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Is there a way to minimize stretch marks?

Stretch marks—more than half of all moms-to-be get them. It may help to think of them as mommy medals. But even with the most positive spin, you still may wonder if you can minimize or prevent them. 

So here are answers to these and other questions you may have about these pregnancy souvenirs. 

Why do pregnant women get stretch marks?

Stretch marks are a type of scar that develops when your pregnant body grows faster than your skin can handle, causing it to stretch. That stretching can cause tiny tears in the supporting layers of tissue under the skin. And as the skin heals, stretch marks may appear. 

Increasing hormone levels during pregnancy may also make the skin's supporting tissue more susceptible to tearing and contribute to stretch marks. 

But pregnancy stretch marks do run in families. If your mom had them, you're more likely to wind up with them too. 

When and where do they show up? 

Chances are you'll spot stretch marks around the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. But some moms-to-be start forming them as soon as their bellies begin growing. Typically, stretch marks zigzag across the belly and breasts. But they can also show up on your buttocks, thighs and hips. 

They can be pink, reddish brown or dark brown depending on your skin color. Most lighter-skinned women tend to have pinkish stretch marks, while darker-skinned ones tend to have ones that are lighter than their surrounding skin.  

When they first appear, stretch marks can be itchy and feel slightly raised. 

Can you prevent stretch marks?  

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid stretch marks entirely. However, by only gaining your provider's recommended amount of weight, you can minimize them. The trick is to add those pounds slowly.

Can you get rid of them? 

Stretch marks—like any scar—are permanent. But treatment may make them less noticeable and soothe your urge to scratch them. Still, no one treatment helps everybody, and many products sold to help stretch marks fade don't seem to work at all. 

If you want to try a new product, be sure to get a green light from your provider. Some products contain ingredients—such as retinol—that may hurt your baby. 

Assuming you get an OK, these three tips from the American Academy of Dermatology may help you get better results:

1. Use the product on early stretch marks. Treatments seems to have little effect on mature ones. 

2. Massage the product into your stretch marks. Gently rubbing it into your skin may make it more effective.

3. Apply it daily for weeks. Results—if they happen at all—take time. 

And what about home remedies? Unfortunately, studies show that massaging almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil or vitamin E into stretch marks doesn't help them fade. 

But here's the good news: Time does. Though they won't disappear completely, most stretch marks fade on their own after delivery.

More pregnancy news

In addition to stretch marks, many pregnant women develop varicose veins. Find out how to cope with varicose veins and whether or not they'll go away. 

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American Pregnancy Association; March of Dimes

Reviewed 1/18/2024

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