After putting in all the hard work losing your baby weight, it can be disappointing to see that your stretch marks sticking around. The appearance of stretch marks can vary a great deal from one mom to another, and while for some women the marks are NBD, they can really bother others.
Thankfully, there are plenty of nonsurgical stretch mark treatments out there. We consulted with three top plastic surgeons to find out more.
The truth about stretch marks
Stretch marks happen when skin rapidly stretches, which is completely normal when you’re pregnant. While we most commonly think of stretch marks on stomachs and thighs, they can show up anywhere we rapidly gain weight.
Genetics can play a part in how your skin deals with stretching, but it can also come down to the size of your baby (or babies), and how much weight you gain. For preventing stretch marks, maintaining healthy weight gain during your pregnancy is the best thing you can do, advises Dr. Peter Bray, a Toronto plastic surgeon.
A stretch mark forms when the elastic fibers in the skin tear or separate. “That’s where you get that thinning below the skin’s surface, making the stretch mark look wrinkly and indented,” says Dr. Bray. Over time, the marks diminish, and many moms make peace with them. Chrissy Teigen famously posted a pic of hers on Twitter with the caption “Whatevs.”
Because stretch marks tend to improve over time, Dr. Bray says that for most women it makes sense to stabilize the post-baby weight fluctuations and let Mother Nature do her job.
“Time is going to make a difference for pretty much everybody, whether that be six months, nine months, or a year,” he says. “Some women are keen to do something sooner, but I recommend waiting a year before seeking treatment for stretch marks.”
You’ll probably also want to be sure you’re done having kids before pursuing a cosmetic treatment for your stretch marks. “You could treat in between having children, but you will require more treatments after your last child should you get more stretch marks,” says plastic surgeon Dr. Cory Goldberg, also in Toronto.
Every stretch mark is different based on skin quality, skin type, stretch mark type and stretch mark age, says New York-based plastic surgeon Dr. Jessica Krant. “Purple or red stretch marks are newer, and white or silvery ones are in an older, more faded state,” she said. “Thin, spidery ones are probably easier to blend than thick or wide striae that have a palpable texture change.”
In tackling stretch marks, there are two issues at play: pigmentation (color) and texture. These issues may require separate treatments, and depending on the severity of the stretch marks, you could be looking at multiple sessions of whatever treatment option you decide to take. Dr. Bray says his clinic will usually offer a package of treatments, which can help bring down costs.
Deciding on treatments
There are many treatments that help tackle different aspects of stretch marks. In her practice, Dr. Krant “offers everything from topical creams to lasers that remove redness, improve texture, and trigger new elastin and collagen formation, to radiofrequency microneedling.”
If the most upsetting thing about your stretch marks is the coloration, then Dr. Bray recommends intense pulsed light (or IPL), which has an 74 percent Worth It Rating from RealSelf members. IPL works by shrinking blood vessels in the stretch mark so that they become less noticeable.
“Intense pulsed light is easy to tolerate, pretty cheap, and most women with a color or pigment abnormality would benefit to some degree,” says Dr. Bray. “In somebody with a fair complexion where the marks have that pinky purple look, it will reduce that aspect of it. For some women, that’s the most important element because it will bring the marks closer to their natural skin tone and make them less noticeable.”
Dr. Goldberg advocates using collagen-induction therapy, better known as microneedling, which has an 88 percent Worth It Rating on RealSelf. This works by stimulating the body’s collagen production to improve skin texture and tone.
“While we can improve the appearance of stretch marks by up to 80 percent with collagen-induction therapy, it is important to note that this treatment and any other nonsurgical treatment cannot remove stretch marks completely,” Dr. Goldberg adds.
If your stretch marks have a crepey texture, Dr. Bray recommends a resurfacing technique of some kind, like a Fractional Laser treatment, which has a Worth It Rating of 81 percent on RealSelf. “Those types of treatments can be applied to stretch marks, too,” he says.
Although many women see great improvement with stretch mark treatments, these doctors stressed the importance of having realistic expectations. Dr. Krant says that each session may help blend the appearance of the lines, but nothing will truly erase them.
Dr. Bray says that while he understands some people don’t want surgery, he does see patients who’ve spent a lot of money on these treatments but ultimately needed a tummy tuck to get their desired results.
“Expectations management is important,” Dr. Bray says. “One person might expect that these treatments are going to get the marks completely gone, where another might just want them less noticeable so they look better in a bikini. If you’re open to surgery, consider that it might give you the best results.”