Stretch marks (Striae distensae) often form during puberty during growth spurts and with excessive weight gain but in Pregnancy they are termed Striae Gravidarum. They can be red, pale, purple or brown depending on your skin colour. Most common area to find them during pregnancy is your tummy but also can be found on the breasts and upper thighs increasing as your pregnancy progresses and bump continues to expand.
After birth the stretch marks tend to fade in colour and reduce but is unlikely they will completely resolve and disappear.
Why do they happen?
When the middle layer of skin (dermis) becomes stretched beyond its usual capacity and broken in places as the collagen bundles in the skin get thinned out and have alterered fiber orientation. This can then lead to formation of stretch marks. With pregnancy they are more commonly developed due to weight gain, expansion of the bump stretching the abdomen skin and on the breasts swelling during pregnancy. Hormones in pregnancy can also make them more prevelant to develop.
HOW CAN I PREVENT AND TREAT THEM?
There are some natural ways you can try which all have some research behind their effectiveness
Keeping weight gain under control
You will undoubtedly put on weight during pregnancy and can not prevent the bump from expanding as much as it needs to but by not ‘eating for 2’ and keeping to a healthy nutritious diet it will help prevent excessive weight gain and further stretching of the skin – see our ‘Pregnancy Nutrition Section’ for ideas. Unfortunately once the stretch marks have formed when losing weight post pregnancy they will tend to remain so trying to prevent them happening in the first place or the extent of them is the best method.
Hyaluronic Acid & Tretronin
Large studies have have shown can help prevent and reduce appearance of stretch marks. Shown to increase skin hydration by 96% and enhance skin firmness and elasticity by up to 55% over an 8 week period of use. Comes as an ointment or cream you can apply to the skin. Can be part of other products or bought in its pure form as below.
Vitamin A is classed as a Retinol and is shown to promote formation of new collagen and help skin renewal. There are sources that say Retinols are unsafe to use in pregnancy but the SCCS (European Commissions Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety has evaluated Retinol Vitamin A and other Retinol equivalents used in body lotions up to a concentration of 0.05% is safe.
Shown to have anti-ageing and skin regenerating benefits. Can be found as a cream to apply to skin. Burt’s Bees Mama is an example of one which also contains almond and lemon oils which help soothe and hydrate dry skin.
Oils such as Olive Oil, Almond Oil, Coconut Oil can help by hydrating the skin and the secondary effect of massaging them in can help. You can purchase all these oils as stand alone products or in combinations with other essential oils. An example product which contains Almond Oil as well as other essential oils to help with stretch marks is Weleda.
This product has been shown to improve the appearance of stretch marks. It contains essential oils as well as Vitamins A & E. You can read more about it and how to apply here.
Suggested to help by boosting moisturisation of the skin. An example product for stretch marks which contains cocoa butter as well as other oils, butters, collagen and elastin.
There is little clinical evidence that Aloe Vera which is a plant extract works for stretch marks but it can soften and heal skin. Can be applied as pure Aloe Vera Gel or as part of another product such as Earth Mama Belly Butter.
Helps by boosting moisturisation of the skin
WHAT TO BE WARY OF USING IN PREGNANCY AND LACTATION
Check the back of any ointments or creams to see if they are safe to use in pregnancy.
HOW CAN I GET RID OF STRETCH MARKS AFTER PREGNANCY?
There are various treatments that can reduce the appearance of stretch marks but none to date that can remove them completely. There is no one stop treatment that fits all. A proper evaluation of your stretch marks needs to be carried out by a qualified Dermatologist assessing your history, type of stretch marks you have and your skin type. It has been shown that a combination of Topical Treatments (see list above) along with Procedural Treatments (see below) are needed with multiple sessions over time. Your Dermatologist should be able to recommend the best strategy for you.
Procedural Treatments Available
2) LIGHT BASED THERAPIES
3) RADIO FREQUENCY
7) PLATELET RICH PLASMA (PRP)
8) MICRONEEDLING THERAPY
9) CHEMICAL PEELING
The Research Review by Lokhande A & Mysore V attached gives a good summary of the different clinical evidence & success of all of the treatments above.