Stretch marks are tiny scars that show up when your skin stretches or shrinks quickly. They may be red, purple, pink, or brown, slightly raised, and itchy.
It’s common to get stretch marks when you’re pregnant. They can show up while your skin stretches or as it heals.
Stretch marks usually fade over time, but they probably won’t go away completely. Some treatments may smooth them out, help them heal, or relieve the itch. Others could make them less noticeable.
“Pregnancy stretch marks can be improved with treatment,” says Jessica Weiser, MD, founder of Weiser Skin MD in New York City. But don’t expect them to entirely disappear.
Here’s what you can and can’t do to improve the appearance of stretch marks.
After 1 year, stretch marks are considered mature. You can’t fade mature stretch marks.
But if you start early, within a few months of developing stretch marks, you may be able to improve how they look. The sooner you start, the better.
As soon as you see stretch marks starting to appear, try applying pressure and massaging them at least once a day. This can help them heal faster.
See a Dermatologist
This skin specialist can treat your stretch marks with techniques that may improve how they look.
Laser Therapy, Light Therapy, Microneedling
“Once the proteins in your skin are ruptured, it’s very challenging to restore them completely. But resurfacing treatments can help stimulate new collagen production to partially heal and smooth stretch marks,” Weiser says.
Your dermatologist may try light therapy, laser therapy, or microneedling (using a device that sticks tiny needles into your skin) to help create new collagen and improve elasticity.
For red or purple stretch marks, Weiser recommends a vascular laser like Excel V. It can reduce redness and improve pigment changes.
For white stretch marks, Weiser suggests a series of treatments to resurface your skin. She says microneedling and radiofrequency heat (a gadget that heats your skin) can kickstart skin turnover. This can help the wounds heal, which will make the stretch marks less noticeable.
Tretinoin and Hyaluronic Acid
If your stretch marks are new or less than a few months old, the dermatologist may suggest two treatments you put on your skin: tretinoin and hyaluronic acid.
Some studies suggest tretinoin, which is a prescription retinoid (meaning it’s created from vitamin A), may make new stretch marks less noticeable. Tretinoin rebuilds collagen, which could help your stretch marks look more like the rest of your skin.
In one study, people who applied a tretinoin cream every night had less noticeable stretch marks after 24 weeks. For people who didn’t use the cream, stretch marks got bigger.
Other studies suggest the ingredient hyaluronic acid may make new stretch marks less noticeable.
Tretinoin and hyaluronic acid may work best on reddish stretch marks.
After pregnancy, you may be able to remove certain stretch marks with surgery. If your stretch marks are on your lower abdomen, below your belly button, you can have a tummy tuck procedure.
A plastic surgeon will remove the skin under your belly button and use the skin above it to make your skin look tighter and smoother. Your upper stretch marks will be hidden near your bikini line.
If you’re thinking about this option, talk to a board-certified plastic surgeon about what a tummy tuck can and can’t do for stretch marks.
What Doesn’t Work
Many treatments have been debunked for improving stretch marks. Even though you may see them marketed as remedies, research suggests they don’t help.
Oils you put on your skin
“Topical therapy of existing stretch marks doesn’t work,” Weiser says. Research suggests almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, and vitamin E won’t fade them.
“Very light treatments, like superficial peels, at-home microneedling or rollers, and LED therapy generally don’t create any notable improvement,” Weiser says.
Getting a tan won’t make your stretch marks go away. It may make them easier to spot because stretch marks don’t tan. But you can try a self-tanner to help them blend better with surrounding skin.
A Word of Advice
All treatments don’t work the same for everyone. “Every patient has different skin and different healing,” Weiser says. Results may depend on your age, skin tone, diet, how long you’ve had the stretch marks, how many treatment sessions you have, and your skin’s healing process.
For the best results, get treatment early, before stretch marks are mature.
Talk to a dermatologist who specializes in aesthetic and laser treatments to find the best options for you.