Their existence is almost inevitable, they don’t go away, and they’re a big source of anxiety for many women. They’re stretch marks—the calling card of pregnancy.
If you’re pregnant and dealing with stretch marks, rest assured you’re in good company. Studies show that 50 to 90% of women will develop them over the course of their pregnancy, usually during the second or third trimester1.
The bad news is that stretch marks don’t go away. They fade with time, but they aren’t treatable, and unfortunately they are here to stay. The good news is there are some simple things you can do to help lessen their appearance and increase the fading.
What are stretch marks ?
The medical term for stretch marks is striae gravidarum. They are red or purple lines or streaks that usually appear on the abdomen, breasts, or thighs1. The marks themselves are not harmful and do not pose a risk to the pregnancy. Still, they’re a source of anxiety for a lot of women because of the cosmetic effects they leave behind.
What causes stretch marks?
Surprisingly, researchers still don’t know what causes stretch marks. One popular theory is that they form when the skin loses its elasticity due to rapid weight gain or growth. Another theory is that stretch marks develop due to the extra hormones during pregnancy.
Whatever the cause, doctors believe there are factors that may increase the likelihood of stretch marks2:
- If your mother had stretch marks, then you’re more likely to have them too as genetics may play a role.
- If you have a history of having stretch marks in past pregnancies, you may have a higher chance.
Unfortunately, there is no way to determine who will or will not develop stretch marks. But because most women do, the issue is more about the amount and the scarring they leave behind. If you have a lighter complexion, you will tend to develop pinkish stretch marks. If you have a darker complexion, you’ll tend to get stretch marks that are lighter than your skin tone3.
As the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says, “stretch marks fade but they may never disappear completely”4. The fact is there are is no miracle cure for stretch marks. Many products will claim to get rid of them all together, but be wary of any product marketing itself as 100% effective. It doesn’t exist.
That being said, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that some creams and lotions may help scars fade and become less prominent.
The following is a list of popular creams and oils that some women have found to help. They do not represent a treatment but may help lessen the scarring. None are thought to be harmful to the baby.
- Cocoa butter
Cocoa butter is a natural fat derived from cocoa beans with great moisturizing properties. Physicians and midwives commonly advise their patients to use cocoa butter before, during, and even after pregnancy to help with stretch marks.
- Bitter almond oil
Thought of as a good alternative to cocoa butter, bitter almond oil is a great emollient and is used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin.
- Olive oil
Olive oil contains a lot of nutrients and antioxidants. This oil is widely used for treating a variety of skin conditions. It is rather inexpensive, scent-free (extra virgin olive oil), and a good lubricant for the skin.
NOTE: While some stretch marks naturally fade to faint lines, others remain darker. The best time to treat the marks is in the early stages while they’re still in the reddish stage.
When to see a dermatologist
If you find that your stretch marks aren’t fading post-breastfeeding, visit your dermatologist. They might recommend a prescription cream. Again, make sure you’ve finished breastfeeding before starting a prescription ointment.
Other more intensive treatments may include in-office treatments like laser therapy.
None of these treatments will get rid of stretch marks, and no single therapy can be thought of as an all-encompassing solution. However, if you do want options, your doctor or dermatologist will be the best source of advice.
1) Brennan, M., Young, G., & Devane, D. (2012). Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. The Cochrane Library. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000066.pub2/abstract
2) Chang, A. L. S., Agredano, Y. Z., & Kimball, A. B. (2004). Risk factors associated with striae gravidarum. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 51(6), 881-885. http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(04)01564-6/abstract
3) WebMD. The Truth About Pregnancy Stretch Marks. Reviewed by Jennifer Shu, MD on September 15, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/stretch-marks#1
4) the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists . Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. June 2014. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Skin-Conditions-During-Pregnancy.
5) Young G, Jewell D. Creams for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1996, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000066. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000066. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000066/full