Here’s the cold, hard truth — there is no way to completely get rid of stretch marks. Sorry to break it to you over the Internet like this, but it’s better that you know this now before you dole out thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery or Dr. LiarFace’s Super-Secret Stretch Mark Serum (yes, I made that one up; there is no Dr. LiarFace). Store shelves and online retailers are filled with products promising to “cure” stretch marks, but scientists and beauty experts have yet to develop any product that is 100 percent proven to permanently eliminate stretch marks. So while you may not be able to get rid of these marks, you can alleviate some of the appearance.
That being said, you don’t have to resort to wearing only Snuggies and deep-sea diving suits for the rest of your life because you’re embarrassed about your stretch marks. Although there is no cure currently available, there are ways to make your stretch marks less visible. Read on for information about medication, spa treatments and cosmetic procedures that have been found to effectively reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Quick Fix: Use body makeup to hide your stretch marks.
Body makeup and concealers are specially designed for use on the body, arms and legs, so they are typically thicker, more smudge-resistant and last longer than the stuff you put on your face. Look for brands such as Dermablend Leg & Body Cover and Smart Cover online or at your local retailers. It’s not entirely cheap, but it is quick.
What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are scars most often caused by tears in the dermis (or upper layer of skin) that are often the result of sudden weight gain or loss. Referred to by doctors as “striae,” stretch marks are purple, red, pink or white lines that can appear on the abdomen, thighs, arms, buttocks and breasts. There is no way to completely remove stretch marks, but they typically fade over time. Stretch marks are not painful and rarely indicate a more serious problem; however, widespread stretch marks may be a sign of adrenal gland disease or a medical condition such as Cushing’s Syndrome or Marfan’s Syndrome. Best check with a doctor if you’re worried.
Effective Stretch Mark Treatments and Therapies
Apply a tretinoin cream to fresh stretch marks. Tretinoin creams (such as Retin-A, Remova Emollient and Avia (which you can find at Amazon)) are the most cost-effective way to successfully minimize newly formed stretch marks. Tretinoin, which is derived from an acidic form of Vitamin A, helps to stimulate the growth of collagen, which leads to firmer, smoother skin. It is also used to treat other skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. However, there are a few catches when it comes to using tretinoin creams. First, they are only effective when applied to new stretch marks (ones that are less than six weeks old and still red, purple or pink in color); they do not work when applied to older stretch marks. Second, tretinoin creams should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing. In addition, tretinoin creams are only available with a doctor’s prescription.
Pulsed dye laser therapy can rejuvenate your skin. In this cosmetic procedure, a skin professional uses a wand-like device to target the blood vessels underneath the stretch marks with quick bursts of light. This kills the blood vessels while leaving the surrounding healthy cells intact, and it also promotes the growth of collagen and elastin. The old, dead skin cells will be sloughed away and fresh new cells will grow in their place. It is generally not a painful procedure, but most patients report a slight stinging feeling. Like tretinoin creams, pulsed dye laser therapy is most effective on newly formed stretch marks. The cost of this treatment can vary depending on the size of the affected area and your location, but it generally costs $150 to $500 per session. Most people see results within one to three treatments (which is faster than most other cosmetic procedures for stretch mark removal), but others may need additional sessions before they see a difference.
Undergo microdermabrasion sessions to ‘remodel’ the skin. Microdermabrasion is a cosmetic procedure in which a handheld device is used to massage a cream containing crystals into your skin to gently scrape away the top layer. This removes dead skin cells and promotes elasticity and collagen growth. It usually takes at least six sessions before you see any noticeable results, and most people need 9 to 12 sessions before they will see significant improvement in their stretch marks. Microdermabrasion is typically performed by a skin professional at a day spa or by a cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist, and the cost typically averages around $75 to $100 per session. There are also personal microdermabrasion kits available in stores and online for under $200, though they are generally considered to be less effective than professional treatment.
An excimer laser procedure can make stretch marks less visible by slightly altering the color of the skin. In this form of cosmetic surgery, an ultraviolet excimer laser (or EXTRAC laser) is used to stimulate the production of melanin, which gives your skin its color. This generally painless procedure works best on older stretch marks that are light-colored or white. When applied to the affected area, the pulses from the excimer laser will speed up melanin production in skin cells, resulting in darkening of the skin. Excimer lasers do nothing for collagen growth or elasticity, but they can be successful at making your stretch marks appear closer in color to the rest of your skin. Each excimer laser session costs around $100, and most people need 10 to 20 sessions before they will notice significant results.
Consult your doctor or dermatologist to determine which method is best for you. There are several factors to weigh when considering which stretch mark treatment is the right one for you. No treatment is 100 percent effective, and many of them require a significant money and time commitment. The effectiveness of each treatment is dependent on factors such as the age, size and color of your stretch marks. Newer stretch marks are usually easier to treat than older ones, so it’s ideal to treat them soon after they develop. Your doctor can help you determine which treatment, if any, could potentially reduce the appearance of your stretch marks.
Possible Causes of Stretch Marks
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Hormonal changes (especially during puberty)
- Sudden growth (also during puberty)
- Medications, especially cortisone or steroids
- Hormone replacement therapy – Muscle building
- Certain medical conditions or diseases
How to Prevent Stretch Marks
Maintain a consistent weight. Since rapid weight gain or loss is the main cause of stretch marks, the easiest way to prevent them is to keep your weight steady. Obviously, this advice doesn’t work for everyone. If you are overweight, it’s healthier to lose a few pounds (and risk getting stretch marks) than it is to stay at your current weight. And of course almost all pregnant women have to gain weight in a short period of time. However, if you intend to lose or gain weight (even through pregnancy), you should consult your doctor for tips and guidelines on how to do it in a timely, safe and healthy manner.
Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Staying properly hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your skin. Water keeps your skin moisturized, flushes away toxins and helps improve elasticity, all of which help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. You should increase your water intake to 8 to 12 glasses a day if you regularly consume soda, coffee, tea and alcohol, since those other beverages can speed up dehydration.
Exercise regularly. Exercising for 45 minutes to an hour at least three times a week will help to tone your muscles and improve circulation, which increases your skin’s ability to stretch as it grows. Just about any type of exercise is beneficial, including cardio, yoga and weight-lifting. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, it helps keep your skin moisturized as well.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Pregnant women should apply a skin-firming or collagen-producing moisturizer to their abdomens (and other stretching areas) several times a day. To maximize the effects of your moisturizer, try to set aside 10 minutes a day where you can lie down with a warm, wet towel over the area immediately after you apply your moisturizer.
Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Some studies have found that a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals, especially zinc and vitamins A, C and E, can reduce your chance of developing stretch marks. You should also aim to eat two to three servings of protein-rich foods (such as eggs, fish and nuts) each day. If you are pregnant, ask your doctor to recommend a prenatal vitamin to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients you need.
Natural Remedies for Stretch Marks
Lavender oil. Applying lavender oil to your stretch marks up to three times a day will help reduce their appearance.
Aloe vera, olive oil and vitamin capsules. To make a homemade stretch mark gel, mix ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup aloe vera gel and the liquid from six vitamin E capsules and four vitamin A capsules in a blender for 20 seconds. Chill the mix in the refrigerator for one hour (or until cool). Rub the mixture over your stretch marks once a day.
Cocoa butter. Applying cocoa butter to your abdomen during pregnancy may help prevent stretch marks. Amazon has some good choices, like this for certified organic Cocoa Butter.