Before we start telling you how to get rid of stretch marks, let it be known that we always applaud A-listers like Chrissy Teigen who flaunt their tiger stripes with pride. And for some people, those silver lines don't bother them. But for others who find it more difficult to embrace them on the same level (mainly because it can be hard for us non–Sports Illustrated model types), we have some good news: We've got the ultimate guide on how to get rid of stretch marks while looking after your skin.
Whether they're silvery-white threads here and there or sprawling red and purple vines, either can knock self-confidence. We'll be covering not only what causes them (no, it's not just pregnancy) but also what you can do to stop more from turning up, as well as helping to fade those that you'd like to stop magically appearing on your skin. Keep scrolling for our guide on how to get rid of stretch marks.
What causes stretch marks?
Though they can crop up anywhere (the wily beasts that they are), stretch marks more commonly affect areas where fat is stored—tummies, boobs, bums, thighs, upper arms. But while many associate stretch marks with pregnancy or rapid shifts in weight, they can actually develop whenever skin is stretched either abnormally or too quickly.
Of course, that’s exactly what happens during pregnancy, but growth spurts during puberty can lead to stretch marks too, along with yo-yo weight loss, the stretching of skin during exercise and muscle gain, plus general “wear and tear.” You’re also more likely to earn a few extras if they run in your family.
But what exactly are they? Simply put, stretch marks appear when bands of fibres, collagen and elastin beneath the top layer of skin are broken or ruptured, by being overly stretched.
Now here's what happens next, courtesy of the expert folk at the NHS: “These tears in the dermis [the second layer of skin] allow the blood vessels below to show through, which is why stretch marks are often red or purple when they first appear. When the blood vessels eventually contract (get smaller), the pale-coloured fat underneath your skin will be visible, and your stretch marks will change to a silvery-white colour.”
In other words, your stretchies are the result of skin fibre damage at a deeper level, and the discolouration is simply your now-visible blood vessels.
How can we prevent stretch marks?
The good news is that there’s plenty of preventative action you can take, both to avoid worsening your stretch marks and even getting them in the first place. Perhaps unsurprisingly, moisturising is key, as is taking a moderate approach to weight loss and loading up your diet with skin-nourishing vitamins.
Since prevention is always better than a cure (especially in this case), see our checklist below for a full-pronged attack:
- Look for super-moisturising creams and oils to use in the bath or shower. We like Ren Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil (£30).
- Slather on reparative body creams rich in vitamins and replenishing plant oils daily to keep skin supple and well hydrated. If your skin is particularly dry or prone to stretchies, opt for rich oils and butters. Scroll down to see our favourites.
- Toning and firming lotions, such as DERMAdoctor KP Duty Dermatologist Formulated AHA Moisturizing Therapy (£29), tend to contain moisture-binding ingredients often found in skincare, such as hyaluronic acid, which work to draw moisture to the skin’s deeper levels.
- Build your skin’s resilience from within by feeding your body skin-repairing vitamins A, C, D and E (scroll down for more on this).
- Exercising regularly rather than sporadically (time to end the two-weeks-on, three-weeks-off routine!) will help to keep your body’s fat and muscle at a steady level, rather than yo-yoing.
- During pregnancy, changes in hormone levels can make you more susceptible to stretch marks, so it’s even more important to eat a healthy, balanced diet and keep skin hydrated.
But what about the tiger stripes you already have? While cosmetic and medical experts regularly fall out over whether or not stretch marks can ever be erased completely, there certainly are plenty of things you can do minimise their appearance. Keep scrolling for the low-down on the most popular stretch mark treatments out there.
Stretch Mark Treatments: Creams, Oils and Lotions
When it comes to everyday stretch mark creams, there’s a lot out there. However, some medical research questions their efficacy, since the repair needed to “heal” stretch marks needs to take place deep down in the dermis. Most skincare products can’t penetrate to that level, meaning that while they may help to keep your skin supple and curb the worsening of existing stretchies (which is still super important—we like Strivectin Intensive Concentrate for Stretch Marks and Wrinkles for this), they likely won’t help them fade all that quickly.
Studies have shown, however, that topical applications of pharmaceutical-grade tretinoin (a vitamin A derived retinoid, also known as Retin-A), can yield results. Though it needs to be prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist, research has shown that a tretinoin cream can shrink the length of stretch marks by up to 14% after six months of regular application. If you're keen, book an appointment with your doctor.
Stretch Mark Treatments: Lasers
If laser treatment for stretch marks wasn’t already a popular option, the Kardashians have certainly put in on the map. Kim famously had stretch marks on her boobs lasered in 2014 following the birth of North West, while Khloé recently had her thighs blitzed—all played out on TV, of course.
As stretchie treatments go, lasers are one of the most study-backed options. Intense pulsed light (IPL) or pulsed dye laser (PDL) rays are beamed over the marks with two main goals: to shrink the dilated blood vessels that give stretch marks their red or purple colour, thereby making them less visible, and to stimulate the skin’s natural healing process and production of collagen within the dermis.
Though it can be pricey, it's a relatively painless option known to have effective results.
Stretch Mark Treatments: Derma Rollers
Derma-rolling (also known as micro-needling) works in a similar way to laser therapy, in that small-scale “wounds” are created in the skin's deeper layer, this time using small rollers covered in tiny crystals or micro needles, to kick-start the body’s natural healing process. The aim is to reduce the appearance of stretch marks by resurfacing the top layer of skin and encouraging the skin’s dermis to produce more collagen fibres.
Though there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to support micro-needling, research into its benefits as an effective long-term strategy for beating stretch marks is fairly limited. Thus far, few studies have been able to conclusively prove that this really works as well as the theory suggests.
Stretch Mark Treatments: Diet and Nutrition
Though stretch marks will naturally fade over time, eating more foods that have skin-boosting properties is thought to help speed up the process. Look for lean sources of protein, such as chicken, legumes and whole grains, to help boost collagen production; zinc from fish, nuts and turkey to aid in deep level skin repair; plus vitamin D from swordfish, tuna and eggs, to help strengthen and rebuild damaged skin.
Next up: the most affordable drugstore foundations.