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We asked two dermatologists if anything really works when it comes to getting rid of stretch marks.

Stretch marks. A lot of women (and quite a few men) have them, and while they’re a very normal part of being a human, many people want to know how to get rid of them.

There are countless oils, creams and lotions on the market all claiming to totally erase or at least fade stretch marks, which almost seems to good to be true. So do any of them really work?

The not-so-good news is that stretch marks can be quite tricky to treat. So, we asked a few dermatologists to explain exactly what stretch marks are, why they occur, and what can be done about them.

What causes stretch marks?

“Stretch marks are micro-tears within the dermal (collagen) layer of the skin, resulting in irregular, thinner and rippled looking skin,” explains dermatologist Dr Adrian Lim.

“Approximately 50 percent of adolescents or adults have some form of stretch marks. Females with pregnancies are even more susceptible.”

As for what causes them, stretch marks are linked to any quick change in size or weight.

“Stretch marks occurs when there is rapid stretching of the skin which occurs with growth spurts, weight gain, in body builders and during pregnancy. They can also occur in some medical condition associated with excess cortisol in the body,” said dermatologist Dr Catherine Reid.

“[What’s occurring is that] collagen and elastic fibres in the support layer of the skin are torn and produce scarring in the form of stretch marks,” said Dr Reid.

What areas on the body do stretch marks occur? 

Where on the body you’re most likely to get stretch marks depends on what kind of change your body is going through.

“It depends on the growth sites. In pregnancy the abdomen is common, whereas through puberty it is most likely to be the thighs, buttocks and breasts. For bodybuilders it is commonly the shoulders, upper arms and chest,” said Dr Lim.

Salma Hayek doesn't hide her stretch marks. Image: Getty.
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Can stretch marks be treated with topical products?

This is a tricky one and sadly, there is no magical potion for erasing stretch marks.

"People can expect to achieve only very limited improvement with prescription retinoids available through a doctor (such as ReTrieve or Retin-A) but they are worth a try if patients very concerned about the appearance," said Dr Lim.

Dr Lim also revealed that the use of non-prescription cosmeceutical retinols, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids can marginally help. Emphasis on the marginally.

Retinols and products containing alpha and beta hydroxy acids work to chemically exfoliate the skin and promote cell turnover, which in turn reveals fresh skin and fades scarring, sun damage and marks.

The use of fake tans and body tints can also help to diminish the visual signs of stretch marks.

Paula's Choice retinol

Paula's Choice RESIST Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment, $43.

Gatineau Body Basics AHA Body Lotion, $42.55.

Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish, $54.

Can stretch marks be treated with laser?

This is slightly better news, though the cost, pain and downtime needs to be considered with most types of laser or cosmeceautical treatments.

"Perhaps people may have more success with procedures such as fractional lasers or skin needling (for pale stretch marks) but multiple treatments are often required for only modest improvement."

Fractional laser, sometimes referred to as Fraxel, resurfaces the skin my causing superficial damage that then heals and repairs itself. Skin needling works on the same premise - teeny tiny holes are made in the skin which signals to the cells to produce more collagen to repair the micro-wounds.

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"Red stretch marks can fade faster with vascular lasers but these will fade to pale/white stretch marks with time on their own without any treatment," said Dr Lim.

Is there any way to prevent stretch marks? 

The answer to this one is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. On the plus side, if you do have stretch marks, there's not much you could have done to stop them.

"There are no proven ways to avoid stretch marks except for avoiding rapid and excessive weight gain," said Dr Lim.

Positive stretch mark movements.

Facing the fact that stretch marks are a very normal part of life for many of us is another (much easier, more liberating) way to look at it. Chrissy Teigen famously embraced hers on her inner thighs when she posted about them on Instagram, and there are over half a million empowering images under the 'stretchmark' hashtag. So, consider accepting your body just the way it is and embracing what it's been through.

Embrace your stretch marks ✨

A post shared by @ mariextaylor on


How to treat stretch marks in summary:

  • Avoid rapid weight gain and weight loss wherever possible.
  • Speak to your doctor about prescription creams such as ReTrieve or Retin-A.
  • Try non-prescription cosmeceutical products that contain retinols or alpha and beta hydroxy acids.
  • Look into procedures such as fractional lasers or skin needling.
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