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Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

Feb 17, 2022 | 5 minutes Read

Almost all the advice around stretch mark treatment and removal stresses the benefits of prevention in the first place. But if you're one of the many women who did all that they could during pregnancy and still developed stretch marks, don’t despair.

Stretch marks are such a common occurrence during pregnancy that they are considered normal and an almost inevitable result of skin stretching. Although stretch marks can look unattractive, that is where their impact ends. They don't cause any problems with general health and well-being. When they first form, stretch marks can appear very wide, indented, red, or even purple in color. With time they generally fade to the point of being barely visible.

What helps to get rid of stretch marks?

Moisturizing can help. Any emollient lotion will help to hydrate the skin and improve its elasticity. And although creams and lotions can’t penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin where stretch marks actually form, they do help to retain and replenish the moisture content in the outer epidermal skin layer.

Moisturizing also helps the skin to appear tauter, shinier, and smoother. The current belief is that lotions used on new stretch marks may be more effective than when they have already faded.

No matter how obvious they may be when they first form, don’t despair: stretch marks do fade over time. The unfortunate truth is that some women are just more prone to them, especially if there is a genetic tendency within the family.

For women who gain a lot of pregnancy weight, are carrying multiples, or have an excess of fluid, stretch marks are more likely.

If you do nothing other than just observe your stretch marks, you will notice that the red and purple lines will gradually fade to a silver or white color. They will also flatten and feel less tight, as well as feel more crepe-y and soft to the touch. This may take a few years, but it will happen, so be patient.

If you find yourself worrying about the appearance of your stretch marks or obsessing about them, it would be worthwhile speaking to your doctor. Some women do feel that their emotional and mental health is impacted when their physical appearance is not what they would like it to be. Getting a medical assessment can be very useful in terms of normalizing the appearance of stretch marks. Treatment options, if needed, can also be discussed.

Natural stretch mark remedies

Make up your own moisturizer with a blend of olive, almond, or coconut oil. Add some essential scented oil such as lavender, rose or geranium to disguise the vegetable smell of the carrier oils. You won’t need much, especially if you warm the oil in your hands before rubbing it in.

Vitamin E cream has been shown to have positive results on improving the appearance of stretch marks. Look for a moisturizing cream which has added vitamin E or alternately, use vitamin E capsules. Once pierced, the vitamin E is exposed to the air and its potency starts to diminish. Pierce the capsule just before rubbing the contents into your skin.

Retin-A and pregnancy

Retin-A is a form of vitamin A. Another name for Retin-A is tretinoin. There are many creams which contain Retin-A but which go under different trade or generic names. By law, manufacturers must state clearly on the label what is included in the product. Retin-A also comes in different concentrations; the higher the concentration, the more effective it will be—but so will the risk of side effects.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you cannot use Retin-A. It has been linked with birth defects and other complications. Read the labels of any product you intend to use and speak with your provider and or a pharmacist if you are unsure about product safety.

Retin-A works by helping the skin renew itself in multiple ways: by boosting collagen production and cell turnover and by assisting the skin’s stretching to reduce tearing.

Other uses for Retin-A are for the treatment of acne, fine lines and wrinkles and skin discoloration. It is generally available by prescription from a doctor. However, less potent concentrations of Retin-A can be found in some over-the-counter moisturizers and skin creams.

Other useful information about Retin-A:

  • Retin-A comes in a cream form.

  • Retin-A is not as effective on old stretch marks as fresh or new ones. But remember, Retin-A is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

  • Avoid any sun exposure if using Retin-A.

  • Wash your hands after using cream containing Retin-A.

Glycolic acid during pregnancy

Glycolic acid is a product which contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Glycolic acid, when used in a topical form, helps to support collagen production and skin elasticity. Collagen works like a type of networking bridge, connecting skin cells to each other. Unlike Retin-A, glycolic acid is thought to be safe to use during pregnancy and lactation. Many skin care treatments, serums, and moisturizers contain glycolic acid in varying concentrations. Some dermatologists recommend a combination of Retin-A and glycolic acid as it is thought that there are dual benefits.

