Q&A: What to know about stretch marks and how to treat them

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - There are a number of things that can cause stretch marks, and there are just about as many products that claim to treat them.

Before you spend your hard-earned money on some of those costly treatments, there are some inexpensive ways to deal with those marks.

Here's a closer look at what causes stretch marks and how to treat them without breaking the bank.

How do you get stretch marks?

A sudden stretch of the skin can lead to stretch marks. This can happen in a variety of ways:

  • Growth spurts in children
  • Pregnancy
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Weight lifting

"Stretch marks are a genetic trait," said Dr. Sherry Ingraham, of Advanced Dermatology in Sugar Land. "Studies have shown people are more prone to stretch marks if their mother, sister, etc. had stretch marks."

Can anything get rid of stretch marks?

Maybe.

Researchers have discovered that many remedies said to prevent stretch marks don't actually work. However, Ingraham said, they may help reduce the appearance once the stretch mark is established.

Which over-the-counter products are clinically proven to help?

Researchers have found that products containing Centella or hyaluronic acid may help. 

Ingraham recommends Neutrogena Hydroboost lotion with hyaluronic acid, which she said is safe to use during pregnancy and nursing.

Her favorite product with Centella is Serica.

"Centella is a herb from Asia and it has been shown to help with scarring," Ingraham said. "It's in Serica. They not only have a scar formula, but they also have one for stretch marks. You can pick that up at the drug store."

Retin-A products normalize epidermal turnover and stimulate new collagen. It also helps with pigmentation. Therefore, Ingraham said, it’s the favorite of dermatologists. 

“Retinoids are clinically proven to minimize the appearance of the scarring, but you have to wait until your pregnancy [is over] and you’re done nursing,” Ingraham said.

Can I make the stretch marks worse by tanning?

Tanning in the sun cannot get rid of stretch marks. When you tan, stretch marks may become more noticeable because they don't tan.

However, self-tanning lotions and bronzers will change the color of scarred skin and can help to diminish the appearance.

How often do you apply these products?

Use the product on early stretch marks. Treatment seems to have little effect on mature stretch marks.

Massage the product into your stretch marks. Taking the time to massage the product gently into your skin may make it more effective.

Apply the product every day for weeks. If you see results, they take weeks to appear.

When should you go to a dermatologist?

If you find yourself spending a lot of time and money on over-the-counter products without getting any results, seeing a board-certified dermatologist can be helpful.

The in-office procedures have proven more effective than creams, lotions, and gels.

Dermatologists can also tell you about any new product or procedure that may help.

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