Can You Actually Get Rid of Stretch Marks?
Here's what does and doesn't work.
Let's face it: most women have stretch marks.
Celebrities like Ashley Graham, Chrissy Teigen and Khloé Kardashian all have (and embrace) them. Even models for brands like Missguided and Asos have them, and so do thousands of others (just check out #stretchies on Instagram for proof).
But while we see celebrities claiming to "love" them and flaunt their stretch marks on social media, not all of us feel the same, and that's OK, too.
So if you're looking for some relief from your stretch marks, we spoke with Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, a board certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, to find out exactly what stretch marks are and what treatments actually work.
What Are Stretch Marks?
"Stretch marks are a common form of scarring that results in thinned areas of skin in linear striations where there is skin stretching or tension," says Dr. MacGregor.
The derm adds that age, genetics, stress, body size and shape, skin type, hormonal factors, pregnancy, growth spurts, recent surgery, and body placement are all contributing factors to the cause or severeness of stretch marks. There are also different kinds and stages of stretch marks.
"'Striae rubra' are red to purple stretch marks that are considered active, inflamed, and expanding," Dr. MacGregor tells us. "These become striae Alba (old, white/skin colored/or shiny stretch marks) that represent older, inactive stretch marks. The latter are thin areas of skin that are deficient in healthy collagen, like a stretched or "atrophic" scars." She adds that the most common areas to see stretching marks cropping up are the breasts, abdomen, arms, abdomen, back, and thighs.
Can You Get Rid of Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are super common — probably more than you think. Plus, the majority of the time, Dr. MacGregor says they are considered totally normal and not a health risk at all.
But just because you know they're common doesn't mean you're going to love them. Insecurities over stretch marks are almost as common as having them to begin with. If you're someone who isn't the biggest fan of your stripes, you've probably already Googled what products will minimize stretch marks — or even better, get rid of them entirely.
But the hard truth is that no matter what any cream, oil, or serum promises, there's no over-the-counter product that will make all your stretch marks magically disappear. Dr. MacGregor adds that there are really no treatments to prevent or completely erase stretch marks. So, what does work? We've broken down the ways that you can actually treat stretch marks.
How To Treat Stretch Marks
The treatments you can use won't "heal" or get rid of your marks, but they aim to make the skin in the affected and surrounding areas healthier to reduce the appearance. It basically all comes down to collagen production. Here are the effective routes you can take.
"All therapies are aimed at creating healthy collagen to thicken and smooth the affected areas so they blend with the surrounding skin better," says Dr. MacGregor. She adds that one topical proven to effectively stimulate collagen production to blend stretch marks is tretinoin, also known as RetinA (shop: Ren Clean Skincare's Bio Retinoid oil, $69; sephora.com).
There are also many other treatments that claim to reduce stretch marks. While some of them may be able to diminish the appearance, Dr. MacGregor warns that improvement isn't necessarily guaranteed.
"Many products on the market claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks; however, data from controlled trials are lacking to prove these benefits."
Instead, stick with products that will guarantee an increase in collagen production. And this just in — yes, you can use face treatments on other areas of your body. A non-topical treatment? Collagen powder, which you can add to drinks or smoothies.
VIDEO: People Are Praising Khloé Kardashian for Showing Off Her Stretch Marks
Perhaps the most effective (albeit the most expensive) way of reducing the appearance of stretch marks is a dermatologist-administered laser treatment. The science behind the laser treatments is the same idea as the topicals: You're looking for healthy collagen production.
"Lasers and energy devices that stimulate new & healthy collagen to thicken dermal skin will improve the appearance of stretch marks," says Dr. MacGregor. "These include fractional resurfacing lasers — nonablative and ablative — as well as microneedling devices with radio frequency heat."
Which lasers you use also depends on the kind and color of your stretch marks. Striae rubra or red and purple marks are actually easier to treat. Dr. MacGregor says this is because these "active" stretch marks can be treated using vascular lasers that "reduce inflammation and fade discoloration" and fractional resurfacing lasers that have been shown to reduce progression and spread.
You can also use lasers treatment in tandem with topicals. Dr. MacGregor says that the lasers create "microscopic channels" in the skin that allow topicals to penetrate the skin better, which in turn allow for more collage production.
The bottom line: You may not be able to fully erase your stretch marks, and while it is much easier said than done, it's important to embrace every little mark that makes you, you.
"I think it's a great time for skin and body positivity and neutrality," says Dr. MacGregor. "Appearance shouldn't define us, our values, worth or capabilities."