So you've got some stretch marks? Welcome to the club with roughly 80 percent of Americans. But while they're very common—and for the record, there's absolutely nothing wrong with having them, because your body is beautiful—many people still feel a bit self-conscious about their lines. Dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan, MD, says stretch marks most typically occur in the abdomen (from pregnancy or weight gain), breasts, hips, shoulders, butt, and thigh area—so, basically, most places.
Still, if you're not in love with yours, you can minimize their appearance (sorry, nothing actually banishes them completely; more on that below) with a few at-home products and/or in-office treatments. Keep reading for a quick explainer on all things stretch marks, along with what really does—and doesn't—work.
1But First, WTF Causes Stretch Marks?
According to Dr. Akhavan, stretch marks are caused when there's a period of rapid growth in your body (like growth spurts, pregnancy, weight gain, or increased muscle mass) that suddenly stretches the skin, and, in turn, causes the collagen bundles under your skin to tear away from each other. So when the skin returns to its usual state (i.e., when it stops growing), "it can look wrinkled and lined, because it’s not supported by the same collagen structure underneath,” he says.
2How Can I Get Rid of Them?!
Considering the cause of stretch marks is literal tearing deep beneath the skin, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that there's no tried-and-true cure. "It’s literally impossible to 100 percent get rid of your stretch marks," says Dr. Akhavan, breaking hearts everywhere. But don't freak—there are steps you can take to reduce their appearance, namely by rebuilding the collagen in your skin with some excellent OTC products and a committed routine, like...
3Try Prepping With a Scrub
I know, I know—using a body scrub alone can't banish stretch marks. But using an exfoliator before applying a collagen-building moisturizer, serum, or oil can help remove dry, rough skin for maximum product absorption.
Despite sounding a little abrasive (broken walnuts?!), this beloved booty scrub has a long list of positive reviews, with customers describing it feeling as gritty as beach sand without an overpowering scent. Another bonus? It lathers slightly, which makes massaging it into your butt just a bit more satisfying.
4Then Apply a Retinol Body Cream
Because there are no FDA-approved prescription creams for stretch marks, Dr. Akhavan suggests using a cream spiked with retinol, which stimulates your collagen production to generate new, slightly thicker skin over time. Basically, it's as close to a "cure" as you can get. And don't worry about the dry-skin side effects; this rich lotion uses sugar-derived humectants to draw water into the skin throughout the day to stave off itchiness.
5Or This Retinol Body Lotion
Want something even more lightweight? Look for a retinol-filled body lotion, like this one from Is Clinical, which won't leave you feeling sticky or dry. Just make sure to skip all retinol-based products if you're pregnant or nursing (retinoids are a big no-no for your baby), and try your luck with a stretch-mark oil, instead.
And be weary of using any products that make your skin irritated and inflamed (look out for stinging and tingling), says Dr. Akhavan. "The inflammation can temporarily mask your stretch marks, but the cream isn't actually changing your skin in any way."
6And Seal It With a Body Oil
If retinol sounds too next-level, try a gentle, allover body oil like this one (which, fun fact, also happens to be Kim Kardashian's favorite stretch-mark fighter). It's fast-absorbing and filled with vitamins A and E to soften skin and give you a Kim K glow, all of which can help temporarily reduce the look of your marks.
7Or Splurge for a Laser Treatment
If you're looking for in-office treatments that work, "the ICON 1540 Fractional Laser is the only FDA-approved laser for the treatment of stretch marks," says Dr. Akhavan. Patients have been shown to have a 50 to 75 percent improvement in the appearance of their stretch marks after a few sessions, he adds.
The laser delivers pulses of energy into your skin—don't worry, you're numbed first—tricking your cells into thinking they're injured, says Dr. Akhavan. This causes your body's natural healing process to kick in, triggering your cells to release all the chemicals they need to create new collagen in the area, all of which eventually improves the appearance of your stretch marks.
8And Maybe Try Microneedling
"My first choice—and the safest option—would be the laser treatment," says Dr. Akhavan, "but because of cost or because someone is hesitant to try lasers, my next choice would be microneedling."
The treatment creates tiny (and relatively painless) punctures in the skin that trigger the body's wound-healing process (similar to how the laser works) to stimulate collagen and elastin production. The only drawbacks: It takes at least four months to see results, and it can be irritating if used incorrectly, so check in with your derm first.
Regardless of which stretch-mark treatment you choose, results will not be immediate, so you need to be patient, says Dr. Akhavan. Easier said than done, right?
Janell M. HickmanJanell M Hickman is a contributing writer for Cosmopolitan.com.
Lauren AdhavAssociate Fashion EditorI'm Cosmopolitan's Associate Fashion Editor and write about any and all trends, major celeb fashion moments, and why wide-leg jeans are basically the best.
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