Stretch marks are just a part of life. Whether yours are caused by rapid weight fluctuations, pregnancy, genetics, or exercise, the pesky—though notably harmless—lines are notoriously difficult to treat. If your stretch marks bother you, it’s possible you’ve tried every method out there to make them disappear. However, all that experimentation could do more harm than good. Read on to discover the product you should stop using on stretch marks, as well as what you can do to minimize their appearance.
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Stretch marks—called striae in the medical community—are a common skin condition that may impact up to 90 percent of people, according to Sohag Medical Journal. Each striae is a scar caused by tears in the collagen fibers of the skin. Because stretch marks occur so frequently, there’s an entire industry of creams that claim to magically erase them.
Unfortunately, any stretch mark cream or treatment that sounds too good to be true probably is. “There are no creams that in my experience correct stretch marks,” says Alexander Zuriarrain, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery. “There is also no scientific evidence that any of the stretch mark creams work.”
The one exception? Products with active ingredients such as retinol. “Tretinoin, a retinoid prescription, has been clinically studied to improve the length and width of stretch marks,” says Elaine F. Kung, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Future Bright Dermatology. However, don’t expect your stretch marks to disappear completely; even with consistent use, striae will likely only diminish slightly.
Note: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, hold off on using any retinol products until your doctors give the go ahead.
The best way to avoid stretch marks may be taking a proactive approach. “Moisturizing the skin regularly may help prevent stretch marks,” says Enrizza P. Factor, MD, PDS, clinical dermatologist and researcher with My Vitiligo Team. “There are no creams or oils proven to prevent stretch marks. However, keeping the skin supple may be helpful for reducing the risk in some people.” She notes that hydrating your skin may also help alleviate some of the itchiness that occurs as it stretches. To start, use an oil, cream, or product containing hyaluronic acid twice daily.
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If you really want to get rid of your stretch marks, laser treatments are a safe and effective way to do so. “In laser stretch mark removal, concentrated rays of light are directed at the stretch marks, stimulating new growth and smoothing the scars,” says Factor. “Laser treatments are considered skin resurfacing treatments, helping your skin to heal and create a smoother texture.”
Keep in mind that these treatments work best on newer stretch marks, which can be identified by their more red and pink hue. “This indicates there are working blood vessels in the skin, which allow for quicker and more complete healing after a laser treatment,” says Factor. “The older, white striae are harder to treat because of the lack of blood vessels, which means less collagen production.”
When push comes to shove, it’s worth considering how important it is to you to decrease the appearance of your stretch marks. Keep in mind that you won’t necessarily experience dramatic results. “I think most people’s goal in treatment should be an improvement, not a ‘cure,'” says Emmanuel Loucas, MD, board-certified dermatologist and director of SINY and Water’s Edge Dermatology. “I always believe consulting a skin professional, such as a dermatologist, is your best first step. This may help you avoid costly procedures and products when they are not appropriate.” From there, you can develop a treatment plan that will leave you feeling confident with your skin.
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