I’ve always had mixed feelings about my stretch marks. Having gotten them during growth spurts from puberty, I was first confused and then defiant about the new changes to my body. I spent months trying to rub them away with cocoa and shea butter creams from the drugstore as if they were my moisturizing magic eraser. Eventually, I learned to accept them as part of me. Slowly but surely, their dark color has faded over time. But even now — more than ten years later — I still see them. And occasionally, I wonder: can you ever really lessen the appearance of stretch marks?
I know I’m not the only one who wants to know the answer to this question, which is why I wanted to get some insights on this common skin concern straight from an expert. Enter Dr. Andrew Cohen, M.D., FACS — a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in the Los Angeles area. Not only did Dr. Cohen provide me with his expertise in how stretch marks form, but he also got real when it comes to addressing them. Read on to see what he has to say about these stretch marks below.
According to Dr. Cohen, stretch marks happen when the dermis (the second layer of the skin) rips beneath the epidermis (the top layer of the skin), leaving a visible mark on the surface. This typically happens when the skin stretches too quickly. He shares that some common causes are “growth spurts, quick weight gain, pregnancy, breast implant surgery, bodybuilding and other genetic conditions that are sometimes seen.” These sudden changes to your body rupture the collagen and elastin that supports the skin.
If you’ve ever gotten stretch marks, chances are you’ve noticed some uneven pigmentation in your skin, too. This is due to inflammation. “Inflammatory cells enter the zone of injury and can cause a stretch mark to become very red and inflamed,” Dr. Cohen says. But when the damaged area heals, its scarring appears as the faded, skin-toned stretch mark.
Facing them head-on is no easy task. “There are no good, definitive ways to treat them,” Dr/ Cohen says. But luckily (and thankfully!), they do fade with time. Of course, if you want to try and tackle them now, there are a few ways you might be able to speed up the fading process.
While Dr. Cohen reiterates that no treatment works better than another, he also suggests a handful of ways people have reduced the appearance of their stretch marks. For a less invasive option, he says that there are creams that some (like moi) have tried. There are also laser treatments to lighten the color of stretch marks. On the more invasive end, you could also remove them surgically. However, Dr. Cohen mentions that patients usually opt for this during a tummy tuck, and only if the stretch marks are in the lower abdomen.
As for preventing future stretch marks, Dr. Cohen has a few suggestions. “There are ways to reduce future stretch marks that my patients have tried. I have seen cocoa butter rubbed on the stomach work when [patients are] pregnant,” he shares. “For some people, it is all about hydrating the skin.”