As a board certified plastic surgeon who sees a great number of young moms seeking to rejuvenate their bodies after childbirth, the issue of stretch marks comes up quite often. The key to managing stretch marks is all about prevention. I have many patients who wound up without a single stretch mark that swear it was because they lathered up their skin with cocoa butter twice a day every day of their pregnancy. With that being said, there is definitely a genetic basis regarding who will develop stretch marks (and how bad they will be) and who won’t. Some women are just lucky and based on their physical make-up, will never develop one stretch mark – whether they use products for prevention or not. Others will use everything on the shelf imaginable, yet still be left with severe stretch marks on their abdomen, sides (flanks), and even their breasts. Even though there is some genetic basis for this, it is thought that stretch marks can at least be minimized with regular moisturizing treatment of the skin. This is especially true for women who are carrying multiples (e.g. twins or triplets) and for those women who gain a lot of weight very quickly. Gaining weight more gradually may help in prevention of stretch marks, as will consumption of foods with high content of vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc, omega 3, essential fatty acids and protein. This will help your skin produce more elasticity and aid in extra healthy collagen production. In addition, staying adequately hydrated during pregnancy is thought to enhance the moisture content of the skin and may also contribute to the prevention of stretch mark formation.
Some say stretch marks are somewhat preventable, and this is probably partly true. Regular use of a moisturizing product during pregnancy is thought to help keep stretch marks away or at least at bay. One of the most popular of these treatments by far, and the one I favor the most, is straight forward cocoa butter. My favorite is Palmer’s brand, and you want to stay with the pure cocoa butter stick or cocoa butter in the tub – not the creams with cocoa butter content. Generally, one should really rub it in to the entire abdomen, flanks, and breasts twice a day – and rub it into the skin quite aggressively. Another brand which is gaining popularity recently is Mama Mio, which has two aptly named products to prevent stretch marks: Boob Tube and Tummy Rub. Regardless of which product you use, the key is to keep the skin well moisturized – dry skin is more prone to sustaining damage from stretching. Providing sufficient moisture can increase the elasticity of the skin, so moisturizing creams made from aloe vera, cocoa butter, grape seed, squalene oil, vitamin E, collagen, pro-vitamin B5, germ oil, aroma oil or essential oil can help to prevent the formation of stretch marks. The above ingredients will moisture the skin, increase the elasticity of skin, and protect the skin from damage. However, creams that consist of any exfoliating ingredient like alpha-hydroxy acids AHA , glycolic Acid, Retin-A, vitamin D3 are not suitable to use during pregnancy and breast feeding and should be avoided. The truth is that as long as the product you are using is very lubricating, safe, and feels good to you, then you should go with it! The thought is to keep your skin as well hydrated as possible as the severe stretching action on your skin can severely damage the underlying collagen and elastin fibers and also cause your skin to dry out significantly.
Once stretch marks are present, they are notoriously hard to treat definitively. An important point to keep in mind is that stretch marks can never be removed 100%. For marks that are light in color, there is little one can do to improve them. Occasionally, the marks can be somewhat red or pink in color. If such marks do not fade to a lighter shade, they can sometimes be improved with laser treatments using a Candela laser, which is a type of laser used to also treat spider veins or hemangiomas. Typically laser treatments for stretch marks are easily tolerated, last only several minutes, and require little to no downtime with some possible bruising or temporary darkening of the area being the worst of it. Each session should cost anywhere from $200 – $750 depending on the doctor you go to and the part of the country you live in. Laser treatments will rarely work with one treatment, so you may expect to undergo at least 2-3 separate sessions, and some doctors may sell you a package of treatments for a better price. If there is no improvement after several treatment sessions, then the chances of success are minimal and you may not want to continue with this modality. There are no proven topical remedies which exist that will “erase” or even significantly improve your stretch marks after pregnancy, despite all the fancy ads out there. Prevention is key!
Of course, depending on where the marks are located, they may be surgically removed if within an area of resection such as during a tummy tuck or breast lift. If considering any of these kinds of surgeries, you should discuss your expectations concerning eradication of your stretch marks beforehand with Dr. Glatt