Let’s talk about stretch (marks) baby! One of the possible effects of pregnancy and a growing belly is the development of stretch marks. Essentially, stretch marks are scars that develop under the skin due to rapid growth. Over the past three pregnancies, I’ve gotten questions about stretch marks: how do you prevent them, what causes them, and if/how you can treat them if they appear.
Since I’m an OT, and not a dermatologist, this is not my area of expertise. I did some research online and also consulted with my good friend and dermatologist, Dr. Sarika Snell, about this topic. Since she’s the expert, I let her field the questions on this matter:
1. Let’s start with the basics. In pregnancy, what are the main changes to your skin that one can expect (generally) if any?
The main changes you can see during pregnancy include:
- Hyperpigmentation – includes darkening around areolae, the linear line along the abdomen which is known as linea nigra, and melasma. Melasma is often referred to the “mask of pregnancy”, which presents as dark patches on the forehead, cheeks and upper lips.
- Hisuitism – excessive hair growth.
- Stretch marks – any location that is expanding due to rapid weight gain
- Acne can improve or flare. Patients with a history of persistent acne usually improves during pregnancy.
2. Is a woman’s likelihood of developing stretch marks hereditary or caused by any dietary, behavioral, or hormonal factors?
Stretch marks are usually due to physical stretching of the skin along with some hormonal influence. Some risk factors for developing stretch marks during pregnancy include higher weight gains during pregnancy, higher birth weights of baby, family history, personal history of stretch marks and young maternal age.
3. What at-home remedies are suggested to prevent stretch marks?
There are only a few studies that look at the prophylactic treatment of stretch marks, but some have shown that Trofolastin and Alphastria creams have demonstrated some prevention against stretch marks whereas cocoa butter and olive oil did not. Ultimately, I believe the risk factors above are the biggest determinant of whether or not a woman will develop stretch marks and no topical therapy will 100% prevent them if you have any of those risk factors.
4. What are your product recommendations for treating stretch marks?
Although there are no magic pills or treatments to treat stretch marks, you can find some improvement with lasers, but this may require multiple treatments. There is also some data that the vitamin A derivative, tretinoin, may improve the appearance of stretch marks.
5. From personal experience during your pregnancy, was there anything you did to prevent stretch marks?
In short answer, no. I focused on eating healthy in order to limit unnecessary weight gain and hydrating often for overall skin health.
Dr. Sarika Snell is a board-certified dermatologist in the DC area and voted Washington Top Doctor 2018. Her specialty interests include skin cancer detection, medical dermatological conditions, cosmetic dermatology and enjoys doing aesthetic procedures. You can read more about her at Integrated Dermatology and find her on instagram at @DrSarikaSnell
To further support what Dr. Sarika Snell has said, the American Academy of Dermatology states, “Researchers have discovered that many remedies said to prevent stretch marks don’t actually work. In studies, neither almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, nor vitamin E prevented stretch marks. Other ingredients may work. Researchers have found that products containing centella or hyaluronic acid may help prevent stretch marks. Centella is an herb, and our skin naturally contains hyaluronic acid.”
I really appreciated Sarika’s input from the clinical and personal perspective, as we often look to google to find answers that may or may not prove beneficial. For instance, if you google, “how to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy” or “how to get rid of stretch marks”, you’ll find a myriad of companies claiming that they have the miracle drug or topical product that can do it all. However, you just read from the experts that the likelihood of that being true is debatable. Experiment if you will, but buyer beware of spending $$$ on the magic potions.
That being said, moisturizing your skin is never a bad idea for the overall health of your skin. Although it’s not a guarantee to prevent stretch marks, moisturizing the skin on your belly increases its elasticity, which may prevent tears.
For my first pregnancy, I ended up without any stretch marks, but after my second I did develop a few around my belly that faded slightly. I didn’t do a whole lot to intentionally prevent stretch marks, other than keeping the skin on my belly, boobs and butt constantly moisturized. I loved using two products specifically for their natural ingredient, smooth application and fantastic smell:
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Stretch marks are sometimes inevitable with pregnancy. The key is to try to eat healthy to steadily gain necessary weight, and hydrate both inside and out. As much as they can change the look of your skin after baby, I see it as a badge of honor as a mom. Your body is doing/did something INCREDIBLE, and having a natural tattoo to remind you of that journey can be a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I develop more stretch marks after this pregnancy, given the rollercoaster I’ve put my body through these past few years. I haven’t tried to “remove” or “erase” mine, because I’m proud of what my body did.