Stretch marks or striae are common during pregnancy, affecting up to 90 % of pregnant women. They tend to appear during the sixth and seventh months of pregnancy. Stretch marks are set-in streaks that appear on the abdomen and breasts, thighs, buttocks, hips and lower back.
The exact cause of stretch marks is unclear, but in general, they seem to develop after rapid stretching of the skin, leading to the tearing of the elastic fibres in the dermis (the middle layer of skin). This could be due to pregnancy, puberty, rapid weight loss or gain, or rapid muscle growth due to weight training.
While researchers don't know exactly why pregnancy stretch marks happen, they have identified some predisposing factors. You are more likely to develop stretch marks if you have a family history of them. Weight gain is another factor, as some studies have found that stretch marks are more common in women with higher pregnancy weight gain and higher pre-pregnancy weight.
Younger moms are also more likely to develop stretch marks in pregnancy. If you have certain genetic disorders such as Cushing's syndrome or Marfan syndrome, you are also more likely to develop stretch marks.
Remedies and Treatments for Stretch Marks After Pregnancy
Pregnancy stretch marks aren't dangerous and will fade after your baby is born. However, they will not disappear completely and this can be a cause of concern for many women. If you're looking to treat your stretch marks, know that some remedies can improve its appearance and texture but results can vary widely and your stretch marks will not go away completely.
Doctors say that treatment is more effective on stretch marks that are less than a few months old, that is, when they are pink or red in color. Mature stretch marks have a shiny, white or silver look.
Retinoids, such as tretinoin, are compounds derived from vitamin A. Tretinoin can help to rebuild collagen and, in some studies, has improved the appearance of early stretch marks. However, Tretinoin can irritate your skin, and retinoids shouldn't be used when you're pregnant or nursing as they can affect your baby. Make sure to check with your doctor before beginning to treat your stretch marks.
A few small studies have found that creams containing hyaluronic acid may help make early stretch marks less noticeable. Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in our bodies and fills in the space between collagen and elastin fibres, the proteins that make up the supporting structure in the middle layer of skin. Manufactured hyaluronic acid gels can help increase the volume of the dermis, which would help make stretch marks less obvious.
Creams, Gels, and Lotions
There are many over-the-counter creams, gels, and lotions marketed as stretch mark remedies. However, there is very little evidence that they work, since genetics seem to play a part in the development of stretch marks. If you choose to use these over-the-counter treatments, here are some tips to try:
- Use the product on stretch marks that are only a few months old.
- Take the time to massage it gently into your skin.
- Bear in mind that it takes weeks for the product to take effect, so be patient and continue using the treatment every day.
If you are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor before using these products.
Several surgical treatments are available that have the potential to improve the appearance of stretch marks:
- Laser therapy: There are several different types of laser therapies available, such as pulse dye laser and intense pulsed light. These treatments can reduce redness and resurface the skin. Some laser types are said to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.
- Microneedling: A fine-needle device creates tiny holes in the skin to generate new collagen and skin tissue, which can help heal your skin. This is also known as collagen induction therapy.
- Microdermabrasion: Tiny crystals are sprayed onto the skin to remove a fine outer layer of skin and this helps to thicken collagen and renew the skin's appearance.
- Radiofrequency: A device delivers energy waves to heat the deeper layers of skin. This helps to tighten skin tissue and increase collagen production.
When To See A Doctor
You should talk to your doctor if your stretch marks cover a large part of your body or if you are concerned about how your skin looks.