If you've been pregnant, chances are good that your body has some stretch marks. Although stretch marks can develop at any time, pregnancy stretch marks are especially common. In fact, between 55% and 90% of women will discover at least one of these side effects of pregnancy. Here's what you need to know about them including: what causes stretch marks, how to get rid of stretch marks, and everything in between.
What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are linear scars that develop when the skin rapidly grows or shrinks. They often appear during puberty and pregnancy—two periods of life when our bodies change quickly. After pregnancy, stretch marks can appear on the breasts, hips, thighs, and abdomen.
New stretch marks begin as flat, pinkish or reddish bands across the skin. Although they don't cause pain, they may itch or cause discomfort. Over time, they become longer, wider, and more textured; they also fade as they lose pigmentation, often making them less obvious1.
What causes stretch marks in pregnancy?
As your skin expands to accommodate your growing body, it may develop stretch marks. This often happens on the breasts and belly, but it can also happen elsewhere (thighs, arms) as your body puts on the weight needed to support you and your baby. Unfortunately, there's no way to predict whether you'll develop stretch marks on your stomach while pregnant. It's largely a factor of genetics and hormones, so you'll have to wait and see what develops—or doesn't.
How can I prevent stretch marks?
The short answer is this: there's no way to prevent stretch marks entirely. Remember, most people are just genetically predisposed to having them! There's some evidence that gently massaging your skin daily, using pregnancy-safe oils like olive oil or almond oil, may possibly lower the incidence of stretch marks. But in that case, research suggests that it's the massage, not the oil content, that makes a difference, and it's a "maybe" rather than a certainty. Still, pregnancy massage feels wonderful—why not try it for relaxation?
Can I get rid of stretch marks?
Stretch marks are permanent. Still, you may be able to somewhat minimize their appearance if you treat them when they're still in their early stages. Consider these options:
- Using a topical medication such as tretinoin (aka Retin-A) combined with skin-exfoliating glycolic acid and vitamin C has been shown to make stretch marks thinner and shorter. But—and this is a big but—this form of treatment is not safe during pregnancy or if you're breastfeeding, and it will take months to see any improvement (if any).
- Two studies have found that massaging new stretch marks with a serum or lotion that contains hyaluronic acid may help make them less noticeable2.
- If your skin is fair, using self-tanner may help camouflage stretch marks.
- Dermatologists have in-office treatments, such as laser therapy and microdermabrasion, that can fade stretch marks (but, again—not eliminate them entirely).
A final word on stretch marks
Stretch marks are not only common, they're normal. If you develop them, don't feel bad about it. Try to think of them as visible signs of the incredible thing your body has done to grow a life. By viewing them as a souvenir of a meaningful time, you may wind up appreciating their presence.
And after giving birth, give yourself time to heal. Learn about some helpful tips for postpartum recovery to feel your best.