Vitamin C during pregnancy

Vitamin C has always been popular as a preventative option for all sorts of health issues. Many of the claims around its benefits have been based around common belief rather than science. However, there does seem to be some proof that vitamin C supplements may help when it comes to preventing stretch marks and in their recovery.

If you're thinking about using vitamin C oral supplementation, speak with your provider or a pharmacist. Although excess vitamin C is not stored in the body and excreted in urine, it's still not wise to supplement vitamins and minerals unnecessarily.

Laser treatments for stretch marks

There are many different treatment choices when it comes to laser therapy. New research into lasers has meant that what was cutting edge a couple of years ago has been replaced by technology which is more effective and less invasive. These treatments would not take place during pregnancy.

Pulsed dye laser for stretch marks

Another name for a pulsed dye laser is a vascular laser. It works on a pulse mechanism where intense laser light is directed at the stretch mark for a carefully measured period of time. The best time to have pulsed dye laser is when the stretch marks are still red, before they have faded to a silvery white.

If you have darker skin, pulsed dye laser is not considered as effective. When there is a bigger contrast between the color of the stretch mark and the surrounding skin, the effects of the pulsed dye laser are more obvious. These treatments would not take place during pregnancy.

Fractional laser treatments for stretch marks

This form of laser is considered most effective on older stretch marks which have lost their initial redness. Fractional lasers help to resurface the stretch mark’s edges and depth so that it is in line and even with the skin surrounding it.

Fractional laser treatments also work by increasing the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin. One side effect of this type of laser resurfacing is hyper pigmentation or darkening of the surrounding skin; occasionally, there is scarring. Weigh carefully if this is a risk you're willing to take. These treatments would not take place during pregnancy.

Dermabrasion for stretch marks

Dermabrasion is a cheaper option, but it is a less effective way to eliminate stretch marks than laser therapies. It involves going to a clinic which employs clinicians who are trained in the use of dermabrasion techniques.

There is sometimes some redness and tenderness following each session but generally not enough to impact on daily activities. These treatments would not take place during pregnancy.

Dermarollers or dermastamps for stretch marks

Dermarollers and dermastamps involve a technique using a roller impregnated with tiny needles. It is rolled over the skin where the stretch marks are. Another name for this treatment is skin needling. Puncturing the skin down to the dermal layer is thought to stimulate the growth of new skin cells and collagen.

Be mindful that there is still some disagreement about the effectiveness of this treatment. Although it sounds reasonable in theory, there is inconsistency when it comes to results. These treatments would not take place during pregnancy.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) for stretchmarks

This is a relatively new treatment which is also being used in facial plastic surgery. It is appealing to many women because it involves using their own plasma or blood products rather than a synthesized or artificial product.

A blood sample is taken from your arm and then this is spun to separate the different blood cells. The platelet-rich plasma and fibrin float to the top of the test tube. This is injected directly into the stretch mark.

It is believed that PRP works because it supports the formation of the matrix between the skin cells and boosts the production of growth factor. This then helps to encourage the growth of collagen which in turn tightens the skin. This treatment would not take place during pregnancy.

Surgery for stretch marks

Surgery is considered by most women to be a rather drastic solution. However, if you've finished having children and are really affected by the appearance of your stretch marks, then it may be an option you want to consider.

Often called a mommy tuck or mommy makeover, an abdominoplasty involves an operation and a stay in hospital. A plastic surgeon makes a series of surgical cuts on the abdomen and removes the excess skin. When pulled taut and re-sutured into place, the abdomen becomes flatter and tighter.

It starts with an initial consultation and referral from a primary care provider to a plastic surgeon. A hospital stay, recovery, surgeon, and anesthetist’s bills can add up to many thousands. Because abdominoplasty is considered a cosmetic procedure, it may not be covered by your health insurance.

Sometimes a combination of many treatments such as topical creams and lotions plus different laser therapies are used in the treatment of stretch marks. Using a multi-modal approach to treatment may provide the best result.

The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.