Stretch Marks: Common Causes, Prevention & Treatment

They can be treated, but not prevented
Stretch Marks: Hold the Cocoa Butter

Experts say many popular beliefs about solutions for stretch marks are – well, kind of a stretch.

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Despite the many products claiming to prevent stretch marks, there is no scientific evidence that any product can actually keep the marks from showing up during pregnancy, growth spurts or other rapid changes in body size, says dermatologist John Anthony, MD.

What causes stretch marks?

“We don’t really understand why some women get stretch marks during pregnancy,” Dr. Anthony says. “Women who are younger are more prone to get them, as well as women who have a large weight gain during pregnancy.”

“Outside of pregnancy, there are other situations where people get them, but these are even less well studied,” he continues. “Young people, especially men, get them during growth spurts. And body builders tend to get them when building muscle mass rapidly, especially in the shoulders and chest area. This can be very distressing, and a huge concern for some people.”

Preventing stretch marks

The promise of a study of the use of bitter almond oil massaged into the abdomen during pregnancy was later canceled out by information suggesting the oil might cause premature birth. Despite popular belief, even cocoa butter does not appear to prevent stretch marks.

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“Some of these products are not well studied for use during pregnancy,” says Dr. Anthony. “Be cautious about using botanical creams without talking to your doctor first.”

“You could try massaging the abdomen with moisturizer, in case the massage makes a difference,” he adds.

4 stretch mark treatments

While you may not be able to prevent stretch marks, you don’t have to be cursed with them forever.

“Stretch marks have a life of their own,” Dr. Anthony says. “I recommend the tincture of time – as time goes on, stretch marks become less prominent. They start out red or purple, but fade on their own over time.”

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If you don’t want to wait, some treatments can be successful at removing stretch marks or lessening their appearance:

  1. Retin-A® retinol cream
  2. Glycolic acid creams
  3. Chemical peels
  4. Non-ablative lasers

Of all the options, Dr. Anthony says Retin-A is the standard treatment for stretch marks. However, he cautions that Retin-A is not safe for use during pregnancy.

Don’t try tanning

Some people try to make their stretch marks less visible with tanning, but this is not recommended, Dr. Anthony says.

“People have tried treating stretch marks with a UV laser used for psoriasis treatment, but it did not help,” he says. “With normal scars, you run the risk of pigmentary problems if they are exposed to sun. I’m not sure if this can happen with stretch marks, but it is compromised skin, so I always recommend sun protection.”

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