Learning how to remove stretch marks has been a common goal among mothers throughout history. There are many home remedies, over-the-counter applications, prescription agents, and even surgical options available, but a newbie to the market may feel a bit overwhelmed for choice. What most people want to know is which options really work and does a bigger price tag mean that a product will produce better results? First and foremost, it is important to understand that while everyone’s skin contains the same basic properties and is “put together” in the same physiological fashion, there are several factors that can affect a person’s skin and the way that it reacts to being damaged and stretched. These factors can also affect an individual’s own healing process and the skin’s ability to recover from said damage. In short, we’re all different, and the way that your skin responds to a treatment may be dramatically different than the way your friend’s skin responds to the same treatment.
What, Exactly, Is a Stretch Mark?
Most of us are aware that stretch marks, or striae, can range from hardly noticeable slivers on the skin to hideous web-like entanglements that creep over parts of the body. However, it is amazing how little most of us know about what actually takes place when a stretch mark is formed. The skin is made up of three basic layers. The outermost layer is the epidermis, which is the superficial piece that contains dead skin cells ready to be sloughed away, new skin, and a thicker portion of skin that acts as the brunt of the body’s barrier against its environment. The epidermis does not contain any blood vessels and is primarily tasked with making sure that harmful agents do not enter the body. The second layer is the dermis. This layer is considerably “meatier” than the epidermis and is home to hair follicles, sweat glands, and the oil-producing glands that help to keep one’s skin hydrated and supple. Beneath the dermis is the hypodermis or subcutaneous layer. This layer is used for fat storage, which also serves to protect the veins, arteries, and nerve fibers contained throughout this layer.
When a person’s skin is stretched beyond its natural ability, the fibers within the dermis layer begin to tear apart. The epidermis is quite flexible and typically does not break, however it can stretch very thinly across the torn parts of the dermis which can cause a slight sinking appearance where striae are present. The initial appearance of a stretch mark is a red or purple-red hue. This indicates that the stretch mark was formed fairly recently. Over time, the mark will lighten to a silvery-white color but typically will not completely go away on its own.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are most often the result of rapid weight gain, a speedy and substantial increase in muscle mass, a growth spurt (mainly associated with adolescents), and the significant stretching that occurs during pregnancy. Once the stretching process has occurred, the striae will form regardless of whether a person quickly loses weight, drops the excess muscle, or gives birth. In some cases, striae may be prevented by religiously moisturizing our skin a few times each day while it is being stretched, but in most cases, this occurs so quickly that we simply don’t realize what is happening until the striae become visible.
How to Remove Stretch Marks Naturally
For some, learning how to remove stretch marks naturally is the ideal first step. Some over-the-counter and prescription products aren’t safe for all individuals, such as pregnant women and people with sensitive skin, and surgery certainly isn’t a suitable option for everyone. There are natural elements that can have a huge impact in lightening and reducing the appearance of striae. Before expectations skyrocket, it is also important to understand that there is very little in the natural world that can completely remove old striae, as these marks prove difficult to eliminate even with the top prescription dermatological creams. The following natural remedies are best suited for treating relatively fresh striae – those which are still red or purple-red in color. They are also suitable to use as stretch mark preventatives.
1) Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel is a thin, jelly-like substance found in the foliage of the aloe vera plant. Throughout history, this plant has been renown for its skin-healing powers. Even the Ancient Egyptians used aloe vera to treat a host of medical conditions. Around 99 percent of aloe vera gel is made up of water. The remaining one percent contains vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12, all of which are great for promoting healthy skin. Aloe vera also contains polysaccharides and glycoproteins. Polysaccharides help to jump start the integument’s repair process and glycoproteins reduce the symptoms of inflammation and help to alleviate skin-related pain. Although aloe vera gel is available as an edible drink, food source, and vitamin supplement, the safest way to use this element is to massage the gel into the skin. Aloe vera should be applied to fresh striae at least once each day. Over time, the gel should help your skin to repair the worst of the damage and prevent future striae from occurring. What remains of the marks will lighten and be much less visible.
2) Vitamin E
Vitamin E is the holy grail of skin care. One of the reasons why this vitamin is so popular is because it is an antioxidant, meaning that it targets and eliminates the “free radical” cells within the body. Free radicals can have a negative impact on one’s skin because they can damage collagen cells. Collagen is the substance that enables our skin to remain supple and spring back into place when pressed. Free radicals can also leech moisture from the integument, resulting in dryness and slowed healing. Vitamin E can be applied directly to the skin or consumed as a vitamin supplement. There are benefits to using both methods when treating striae because topical applications add moisture to the integument and promote healing of the external skin layers while internal supplementation with vitamin E can promote skin cell healing in the deep inner dermal layers. A good quality lotion that contains vitamin E should be applied to striae at least once each day. An alternative, and more potent option, is to apply pure vitamin E oil directly to the skin, taking care to massage the oil into the marked dermal portions.
3) Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is an extract from the cacao bean. The seeds from the bean are fermented, roasted, and pressed to produce a nutrient rich fat that we call cocoa butter. Like vitamin E, cocoa butter is full of antioxidant power. It is also rich in fatty acids that nutrient-deprived skin will quickly gobble up. These fatty acids act as deep moisturizers that can combat many skin-related issues such as dryness, eczema, and damage caused by sun exposure, harsh skin products, and excessive stretching. Cocoa butter has a creamy, buttery texture from which its name is derived. The thick texture may initially feel heavy on your skin, but the cream will continue to deliver moisture into your integument throughout the day. Cocoa butter should ideally be applied immediately after bathing and/or before bed each night. It is safe for virtually anyone to use, including adolescents and pregnant women.
4) Olive Oil
Olive oil is an ingredient that most of us have in the kitchen but rarely consider its uses outside of the domain of food preparation. Olive oil is packed with antioxidants that eliminate skin-damaging free radicals. It is also highly moisturizing, which is exactly what fresh striae require in order to begin healing. Adding moisture to the dermal layers will help to reduce the size of fresh striae and encourage them to fade to a silvery-white color. Although olive oil probably will not completely eliminate striae, it can certainly make them less noticeable. Massage a generous amount of olive oil into areas that contain striae and allow the dermal layers to absorb the oil without wiping it away. As olive oil is quite thick and may take a while to be fully absorbed by the dermal layers, try applying it every other day and after bathing.
5) Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking water is a simple yet highly effective way to replenish one’s skin from the inside-out. Most adults do not consume an adequate amount of water on a daily basis. For men, the recommended intake is around 13 glasses per day and for women the recommended intake is 9 glasses per day. Seeing as about 60 percent of the human body is made of water, failing to take in enough water can result in less-than-perfect organ functionality, sluggish digestion, dry nose and throat, lack of energy, and the inability to perspire effectively. These are just a few examples of how one’s body can suffer without adequate water intake. One of the first signs of dehydration is poor skin health. The epidermis may become dry, cracked, and/or flaky. It will also be unable to heal as quickly or as efficiently as it should. Skin that is plagued by striae will be unable to provide the damaged tissues with the necessary repairs unless it has a sufficient amount of water. Try to meet the recommended daily intake of water and always take into account instances in which water is lost through sweating, frequent urination, or loose stools.
How to Remove Stretch Marks with Store-Bought Agents
Many over-the-counter and prescription products claim to eliminate the appearance of stretch marks. In reality, most of the products are not able to cause striae to fully disappear but they can be quite effective in reducing the size and color of existing striae. Bio Oil is one product that is highly marketed as a treatment for striae. This multi award-winning treatment contains vitamins A and E as well as a cocktail of the following essential oils: lavender, calendula, chamomile, and rosemary. Testimonials state that Bio Oil can reduce the appearance of striae and scars and even combat issues like uneven skin tone and the typical signs of aging.
Mederma is another popular over-the-counter stretch mark cream which is also doubly marketed as a scar reducer. Mederma is primarily used to lighten the appearance of striae by using cepalin, hyaluronic acid, and centella asiatica. The company claims that their stretch mark therapy product diminishes discoloration, improves texture, and enhances skin softness to reduce the overall appearance of striae. It is recommended that the cream be used daily for a minimum of 12 weeks in order for true results to show.
Retin-A is another highly talked-about product, but is available only by prescription. Retin-A is a topical vitamin A cream that gets down on a cellular level to repair, replenish, and rejuvenate skin cells. Retin-A is meant to spur a faster turnover rate of new skin cells and stimulates collagen production. As this product comes in many strengths and is available only on a prescription basis, you will need to follow your doctor’s orders regarding how to apply the agent and how often it should be used. Some of the down-sides of Retin-A include increased susceptibility to UV rays, potential for skin irritation in some individuals, acne flare-ups within the first two weeks of use, and it cannot be used on sunburned or eczema-afflicted skin. Additionally, this product should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing.
Individuals who suffer from severe striae that have not responded to any of the treatments above may be willing to turn to drastic means of eliminating striae once and for all. Indeed, surgery is the only option that has the potential to completely minimize the appearance of stretch marks. Individuals who choose to undergo a tummy-tuck procedure may be pleased to hear that with the removal of excess skin also comes the added bonus of saying goodbye to a significant percentage of striae. Other types of surgery can be done to specifically target striae, but they can be invasive and require a much longer recovery time than an alternative procedure.
One such alternative is laser removal. Pulsed-dye laser removal is commonly used for the treatment of recent (red) striae. In total, this treatment option requires about five monthly treatments in order to provide noticeable results in the lightening of striae. The idea behind this procedure is to bring down the red hue of the marks and make them appear closer in color to the surrounding skin. For white striae, an excimer laser may be used to shoot bursts of ultraviolet light into the silvery-white pieces of skin which triggers localized production of melanin. As melanin production is increased, the striae will darken to a more natural color. The aim of this procedure is to match the striae closely to the color of the surrounding skin.
Although most of us will have to resign ourselves to the fact that our striae are scars and will never completely go away, it is always worthwhile to try some of the techniques listed above in the hopes that these skin markings can be lightened and smoothed.