Treating Stretch Marks During and After Pregnancy

Knowing a bit about stretch marks can help you understand what's going on and how to get rid of stretch marks or drastically reduce how they appear when you're pregnant.

What Are Stretch Marks?

Pregnant with stretch marks
Don Bayley/E+/Getty Images

A stretch mark is actually where the elastin and collagen fibers tear from stretching during periods of hormonal changes; it is a scar. There are a couple of places where stretch marks are more likely to creep up.

  • Abdomen
  • Arms
  • Breasts
  • Buttocks
  • Hips
  • Lower back
  • Thighs

You probably already know about stretch marks occurring during pregnancy, but they can also occur during other phases of life or for different reasons. You may already have stretch marks and just never really noticed them before.

You can get stretch marks any time you experience a change in weight or during a period of growth. The most frequent times to see stretch marks include:

Stretch marks may cause distress because of how they look, but they are not harmful or painful.

Preventing Stretch Marks

Certainly, there is a lot of talk about preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. While there are absolutely steps you can take to try to minimize stretch marks in pregnancy, true prevention is technically not possible for every mother. Some of what will determine whether or not you get stretch marks is genetic.

Do you have a family history of really awful stretch marks? If yes, you may be fighting a really hard battle, but there are things that you can do that may help you avoid severe stretch marks.

  • Watch the weight gain. Try to gain weight slowly and steadily. You should also avoid excess weight gain.
  • Eat well. Healthy skin has fewer stretch marks. Good nutrition is a part of that process.
  • Use creams and lotions. This is partly old wives tale and partly comfort measure, but keeping your belly lathered up is never a bad idea.

If you're pregnant, always check with your doctor before using any products that claim to treat or prevent stretch marks.

Timing Is Everything

Stretch marks have a life cycle. At first, they are red, purple, and brightly colored. At this point in the life cycle of a stretch mark, they are called striae rubra. During this phase, they are easier to treat. This gives you more flexibility in how you can deal with them.

After time has passed, the stretch marks change. They become fainter in color, an almost silvery white. At this point, they are known as striae alba. Once they have reached the alba phase, they are much harder to treat. Therefore it is important to treat them as soon as possible for the maximum benefit.

Retinol Creams and Lotions

You'll want to start thinking about stretch mark prevention and treatment before you get pregnant, as most of the products used for this purpose aren't safe to use during pregnancy.

Retinol cannot be used while you are pregnant because of the risk for birth defects. Keep in mind that most inexpensive creams and lotions for treating stretch marks are made with vitamin A derivatives, which contain retinol.

After you give birth, you can start looking for products to reduce the stretch marks you developed while you were pregnant. Retinol is the ingredient that you are looking for in your over the counter creams and lotions. Retinol works by trying to stimulate collagen production.

Retinol is frequently found in face creams. While you can use face creams to treat stretch marks, it can be a more costly option because the products are designed to cover a smaller area.

It can take up to six weeks before you see the effect of retinol treatment on your stretch marks. The products can cost anywhere from $15 to $80 per bottle depending on the brand. If needed, a dermatologist may be able to prescribe a prescription form of retinol, Retin-A.

Other Creams and Lotions

If you find that retinol or Retin-A creams and lotions are irritating to your skin and stretch marks, like peeling, you may wish to find other over the counter options. The research into the effectiveness of these products to prevent and treat stretch marks is lacking. These creams and lotions might offer some benefit, but you should still talk to your doctor before using them.

  • Vitamin C
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Onion extract
  • Centella Asiatica

Lasers for Stretch Marks

As with many things, the more effective the treatment, the more costly. Laser stretch mark removal falls into this category. It is the most effective, but the most costly. This should be reserved for when you are done having children. There are different types of lasers that can be used, this is determined by the type of stretch marks you have: rubra or alba.

These laser treatments to get rid of stretch marks can cost $400-800 per visit. You may need to visit the dermatologist three or more times to see results. This is not something that is often covered by your insurance company and so the costs are out of your own pocket.

Another option is microneedling, which uses radiofrequencies to help reduce the appearance of skin problems like acne and stretch marks. Compared to laser therapy, microneedling typically has a shorter period of recovery and may be less likely to lead to hyperpigmentation of the skin.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS). Tretinoin (Retin-A®).

  2. Alam M, Han S, Pongprutthipan M, Disphanurat W, Kakar R, Nodzenski M, et al. Efficacy of a needling device for the treatment of acne scars: a randomized clinical trialJAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(8):844–849. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.8687

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.