We generally leave out a few issues when we talk about the miracle of birth. Stretch marks rank high among them. Along with morning sickness and swelling feet, stretch marks are a battle wound of motherhood. According to most medical experts they challenge prediction but not necessarily prevention, especially with diligent prenatal care.
Stretch marks, or striae as they’re medically termed, appear as thin, stripe-like bands of scarred skin that vary in color from a light pink to a dark purple. They result from tiny tears along the dermis—the fiber-laden skin layer just below the surface. Rapid stretching of the stomach, like that caused by a growing, kicking baby, creates an effect similar to elastic losing its stretch.
Despite their reputation, they don’t exclusively afflict moms-to-be. According to Dave Grotto, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, they’re common in anyone who gains a significant amount of weight, even adolescents. And sadly, not getting stretch marks with baby number one doesn’t mean they won’t pop up with number two.
That said, dry skin with less elasticity poses more of a problem than naturally oily skin. Some people find that over a very long period, usually years, stretch marks will fade in color, although the appearance of minor scars will often remain. But don’t let that keep you from getting pregnant: A number of at-home remedies and some new products on the market can nip stretch marks in the bud.
You may have heard the old wives tale that if you massage your body regularly with coconut and almond oil it will keep stretch marks away. According to Pratima Raichur, ND, owner of the New York City-based Pratima Ayurvedic Skincare Spa Clinic, “the best way to prevent them is by nourishing and hydrating through massage, which helps repair the skin.” Old wives may, in fact, know best.
For the cream and slather approach, most ob-gyns recommend a daily dose of vitamin E in capsule form added to body massage oil. Lotions and creams containing cocoa butter may also have a skin-firming effect if used daily, but Raichur says palmarosa oil—an essential oil that penetrates the skin to a deeper level—or rose hip–seed oil, another strong form of vitamin C that repairs rough surfaces, work best. Other ingredients popular in stretch mark creams and oils are chamomile, calendula, sea buckthorn, shea butter, wheat germ oil, arnica flower extract, and borage. To nourish you skin from the inside out, keep well hydrated and take 30 mg of zinc daily—research suggests that zinc deficiencies may be linked to stretch marks.
And while research has shown that tretinoin cream, found in Retin-A and Renova, may improve the appearance of recent stretch marks, tretinoin should be avoided during pregnancy as some studies suggest it may cause birth defects.
If the massage and oil approach still leaves you with a smattering of “silver jewelry,” a euphemism for stretch marks, microdermabrasion, pulsed-dye laser therapy, or radiofrequency dermal remodeling provide high-end, skin-altering options for erasing marks once they’ve formed.