Most researchers and moms would agree that there is no cure-all for stretch marks, but there is some clinical evidence available that shows the signs of stretch marks can be reduced. Let’s take a look at stretch marks, what causes them and how we could possibly minimize their effects.
Stretch Marks and Pregnancy
Stretch marks, medically known as striae distensae, or SD, are fine scars in the skin that run perpendicular to skin tension caused during rapid expansion of the tissue. The exact causes are still unclear but factors include stress and small tears in the underlining layers of the skin, pre-existing factors in the skin’s makeup, and hormonal changes.
Many women use moisturizes and other lotions to prevent stretch marks
Striae gravidarum (SG), or pregnancy stripe, is the medical term for the stretch marks that occur during pregnancy. It is estimated that between 55% and 90% of expectant mothers will get stretch marks. Factors that put pregnant women at a higher risk for gaining stretch marks include younger age, a family history of pregnancy-related stretch marks, a higher pre-pregnancy BMI, and a higher than recommended pregnancy weight gain. One study found a higher rate of SG in non-white woman. Stretch marks most commonly affect the abdomen, breasts and thighs and start to show in the third trimester.
The beginning signs of stretch marks include a flattened appearance, pink color, and possible itchiness. Stretch marks often form as red bands (striae rubrae), revealing the blood vessel the lie toward the top of the skin. Over time, the vessels contract, and the fat lining becomes more visible, turning the bands into whiter streaks (striae albae). In dark-skinned individuals, stretch marks may appear dark brown (striae nigrae) or dark blue (striae caerulea) because of the increased concentration of melanin in the skin. Each mark can be less than a half of an inch long and only a fraction of an inch wide.
Stretchmark Treatment Factors
Water consumption is important for the changes in pregnant women, and drinking enough water may also help keep skin hydrated and soft. Soft skin doesn’t tend to develop stretch marks as much as dry skin does. The recommended daily water intake for pregnant women is more than 12 glasses of water a day.
Collagen and elastin
Collagen and elastin are two proteins that help hold your skin together. Collagen allows it to keep its shape and appear healthy while elastin allows your skin to stretch and bounce back. The two compose more than 80% of your dermis, or second layer of skin. As we age, collagen and elastin decrease. Many treatments for stretch marks attempt to boost or renew the level of collagen or elastin in the skin.
It is best to treat stretch marks during the early stages of their formation—preferably well before the signs of their arrival—rather than after their formation and changes in the skin have occurred. Some creams and remedies, however, are for after stretchmark formation. Let’s look at some of methods touted as reducing the signs of stretch marks and what, if any, studies have been performed.
There is a common, underlying action behind any topical cream and that is the massage action used in its application. Massage can increase the blood supply in the treatment area, which could help reduce the signs of stretching in the skin.
Exercise during pregnancy has many benefits.
There are many benefits to exercise that could have the added benefit of diminishing the occurrence of stretchmarks. A firmer tone may help reduce the signs of stretchmarks, and exercise during pregnancy may help maintain proper weight gain. Exercise can also help balance hormone levels, including the stress hormone cortisol. Still, there are no scientific studies that show exercise itself can reduce stretchmarks.
Later on the list, we’ll look at methods like microdermabrasion and laser therapy, which have been shown to promote the regeneration of new skin and reduce the signs of stretch marks. Exfoliation would seem to work on a similar premise, but no scientific studies have been conducted to support it as a treatment.
(4) Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is probably one of the more common topical creams used to prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Unfortunately, clinical data does not support its effects in this application. Of 175 women who applied either a cocoa butter lotion or a placebo daily, there was no sign of differences in the development and severity of stretch marks. In another study of 300 pregnant women divided evenly between control and treatment groups, 44% of women who used cocoa butter throughout their pregnancy developed stretch marks compared with 55% of women who used a placebo. The findings were not statistically significant.
(5) Coconut oil
Coconut oil moisturizes the skin and has anti-bacterial properties, which may help heal wound openings more quickly. This has led some to see it as a way to diminish the appearance of stretch marks although no studies have been conducted to prove this hypothesis.
(6) Aloe vera (and wheat germ, too!)
Aloe vera is known both anecdotally and in animal trials to be a natural healing agent and a skin softener. One study did find that formulations containing wheat germ oil and aloe vera extract produced higher skin hydration as compared to the formulations containing them separately, but there is little clinical evidence of their effectiveness in stretch marks.
(7–13) Hyaluronic acid, vitamins A, C, D, and E, zinc and silica
Prenatals can fill many vitamin needs
Found in Mederma (farther down the list), hyaluronic acid itself could stimulate collagen production. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps protect tissue from damage and aids the production of collagen. Vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) are also said to help promote and maintain healthy skin. Vitamins A, D and E are used for their antioxidant effects on free radicals in the skin and to support the skin's natural process of regeneration. Zinc can help reduce inflammation and plays a role in the healing process.
All can be purchased commercially in capsule form. Supplements like Joli Mere have been specifically designed with stretch marks in mind.
(14) Lupin seed extracts
Cussons Mum and Me Bump Stretch Mark Cream is designed specifically for stretch marks caused by pregnancy. It contains lupin seed extracts to increase the level of collagen in the skin. The manufacturer proffers the results from its own study, in which 28 women applied either its product or a skin treatment oil for 12 weeks. The results showed a 16% increase in skin elasticity by the 12th week.
