For some women, the stretch marks that develop during pregnancy are a badge of honor. For others, they are a terrible nuisance. For a very few lucky women — 10 percent, according to the New York Times– they are a non-issue. If you are in the 90 percent of women who develop stretch marks during pregnancy, you probably want to know if they can be prevented. Unfortunately, it is not entirely possible to prevent stretch marks, but you can minimize their appearance.
Stretch marks appear as streaks or wrinkles on the skin. They can be wide or narrow, curvy or straight. They are usually slightly depressed. In fair-skinned women, they are darker than the skin, but in dark-skinned women, stretch marks are usually lighter. Stretch marks during pregnancy appear most commonly on the lower abdomen, although they can also appear on the breasts and thighs in some women.
Stretch marks are the visible result of changes in the tissue beneath the skin. While the tissue is designed to stretch, rapid weight gain, such as that experienced during pregnancy, can cause it to tear. Scar tissue develops and stretch marks appear. Genetics play a strong factor in whether you will develop stretch marks during your pregnancy. If other women in your family had stretch marks, you will probably get them too, according to Babycenter.
Stretch marks usually become most apparent during the last trimester of the pregnancy, when the belly is largest. In some women, they start to appear as soon as the belly starts to swell. At first, they are thin and might itch. As the pregnancy develops, the stretch marks grow longer and wider, and turn darker (red or purple) in color. After the pregnancy, stretch marks decrease in size again and turn silvery-white.
Cocoa butter and other creams have widely been touted as being able to prevent stretch marks. In fact, there are no studies that show such creams are effective, according to the New York Times. It is not possible to prevent stretch marks from making an appearance during your pregnancy if you are genetically inclined to develop them. Still, you can reduce their visible impact. Keeping your skin well-moisturized is key, according to the American Pregnancy Association, as this will make the tissue more elastic and less likely to tear.
Once you have had your baby, you can turn your attention to getting rid of those stretch marks. The sooner you treat them, the more successful you will be in getting rid of them, according to WebMD. Topical ointments containing glycolic acid and retinoids are effective at reducing the appearance of stretch marks, but they should not be used during the pregnancy or while you are nursing. Laser treatments have also been shown to be effective. Note that most stretch marks fade dramatically on their own between 6 and 12 months after the pregnancy has ended.