Stretch marks - can they be eliminated?
Those same words were echoed by two dermatologists, especially because by the time I spoke with them, the stretch marks had transformed from the possibly reversible reddish scars to the definitely permanent white ones. Over the past several years, I have amassed more of the aesthetically unappealing marks, thanks to a last minute growth spurt that I mistakenly thought was far too trivial to result in my skin being stretched (barely 2 inches in a year’s time) and the freshman fifteen (which I thankfully lost).
Other than slathering on cocoa butter and a few drug store products like Mederma, I haven’t really tried anything because I’ve grown up thinking that attempting to rid oneself of stretch marks is a futile endeavor. But is it?
Here at Truth In Aging, we’ve never really come across anything that we can firmly say works for vanishing stretch marks. As Copley said in her post on stretch mark solutions for new moms, “even though a carefully crafted cream (or oil) can help fade or even prevent stretch marks, there is no surefire solution to eliminate them entirely.”
Let’s backtrack for a moment. Stretch marks, also known as striae, are the tearing of the dermis, which results in scars. The dermis is actually the middle layer of skin (the outer layer being the epidermis and the innermost being the hypodermis). There are a variety of reasons for their cause, including rapid growth, weight gain, weight loss, and even hormonal changes. Still, dermatologists can’t pinpoint precisely what causes some people to get the scars and some to avoid them. Genetic factors probably have a lot to do with it, though, and perhaps even race may play a card. According to one survey, 48% of women with stretch marks said their mothers also had them. And 80% of the women of color surveyed said they had stretch marks.
In terms of prevention, most doctors will tell you to avoid rapid weight loss or gain. Topical treatment may work, but only a very specific topical treatment. As Dr. Jason P. Rubin told Copley in his interview with her, “So far, only one published study (in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science) has shown the ability of topical ingredients to decrease the risk of stretch marks during pregnancy. The study looked at a combination of three ingredients– Gotu Kola extract (stimulates fibroblasts to produce collagen), Vitamin E (anti-oxidant), and Collagen Hydrolysates (provides amino acids for protein synthesis). With daily application from the second month of pregnancy through delivery, the risk of stretch marks decreased by 39%. The effect was particularly strong in women who had stretch marks during puberty—their risk decreased by a full 90%.”
Still, despite the study, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists believes that stretch marks cannot be prevented, essentially because there is not enough evidence to back any sort of treatment.
But you definitely have a better shot at preventing stretch marks than you do at getting rid of them – at least, according to the experts. The cheap remedies that I tried (cocoa butter and Mederma) simply don’t work. Marta found that you’d be better off using petroleum jelly than Mederma. As for cocoa butter, which is probably one of the oldest hailed cures to the stretch mark problem, one study finally put the rumors to rest. The double blind study found no difference in the severity of the stretch marks that two groups of women developed – one group that applied cocoa butter to their bellies for several months of their pregnancies and one group that applied a placebo.
To top it off, most dermatologists who were asked about getting rid of stretch marks on various websites basically reiterated what my dermatologists said; it’s not happening.
But what about all those incredible stretch mark removal anecdotes you’ve heard? They can’t all be glimmers of false hope, can they? I personally believe it is possible (though not likely or commonplace) that some people have faded stretch marks with creams, lotions and potions. After all, stretch marks are not fully understood; the same way doctors don’t know exactly why some people get them and some people don’t, perhaps some people have skin that reacts well to stretch mark treatments and some people don’t. So that may account for the anecdotes.
But I will say: don’t waste your money trying to fade stretch marks that have already turned white. As of now, there’s very little chance of any treatment working, and anything you might try (like laser treatments) will be very expensive. Though if you’re willing to go to extremes, surgeries like a tummy tuck, which actually excise a chunk of skin (perhaps with stretch marks on it), will work. But you have to have stretch marks in the right place and enough fat and skin to actually remove.
If your stretch marks are still new and have that reddish color to them, then get a prescription for a strong retinoid; it has been proven to work on new scars, at least some of the time. A dermatologist may also recommend trying laser treatment if the marks are very new, but there is absolutely no guarantee that this will work.
As frustrating as this may be, I’ve found that the best way to deal with stretch marks is to view them as being permanent. Don’t have any expectations in terms of treatment, and you will not be disappointed.