You're probably no stranger to the fact that stretch marks—or striae distensae if you want to sound a touch more scientific—are pretty common to get during and after pregnancy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with stretch marks, so don't stress if you've already gotten some along the way. However, if you're looking to minimize them (or treat and fade stretch marks you already have), we spoke to a dermatologist and two OB-GYNs to get all their best tips. Ahead, learn all you need to know on how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.
Meet the Expert
- Tiffany Clay, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Atlanta.
- Tara Shirazian, MD, is a board-certified obstetrician–gynecologist at NYU Langone in New York City.
- Amy Wetter, MD, is an Atlanta-based, board-certified obstetrician–gynecologist at Pediatrix Medical Group.
What Are Stretch Marks?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, stretch marks are a type of scarring that occurs when skin shrinks or stretches very quickly. You're most likely to experience stretch marks during a growth spurt, pregnancy, a period of rapid weight loss or gain, or a time of rapid muscle growth, such as while weight training.
As for how stretch marks scientifically work, skin contains proteins (called collagen and elastin) that support it and allow it to stretch. But when the skin expands or stretches really rapidly, these proteins can rupture and stretch marks may appear.
When stretch marks pop up, the skin may look thinner, or the stretch marks may appear as depressed lines on the skin. Depending on skin color or how long the stretch marks have been around, they can appear reddish, purple, silver, white, dark gray, or black. "In lighter skin, they typically appear red initially and then they fade to white or lighter, and in darker skin, they may begin very dark or hyperpigmented and fade to a lighter brown color," says board-certified dermatologist Tiffany Clay, MD.
Why Stretch Marks Happen During Pregnancy
Stretch marks are common during pregnancy because of a combination of fluctuating hormone levels, stretching skin, and genetics. They're most likely to appear during the third trimester of pregnancy, when skin is at its most stretched. "During pregnancy, the body produces higher levels of hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which can weaken the skin's elasticity and make it more prone to stretch marks," explains board-certified OB-GYN Tara Shirazian, MD. But that's not all: "Additionally, weight gain during pregnancy can contribute to the development of stretch marks, particularly in areas where the skin is stretched the most, such as the abdomen, breasts, hips, and thighs."
Stretch marks can be hereditary, so you may also be at higher risk for getting them if someone in your family has stretch marks, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Can You Prevent Stretch Marks?
There's no way to prevent 100% of stretch marks during pregnancy, but you can do some things to make them less likely—as well as minimize their appearance when they occur. "Stretch marks in pregnancy are hard to impossible to prevent, as 50-90% of all pregnant women report some form of stretch marks," says board-certified OB-GYN Amy Wetter, MD. "This is because other factors associated with the development of stretch marks—including genetics, hormone changes, skin type, and the fact that your belly skin has to stretch to make room for your growing baby—all impact whether or not, or to what degree, stretch marks develop." Luckily, you have a number of options for reducing the likelihood of stretch marks and minimizing their appearance.
How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
Drinking plenty of water can keep your skin hydrated, supple, and soft, which may reduce the likelihood of developing stretch marks. "Keeping your skin as hydrated as possible by drinking plenty of fluid, minimizing caffeine, and moisturizing can help since hydrated skin is less likely to break when it stretches," Wetter explains.
Use Centella Asiatica Extract
Trying a product that contains centella asiatica extract may help prevent stretch marks. "Centella asiatica extract comes from a small plant of the Mackinlayaceae family native to the wetlands of Asia," Clay tells us. This extract is popular in ayurvedic medicine and has been used to treat skin conditions for hundreds of years. "It prevents progression and appearance of striae and also stimulates cell production and fibroblasts, which help build the tissues that are not as abundant in areas of stretch marks," Clay says.
Use Hyaluronic Acid Products
Applying a product containing hyaluronic acid may make stretch marks less noticeable, especially if you do this soon after the stretch marks appear. Hyaluronic acid can have both hydrating and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. As a molecule naturally found in the skin, it's helpful in healing and cushioning, both of which can benefit the process of preventing or treating stretch marks.
Try a Retinoid
After pregnancy, retinoids may help treat stretch marks by boosting the production of collagen and elastin, as well as speeding cell turnover. Keep in mind that retinoids are not safe for use during pregnancy and should only be used afterwards. They also aren't recommended for sensitive skin, so proceed with caution and consider patch-testing if you aren't sure how your skin will react.
Aim for Slow and Steady Weight Gain
Stretch marks often occur during pregnancy because the rapid weight gain can cause your skin to stretch and pull apart. Aiming to make your weight gain as steady as possible can be helpful in minimizing stretch marks.
Gaining weight at a steady rate may help prevent stretch marks by reducing strain on the skin, Shirazian explains. "Talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight gain range is for your specific pregnancy," she says.
"Regular exercise can help improve circulation and promote healthy skin," Shirazian says. Exercise may also help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid particularly rapid weight gain, which may protect against the appearance of stretch marks. If you're not sure what level of exercise is safe during pregnancy, Shirazian suggests speaking with your doctor.
If you're looking to minimize the appearance of existing stretch marks, microneedling is a great option. Microneedling works by stimulating the skin to produce more collagen and elastin, which in turn can repair some of the ruptures that can happen during pregnancy. It's likely that you'll need a few treatments before results are noticeable.
The Final Takeaway
Stretch marks are a normal part of pregnancy (and life), and while there's nothing wrong with having them, there are several ways to prevent and treat them if you're looking to reduce their appearance. That being said, the above tips won't necessarily work in all cases, so be realistic with your expectations. "While these steps may help reduce the risk of developing stretch marks, it's important to keep in mind that genetics and other factors may still play a role," Shirazian says. "If you do develop stretch marks during pregnancy, they will likely fade over time and become less noticeable."
Stretch marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them. https://www.aad.org/public/cosmetic/scars-stretch-marks/stretch-marks-why-appear
Stretch marks - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stretch-marks/symptoms-causes/syc-20351139
Stretch marks: causes, treatment options & prevention. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10785-stretch-marks
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