While baby weight and swollen ankles go away after birth, many women are left with scars that last a lifetime. We’re talking about something even more common than C-section scars: Stretch marks.
While they aren’t typically a cause for concern, they’re undesirable for many moms-to-be. In this post, we’re discussing what stretch marks are, why they happen and how to treat them.
What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are a type of scar. They appear as long, thin, discolored lines on the skin. Depending on your skin tone, they may be pink, purple, red, reddish-brown or dark brown. When they’re newly formed, they may be raised and itchy.
As stretch marks age, their color and raised texture fade. If you touch an old mark, you can usually feel a depression or indent in the skin.
Stretch marks are most commonly seen on the:
- “Love handle” area
Stretch marks don’t cause any health problems and they aren’t painful. However, some people dislike or are self-conscious about their appearance, leading them to try prevention and treatment methods.
Why Do You Get Stretch Marks in Pregnancy?
Stretch marks happen when your skin stretches or shrinks quickly as opposed to over a period of time. This can happen:
- During Pregnancy
- As a result of puberty growth spurts
- From sudden muscle growth from weight training
- From sudden weight changes
Stretch marks are very common during pregnancy since your belly is rapidly expanding for your growing baby. In fact, about 50 to 90% of expecting women will get them. However, not everyone will.
Stretch Mark Risk Factors During Pregnancy
Other than factors that cause skin stretching, you may be more likely to get stretch marks:
- If you have high cortisone levels. This stress hormone weakens the skin’s elastic fibers, increasing severity.
- If you use hydrocortisone cream for months (but these creams aren’t typically recommended during pregnancy anyway)
- If you’ve had stretch marks before.
- If people in your family have stretch marks.
- If you have some genetic disorders, such as Cushing’s syndrome.
Interestingly, the amount of weight you gain during pregnancy may not always play a role. For example, women who only gain a little weight can still get stretch marks.
The Stretch Mark Itch
Although stretch marks aren’t harmful, they have an annoying side effect: They can be really itchy. This is a result of dry skin stretching. Even if you’ve lost the baby weight, you may still have the sensation as the skin heals.
If you feel like you’re constantly scratching your baby belly, here’s a few things you can do to minimize the discomfort:
- Frequently use a moisturizer on the itchy areas to avoid dryness. Placing it in the fridge beforehand can have a cool, soothing effect.
- Stretch mark prevention oils can also minimize itch while moisturizing the skin.
- Heavily scented skin products and soap tend to dry out the skin, so identify and avoid those.
- Avoid skin products containing alcohol since they also zap moisture.
- Avoid hot showers and baths because this can dry the skin out more.
- If the air is dry, use a humidifier.
If your itch is extreme and won’t go away, ask your doctor about the next steps. The sensation could be the result of another condition, such as pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). PUPPP is an itchy rash that can develop on top of stretch marks late in pregnancy.
Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?
Although women who gain little weight can still get stretch marks, the best way to prevent them is to control the gain. While you can’t control the baby’s weight, you can make sure you’re living a healthy lifestyle that won’t cause extra gain. This includes eating a healthy diet and getting exercise (check out 11 Easy and Super Fun Pregnancy Exercise Ideas That You’ll Actually Do).
Apart from that, there are products you can use to help minimize their appearance if they do form. A 2016 survey showed that 78% of women used a product to prevent stretch marks, with the most popular being Bio-Oil. However, about 58% still developed them. That’s because although prevention oils can minimize the severity of scars, they probably won’t fully prevent them.
MamaDerma Stretch Mark Prevention Oil
We recommend this quick-absorbing prevention oil because it contains natural ingredients that have been clinically shown to reduce stretch mark severity compared to other regular oils. Since it was specially formulated with the mother-to-be in mind, MamaDerma is considered safe to use during pregnancy. Simply rub the oil in a circular motion on the stomach, breasts, hips and butt. For best results, use in the morning and at night.
Can You Get Rid of Stretch Marks?
The good news is that stretch marks become less visible over time. That means even if you don’t do anything to prevent or treat them, they will fade.
The bad news is that they don’t usually completely fade, even when products are used. While they can minimize their appearance, there’s no quick fix for removing marks.
Before we delve into the ways to treat stretch marks, we should re-iterate a few things:
- Treatment for stretch marks is done for cosmetic reasons as opposed to health reasons.
- These scars are reminders of your body’s amazing ability to make and house a baby for 9 months. You don’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed about them.
- Most people get stretch marks at some point—it’s not just you!
With that being said, some women prefer how their skin looks without the marks. There’s many products on the market to help with that; however, how well they work varies by brand. Whichever product you choose, here’s some tips to maximize efficiency:
- Use it early. At best, treatment has little effect on mature stretch marks. As soon as they form, start using a cream, spray or oil.
- Massage it in. Instead of quickly applying it, take time to massage it into the skin. A derma-roller can also help.
- Be consistent. Applying a product one time isn’t going to have any effect. For results, you’ll need to use it every day (preferably twice a day) for several weeks. If you have trouble remembering to use it, try adding it to your routine. For example, always apply it after brushing your teeth.
MamaDerma Silicone Stretch Mark Spray
Instead of choosing a regular oil, we recommend trying a silicone spray. The MamaDerma blend uses medical-grade silicone, which can help hydrate the area and “seal” it to prevent further pulling. It also helps normalize collagen-synthesis and can protect the tissue from bacteria. Since it helps other hypertrophic or keloid scars, you can also use it for C-section scars. All you need to do is spray the silicone on and spread the excess over the marks. It dries quickly and after that, you don’t need to worry about it transferring onto clothing. Use twice a day. One bottle used on a 6” by 6” area will last up to 8 weeks.
MamaDerma Stretch Mark Repair Cream with Roller
This formula uses pregnancy-safe ingredients that have been clinically proven to reduce the redness and indentations of stretch marks. It also comes with a derma-roller to increase results. Rollers create micro-injuries in the skin, which increases collagen production. This extra collagen helps smooth and heal skin. Apply the cream to the affected area and use the tool directly after to roll it into the skin. If you have a large area of stretch marks, work in sections. Use twice a day for best results.
At-Home Stretch Mark Remedies
Although most home remedies haven’t shown clinical effectiveness for stretch marks, some people report improvements. You can try using almond or olive oil, cocoa butter or vitamin E.
Stretch Mark Treatment Laser
Although they can’t eliminate stretch marks, some people try laser treatment to reduce their appearance. This works by removing the outer layer of skin or by using beams of light to encourage collagen growth, smoothing skin. There are a variety of laser types a dermatologist can use and some require multiple treatments. The procedure can last about 30 minutes to an hour and can cost anywhere from $500 to a couple thousand per session, depending on the provider’s experience. You should also take into account other costs associated with laser, including consultation or medication to manage after-treatment pain.
If you’re considering laser for stretch marks, you should wait until after pregnancy and nursing to book a session. Many reputable providers won’t do treatments on pregnant or breastfeeding women. While there isn’t enough research in this area to say whether or not it affects the baby, it’s safest to avoid.
Other Dermatologist Procedures for Stretch Marks
Besides lasers, doctors can try some other procedures to reduce the appearance of scars. This may include:
- Chemical peels
If you choose to try one of these treatments after pregnancy, make sure you learn about their possible side effects and risks before booking a session.
Many women get stretch marks during pregnancy. Although they aren’t a health concern, those worried about their appearance can take measures to help prevent and treat them. Options include creams, sprays, oils and more invasive procedures, such as laser treatment.