When it comes to skin problems we can't control, like stretch marks, we like to recall the words of dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad, who tells us: "Try not to be perfect." He says if he could impart one piece of advice to women, it would be: "Don't let skin imperfections be the bane of your existence. Don't focus on them. Do what you can to minimize them and focus on what's beautiful about you."
So let's be quick about this. Stretch marks happen when the elastic fibers deep in the skin are damaged, often caused by pregnancy, puberty, rapid weight gain, and muscle building. They can appear anywhere but most commonly hit us where it hurts the most: around the belly button, on the breasts, buttocks, hips, thighs, and arms. While there are a number of ways to minimize them, there is no way to make them disappear completely.
Laser treatment. Fractional laser therapy, says Dr. Brian Zelickson, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School's Department of Dermatology, is where a physician makes small injections over the stretch mark (as thin as the diameter of a hair shaft), leaving normal, untreated skin in between. The untreated skin helps heal the wound created by the laser, replacing the wounded skin with new healthy skin and thus diminishing the appearance of the stretch mark. He says some patients report improvement of 30 to 40 percent. This treatment works best on "new" stretch marks, before the tissue turns white. Lasers can also stimulate collagen growth, which can in turn make stretch marks less deep. (For more on stretch marks, including before-and-after pictures of various treatments, go to the Patient's Guide.)
OTC products. There are a number of stretch-mark remedies on the market now, including oils and lotions that help skin circulation. We love Decleor's Perfect Sculpt Stretch Mark Gel Cream because it contains eight essential oils, including frankincense, myrrh, chamomile, rose, grapefruit, lemon, and lemongrass, as well as its famous Phyto-Firm Complex, a combination of tamanu oil, imperata cylindrica extract, arnica, Solomon's seal, and cypress extracts. It also contains a self-tanning agent, which we adore because it leaves skin with a healthy glow and makes skin tone appear more even.
At-home exfoliation and massage. Twelve years ago, Jean Mosher had stretch marks she dreaded. She says she researched treatments but couldn't afford lasers or peels. So she devised Stretch Mark Cure,an at-home remedy using inexpensive over-the-counter products that helped reduce the appearance of her stretch marks, much the way lasers work. The remedy is comprised of a three-step process that includes a scrub to remove the top layer of skin over the stretch marks and an application of a calming plant-based gel, followed by time to rest and heal. "It works on the same principle as microdermabrasion or laser," she says. "You mildly wound the top surface of the skin, and when new skin comes in, it fills in the damaged tissue, reducing stretch marks."
Products to prevent stretch marks. A lot of experts agree that it's possible to prevent deep stretch-mark scarring by rubbing oils and lotions onto skin during a growth spurt, like when you're pregnant. A Murad customer recently blogged on the company's Website that she made it through pregnancy without stretch marks by applying Murad's Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum to her baby bump, and Mama Mio Tummy Rub Stretch Mark Butter on her stomach, hips, and lower back.