I am frequently asked “What can I do to treat these stretch marks?” The list of treatments is long including: Vicks Vaporub, coffee grounds mixed with oil, cocoa butter, as well as many expensive “pregnancy creams” I caution my patients against spending too much money or time on some of these unproven measures.
The best remedy for stretch marks is prevention. Eating a proper diet, so that you do not gain more weight than is necessary, is the primary prevention. It is well known that rapid weight gain is a primary cause of stretch marks or striae. Daily exercise, approved by your doctor, is also helpful to maintain skin tone. Keeping the skin well hydrated with a daily moisturizer will stimulate the skin to produce more collagen as it expands, minimizing stretch marks. Shea butter, cocoa butter, and over the counter moisturizers from Neutragena or Aveeno all accomplish the same purpose.
If stretch marks develop during pregnancy, there are a few treatments that can permanently improve their appearance
- Pulsed Dye laser: When stretfch marks are new and red, a pulsed dye laser, which targets blood vessels or redness, can improve the appearance. Most women require two to four treatments spaced about 4 weeks apart. The treatment feels like a rubber band snapping. Afterwards the treated area will looker redder or even purple for about a week. Results vary from 50-75% improvement. Cost: $300-$600 per treatment depending on size of the treatment area.
- Fractional Non-ablative laser ( also known as Fraxel laser): This laser works best on skin colored stretch marks. Pre treatment topical numbing cream is usually applied to the skin for an hour before treatment. With the topical anesthetic applied in advance, most patients will feel warmth and slight pin prick sensation from the laser beams. Immediately after treatment,the skin will be redder than normal. There will be mild peeling for several days. Four treatments spaced four to six weeks apart can improve the texture and appearance of stretch marks by at least 50%.Cost: $600-$800 per treatment.
- Topical treatinoin cream ( Retin A): This is the only cream that has shown benefit in scientific studies. It is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breast feeding but should be started as soon as it is safe and continued for 6 months. Daily use hs been shown to improve stretch marks by 15%. Cost: $60-$90 for a 45 grm tube. (this is an off-label use and is not likely to be covered by insurance)
- If all of the above options are too costly, the good news is that with time, most stretch marks or striae become less visible.