent,” says Jennifer MacGregor, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “But the good news is that the appearance of stretch marks can be improved and blended to the surrounding skin.”
What causes stretch marks?
During pregnancy, your skin is expanding at such a rapid rate—particularly during the sixth and seventh months—which can cause stretch marks. You’re also more likely to get stretch marks if you’re carrying multiples or a big baby or if you’ve gained weight quickly.
Of course, pregnancy isn’t the only reason women get stretch marks. “Stretch marks can also happen with rapid weight gain or rapid muscle building from weight lifting,” says Gerald Imber, MD, a plastic surgeon in New York City and the founder of the Youth Corridor Clinic. Genetics and hormones can also have an impact, so if your mother or sister got stretch marks, you probably will too.
Can you get rid of stretch marks naturally?
While you may have read online about how to get rid of stretch marks naturally—using lemon juice, castor oil or even egg whites—the short answer is no, they don’t work. “None of those treatments work,” Imber says. “Stretch marks fade over time. That’s why people think they work—they become less visible and prominent on their own.
How to get rid of stretch marks with products
The best way to both get rid of stretch marks (and prevent them in the first place)? Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Moms-to-be often turn to cocoa butter to keep the skin on their blossoming bumps smooth. (We love Vaseline Intensive Care Cocoa Radiant Lotion, which is $6 at Target.com.)
Still, as much as moisturizing can help keep your skin supple, over-the-counter products can take you only so far. “Retinoids may slightly improve striae alba (those white shiny stretch marks) by building collagen and thickening the skin, but most topical treatments do not,” MacGregor says. “Laser is the best option.”
She’s not alone in that opinion. Imber supports the same treatment for stretch mark removal. As for noninvasive treatments, he recommends topical formulas with alpha hydroxy acids, like Advanced Clinicals’s AHA Cream ($18, Amazon.com) and Gold Bond Ultimate Rough & Bumpy Skin ($13, CVS.com).
How to get rid of stretch marks with laser removal
Laser treatments are considered the most effective for stretch mark removal, and there’s a good reason why: They force healing. Doctors use a microfine laser to reach deep into the skin’s sublayers. This kick-starts the body’s natural healing process, removing damaged tissue and rebuilding it using fresh collagen—and revealing fresh, smooth skin in the process. That collagen will improve both skin texture and skin color, making stretch marks slowly disappear.
While laser treatments are the best way to get rid of stretch marks—or more accurately, to help them fade—neither doctor relies on laser removal treatment alone. “Fractional resurfacing lasers with microneedling can build collagen and improve the texture of skin, making it a little thicker,” MacGregor says. “Stretch marks will never resolve [completely], but they will be less noticeable if the color and texture are blended to look more similar to the surrounding skin.”
Imber adds: “The most effective treatment we use [to get rid of stretch marks] is the use of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) with microneedling or just injecting PRP directly into the area.” As Imber explains, “PRP is a high concentration of cellular elements from your own blood that promote cell growth, tissue repair and collagen production.
“When PRP is used for scar reduction, your growth factors and stem cells work together to strengthen skin cells deep under the superficial layer of skin. The treatment targets skin laxity, hyperpigmentation and overall skin tone and texture.” Essentially this means improve sagging, as well as color and texture changes, to make skin look smooth and taut.
As for anything more serious, like surgery? While Imber isn’t against the idea entirely, he does note that surgery will inevitably lead to additional scars, small as they may be. So keep that in mind while deciding which stretch mark removal route is best for you.
How to prevent stretch marks
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to prevent stretch marks, but there are still measures you can take. “Minimize weight gain, eat a healthy diet and stay current with routine medical care. And moisturize regularly with ceramide creams,” MacGregor says. “Sometimes, despite your best efforts, striae inevitably develop because of genetic factors or stretching during pregnancy. In this case, it’s best to consult with an expert and resist the temptation to buy the latest gimmick that promises to erase the stretch marks.”
There’s one more solution: Embrace them! You’ve earned your stripes while your baby was growing inside you—nothing to hate about that.
How real moms handled having stretch marks
Read on to hear what The Bump Club’s real moms had to say about their stretch marks.
“I just woke up with my first stretch mark, and I’m freaking out. I’ve been massaging my stomach with the Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula cream that’s specifically for pregnant women. I know they’re one of those things that come with the territory; however, I’d like to do everything I can to keep them at a minimum.”
“I tried everything to prevent them with my first pregnancy, but that didn’t help. What does help fade them is time. I started using Bio-Oil before I got pregnant again, and I think it helped with the appearance.”
“Neither of my grandmothers nor my mother got stretch marks, but I got them with my first pregnancy. I will say, though, that they do fade. You can hardly see mine anymore, and they were horrible and covered 90 percent of my stomach during my first pregnancy.”
Published June 2017