Stretch marks, which are technically known as Striae Distensae or "stretched skin", are scars. When the skin stretches rapidly, a from of dermal scarring occurs perpendicular to the direction of skin tension. While not a true medical problem, they are often associated with psychological distress and embarrassment, especially for adolescents.
While they occur in both sexes, striae occur more frequently in females than in men, and are very common during pregnancy. Scarring in people with darker skin will be more prominent once they have begun to fade. Women, tend to develop stretch marks on the thighs, buttocks, and breasts. Men most often see them on the back, while pregnant women will see them on the abdomen, breasts, and thighs.
Striae commonly occur due to rapid growth or weight gain/loss for the following life events:
They can also occur due to increased hormones or steroid use, which can reduce collagen in the dermis.
Because they are scars, they are permanent. They initially start out red, and if untreated can take months to years to fade on their own to white, wrinkled scars.
It is important to begin treating them while striae are red and fresh, to hasten the healing process and minimize their appearance long term. If using a cream product, it's important to use it twice daily (or as directed) for weeks or even months - this is not an overnight solution, or even a 30 day solution.
"A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in pregnant women indicates that the severity of stretch marks can be reduced by topical application of emollient and moisturizer containing hydroxyprolisilane C, rose hip oil, Centella asiatica triterpenes, and vitamin E. "
Creams which contain a variety of moisturizing ingredients, including rose hip oil, pumpkin seed extract, and lavender oil may be effective in preventing stretch marks from occurring, when used twice per day consistently, with gentle massage.
Massage is generally recommended for treatment and is free if you do it yourself.
Micro needling, an emerging therapy, has shown promise at being effective.
Currently, lasers may be the most effect treatment for scarring, but require multiple visits to the dermatologist and are of course costly.
Tanning is not recommended to help reduce their appearance, as the scars will remain white once faded, however a self-tanner can provide temporary masking.
DIY therapies, such as rubbing coconut oil onto the skin have not been shown to be effective.
While it's difficult to prove if the use of a cream played a role in the prevention of stretch marks, many people swear by their favorite cream. Unfortunately, there have been very few scientific commissions to study the effectiveness of preventing stretch marks, such as those that happen during pregnancy. Because striae occur when collagen and elastin are damaged, it is widely believed that applying topical moisturizers regularly before and during pregnancy promote skin suppleness and elasticity, which could help prevent stretch marks from occurring. There is no downside to using moisturizers for prevention of scarring, and most dermatologists would agree that it can only help.
Note: Doctors recommended avoiding products with tretinoin, vitamin a, or retinol when pregnant, so if you choose to use a belly cream while pregnant, choose one without those ingredients.