Bio-Oil is one of the most popular products for stretch marks with pregnant women. Bio-Oil highlights four clinical trials to show the effects of its product. We could find further details on two:
A study in 2005 of 20 women with stretch marks who used Bio-Oil on one side of their abdomen and moisturizer on the other side of the their abdomen found reduced signs of stretch marks on the treated side compared to the untreated side. The study was funded by Bio-Oil’s parent company Union-Swiss Pty Ltd.
Another study in 2010 of 38 women showed an improvement in the appearance of stretch marks after 8 weeks of using Bio-Oil. Further details on the study are hard to find.
Stem Cells for Skin Repair?
Mesenchymal stem cells—found in abundance in umbilical cord tissue—promote the growth of new tissues like skin, bone, cartilage and more. It’s through this natural ability that researchers are looking at cord tissue stem cells for reconstructive treatments, such as burns, wound healing and cartilage tears. It's in these areas where cord tissue shows great promise as a regenerative medicine. Infusing these same stem cells into the skin could also have rejuvenating properties, but there is little clinical data to support this use at this time except in mice.
(16) Bitter almond oil
In a study of 141 expectant mothers, 47 applied bitter almond oil with massage, another 48 applied bitter almond oil without massage and 46 were in the control group. Of the three, a statistically lower percent of the women who applied bitter almond oil had stretch marks: 20% among the women who applied bitter almond oil with massage, 39% among those just applied almond oil, and 41% in the control group.
StriVectin is supposed to increase collagen in your skin through a patented variant of niacin (vitamin B3) trademarked as NIA-114, but it’s hard to say if it will fade or prevent stretch marks. The StriVectin website says there have been 30 independent clinical trials scientifically proving benefits, but does not point to any in particular.
Creams with tretinon (Retin-A), 20% glycolic acid and 10% ascorbic acid have been shown to improve stretch marks by 47%, including a decrease in their lengths and widths. Researchers found the skin in the areas where tretinon was applied showed increased elastin content and increased epidermal thickness. Retin-A increases skin renewal and is also used in acne and anti-ageing products. Retin-A is not safe during pregnancy or when breast-feeding.
Trofolastin contains gotu kola (also known as centella asiatica) extract, alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) and collagen–elastin hydrolysates (a cross-linked solution of the collagen and elastin proteins). Centella asiatica is a medicinal herb that is thought to increase the production of collagen and elastic fibers in the skin.
In a study from 1991 in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science involving 80 pregnant women, two-thirds of those who massaged Trofolastin into their skin did not developed stretch marks, compared with 44 percent who were given a placebo. The intensity of the stretch marks was also rated higher among those who had a placebo than those who received Trofolastin.
Mederma is a topical cream that contains onion extracts, gotu kola (see above), and hyaluronic acid. Onion extract has an anti-inflammatory effect, and hyaluronic acid is a natural part of the human body and acts like a cushion and lubricant in joints and tissues. Fifty-five women who applied a quarter-sized dap of Mederma on either the left or right thigh (randomized) for 12 weeks showed a statistically significant improvement in the color, softness, texture and overall appearance of the stretch marks as judged by investigators who were unaware of which side was treated and which was not.
Microdermabrasion is often used to improve the signs of ageing
Microdermabrasion helps spur the creation of a new skin layer by damaging the top layer. In one clinical trial, 20 women underwent 5 microdermabrasion treatments on one-half of their bodies. Ten of the women showed good to excellent improvement in the appearance of their stretch marks on the side that underwent microdermabrasion. The other 10 showed mild improvement to moderate improvement on the side that underwent microdermabrasion. Most of the difference was seen in the newly formed red stretch marks (striae rubrae) than the aged whiter streaks (striae albae). Because of the chemicals that may be used, microdermabrasion may not be safe during pregnancy.
Sugar has been used as a form of at-home microdermabrasion.
(22) Laser therpay
Lasers, like microdermabrasion, stimulate the skin’s healing process to create a new layer of epidermis and promote new collagen production. Lasers have demonstrated results, ranging from a 1% to 75% improvement in the appearance of stretchmarks depending on the study and the type of laser used. More effective lasers may cause more pain and result in a longer healing time.
Other creams, oils or methods
There are many anti–stretch mark lotions and oils from which to choose
There are a number of other creams and oils that say they reduce the signs of stretch marks, and you can find in various forums and comment section people who proffer anecdotal evidence that this certain cream or regimen helped reduced the signs of their stretch marks. Unfortunately, no studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of these products and methods. Here is a list of some of what we found:
- (23) Bag Balm udder and teat cream
- (24) Bella B Tummy Honey Butter
- (25) Clarins’ Tonic Body Treatment Oil
- (26) Clinique Cx Stretch Mark
- (27) Dermaglos
- (29) DermalMD Stretch Mark Cream
- (30) Dermelastic serum
- (31) Emu Oil
- (32) High gelatin diet
- (33) Mustela Stretch Marks Intensive Action Cream
- (34) Somaluxe Stretch Mark Treatment
- (35) St. Ives Collagen and Elastin Renewing Moisturizer
- (36) Stretchy Softly Stretch Mark Prevention Set
- (37) Yume Blush
Love the skin you're in
There is no 100% foolproof method for preventing or treating stretchmarks, but evidence shows that certain things may help. There are some who will do what they can to retain that youthful-looking skin. Others may choose to wear their stretch marks with pride as a sort of badge of motherhood. Either way, it is best to remember that stretch marks, wrinkles, and other signs of ageing are inevitable, so it may be best to just, as the old saying goes, "Love the skin you're in."