As I rounded my 40th week during my last pregnancy, I laid in bed, unable to sleep, as per usual. The alarm clock ticked away hours till I would get up and shuffle to the entomology lab to sort and pin insects, with frequent bathroom breaks, of course.
Then I felt the strangest sensation: an itchy prickling, just underneath my skin, on my stomach. No no no no. I knew what it meant. The next day, I pulled up my shirt to reveal bright red stretch marks etched into either side my navel.
I had drunk water obsessively, popped prenatals, exercised, ate a good diet, and applied coconut oil, cocoa butter, and any other balm that might stave off the inevitable. Maybe lasers could fix them later? Lasers can do a lot of things. Where did I go wrong? Turns out stretch marks are widely misunderstood.
What Are Stretch Marks?
At first you might mistake the light pink marks for spots where you’ve absentmindedly scratched your stomach like a cartoon bear. But they darken as your dermis splits and forms scar tissue to accommodate more volume--the same way I used to cut the sides of my jeans so they would "fit better." Eventually, they fade to a dark purple or silver, depending on your skin tone. Stretch marks develop anywhere --breasts, stomach, thighs, hips, arms. About 90% of women develop them somewhere on their body, usually during puberty or pregnancy.
You Can’t Prevent Stretch Marks
I combed the Internet looking for success stories, some secret that everyone was overlooking. There are dozens of sites that will sell you a product, or regurgitate “10 Natural Stretch Mark Cures,” but, not shockingly, it’s BS. There is no evidence that a special diet, cream, or supplement will guarantee that you won’t develop stretch marks. Genetics, race, and speed of weight gain are the main factors that contribute to whether or not you’ll develop stretch marks.
Lotions And Creams Don't Really Work
Lotion certainly helps soothe the itchiness that comes with rapidly expanding flesh, but it doesn’t do much to prevent stretch marks. Even though active ingredients can penetrate your epidermis easily, they can’t really deliver usable amounts to your dermis, and even if they did, that wouldn’t really address the core problem of not having enough skin to go around.
Nutrition And Exercise Are A Better Bet
While there is no "Weird Diet Trick Discovered By Area Mom" to prevent stretch marks entirely, improving your overall skin health might reduce the severity of them. Having a diet that’s high in healthy fats, protein, and iron can do wonders for your skin, but there is no study to reflect that it helps prevent stretch marks. Supplements like biotin might also help improve elasticity of skin, but again, they won’t prevent stretch marks entirely. Exercise increases overall circulation, which is the system that delivers cell-building goodness to your skin, and it has the added benefit of metering out weight gain.
Treatment Options Are A Mixed Bag
Treatment options are actually a lot more effective than the so-called prevention measures--though they can be pricey. Laser treatments are fairly effective, but they are expensive, painful, and require multiple treatments before you’ll know if you’ll see results.
Retinoid creams can speed both healing time and minimize scarring, but depending on severity, your mileage may vary. The best results are seen with use during the formation of stretch marks, though the effects of retinoic creams on a fetus haven’t been fully evaluated in the U.S., so using it may carry other risks.
I’m not going to lie and say I love my stomach, but I am rather impressed with its ability to heal itself and keep all my organs covered. Our bodies change, all the time, in ways that we can’t always predict.
- Did you get stretch marks as a teen or later?
- What are the weirdest prevention tips you’ve heard of?
- Would you spend a pile of cash to erase stretch marks?