How Do I Get Rid of Stretch Marks?

Patient Expert

I have some visible stretch marks on my thighs and hips and I really want to get rid of them. Will stretch mark creams work?

The term "stretch mark" is actually a bit misleading. It's a common belief that stretch marks are caused by skin stretching too quickly when people experience growth spurts, pregnancy, or weight gain. In reality, stretch marks are caused by an increased level of hormones in the body. The combination of this hormone surge and the stretching of the skin that occurs with these changes is what really causes the marks to appear.

When the body goes through the physical changes of growing, becoming pregnant, or gaining weight, the production of glucocorticoids, a type of steroid hormone, swells significantly. Glucocorticoids prevent skin from creating more collagen and elastin fibers, which are a crucial element of firm, healthy skin. The decreased level of collagen and elastin causes a lack of support as the skin stretches and eventually causes the tissue of the dermis and epidermis to tear and thin. At this point, the marks are red or purple in color. As the skin heals itself, the collagen and elastin fibers do not align correctly and the marks appear white. How you treat stretch marks depends on whether they are still in the early stages (red) or have already healed (white).

For red or new stretch marks:

If you begin treating stretch marks while they're still forming, you can improve their appearance as they heal. By using products that can help stimulate collagen and elastin production, you can limit the visible damage to the skin. There are a few topical ointments that you can try such as Mederma, a scar-reducing medication, and SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0, a non-prescription product with a high concentration of retinol. Retinol has been proven to stimulate collagen production and also helps exfoliate the skin. Do not use retinol products, however, if you are pregnant or nursing.

For older or white stretch marks:

Older stretch marks are much more difficult to work with. While many doctors say that nothing can be done about them, new studies show some good results with a combination of glycolic acid and retinol. In the morning, apply a cream with a high concentration of glycolic acid such as MD Formulations Hand and Body Crème. At night, go with a retinol formula like the SkinCeuticals option mentioned above. Using these products will not offer drastic changes, but you may see improvement after several months.

At the dermatologist's office:

If your stretch marks are older and topical treatments do not seem to work, there are a few more advanced options you can try if money and time permit. Some microdermabrasion and laser procedures have been shown to be effective at reducing the appearance of stretch marks. However, some of these procedures are not appropriate for those who are pregnant or nursing and others are not recommended for people with darker skin tones. If you want to pursue these options, the best bet is to speak to your dermatologist. If your doctor doesn't perform these procedures, he or she will recommend someone who does.