Here’s some news you probably don’t want to hear: Stretch marks don’t just happen during pregnancy. In fact, “If you are genetically prone, and undergo any skin stretching like a growth spurt or weight fluctuation, then stretch marks can occur,” says NYC-based dermatologist Whitney Bowe. Unfortunately, if a parent or grandparent ever developed them in the past, she says, there’s a good chance your risk is pretty high as well.
“Stretch marks are defined as dermal and epidermal ‘tearing’ as a result of your skin's inability to accommodate rapid growth,” says Beverly Hills-based esthetician Gina Mari. “The best thing you can do to prevent this — during pregnancy or otherwise — is to eat well, exercise and stay hydrated.”
Here are five ways to prevent and treat stretch marks:
Trying to maintain a steady weight is key, says Bowe. “People who gain or lose weight quickly are at highest risk. Unfortunately, you can’t really avoid growth spurts during puberty or pregnancy, so there’s only so much you can control.”
You can’t exfoliate the marks away, but a twice-weekly scrub will help with skin cell turnover. “It’s still important to exfoliate the dead skin cells away,” says Mari. “Not only will it result in a healthy glow, it will also help with itchiness due to the stretching of the skin.”
Unfortunately the experts agree that no creams or oils have been proven to treat stretch marks. “Keeping the area hydrated with creams containing soothing ingredients like shea butter or colloidal oatmeal can’t hurt, though,” says Bowe. “Stick to it every single night before bed – creams work slowly and you have to be diligent and consistent.”
Mari also suggests using coconut oil (which contains vitamin E which protects and repairs) if pregnant, as this natural ingredient is 100 percent safe for expectant women.
The Vitamin A ingredient commonly utilized for its anti-aging benefits “can help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks slowly over time,” says Bowe. She also recommends avoiding the sun while treating the area.
Getting proactive on your stretch marks is an effective option. “If stretch marks are caught early while they are still red, a laser called a pulsed-dye laser can make them disappear more quickly,” says Bowe. “Older stretch marks might respond to a resurfacing laser like Fraxel.”