Different types lines appear on our bodies as we age throughout the years, from wrinkles to stretch marks. Stretch marks are the long, narrow lines that, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, develop when our skin stretches (or shrinks!) quickly, causing the collagen and elastin support network to rupture.
Depending on your skin color, stretch marks can range from red, to purple, to dark brown, and commonly crop up on the abdomen, hips, thighs, and/or breasts, usually around puberty and during pregnancy: In fact, a 2015 study in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology found that more than half of all pregnant women will develop stretch marks during pregnancy.
Though millions of people develop stretch marks at some point in their lives, many strive to get rid of them as quickly as they show up. If you're looking to disguise or get rid of your stretch marks, here's everything you need to know:
Unfortunately, most stretch marks can't be fully removed, confirms Manish Shah, MD, a plastic surgeon based in Colorado. This is because stretch marks are technically breaks in the skin, which are difficult to repair. However, he says that there are ways to soften the appearance of stretch marks by improving the collagen content of the skin and getting the color to fade with time.
"In my opinion, the single best treatment for stretch mark reduction is microneedling," says Shah. "Microneedling improves the color and appearance of stretch marks by creating tiny pinhole injuries in the stretch mark itself. The skin responds by making new collagen, filling in the broken dermal layer. As the dermal layer expands, the color fades because the skin thickens and the tiny blood vessels that give early stretch marks their pink/purple color retreat," says Dr. Shah.
If you opt for an in-office procedure to nix stretch marks, a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist will look at each case individually and determine what combination methods such as radiofrequency and a pulse dye laser might provide a remedy.
First off, the best way to treat stretch marks is with prevention: make sure that your skin is healthy and strong. "Dietary fish oil supplements can help keep the skin hydrated and elastic, vitamin C supplements ensure that you make good quality collagen, and the use of moisturizers and sunscreen protects the skin from continuing damage," says Dr. Shah.
Birnur Aral, Ph.D, director of the Beauty Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, suggests "products that can increase elasticity of skin before the stretching injury happens." She suggests looking for "cohort topicals with hyaluronic acid (a powerhouse humectant), and tretinoin, a prescription retinol cream." However, pregnant women should consult their doctors for recommendations: certain collagen- and elastin-producing ingredients can be iffy for use during pregnancy.
For at-home stretch mark treatment, Shah says the best thing to do for a new stretch mark "is to vertically massage the stretch mark and cover it with sunblock to soften and fade it." Below, a list of the best products to prevent stretch marks, help heal them once they've formed, and even help to temporarily disguise them.