If your growing baby bump has sprouted a network of white, red or purple-hued lines (or you’re suddenly noticing them across your hips, bum or breasts), you’re not alone. “It’s not uncommon for women to develop stretch marks during pregnancy,” says Paul Cohen, a dermatologist in Toronto. They usually start to appear between 13 and 21 weeks and are caused by tears in the tissue under your skin as it stretches to accommodate your growing baby. Anyone can get them, but stretch marks are often more visible on fair-skinned moms and you’re more likely to get them if your mom had them, too. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to diminish and even prevent the appearance of baby beauty marks.
As with most things, the best “cure” for stretch marks is prevention. Although there’s no way to guarantee that you won’t end up with a tiger-striped tummy during pregnancy, you can help minimize the number and severity of stretch marks. “The best advice is daily massage with a body oil or lotion,” says Cohen. As soon as you start to notice your pregnant body growing, begin massaging the skin on your belly, hips and breasts with cream (ultimately any kind will do, he says) for a few minutes, at least twice a day. “This will help prepare the skin for the trauma of stretching,” says Cohen.
Although applying any body lotion during pregnancy will help keep your skin hydrated and boost elasticity, there are a number of products on the market designed with stretch (and repair) in mind. In general, look for products that contain ingredients like almond and jojoba oils, beeswax and shea butter, which are known to be very nourishing for your skin. We put some of the leading stretch mark creams to the test in our Today’s Parent Approved lab and with real moms at home. Check out which ones they deemed best for reducing redness, fading fine lines and providing top-notch skin softening. Whatever oil, cream or lotion you use, consistency is key, says Cohen. Apply it at least once a day and, for maximum skin hydration, slather it on after a bath or shower to seal in added moisture.
Ready to take your lotion to the next level? A retinoid-based product is pretty much guaranteed to improve the appearance of stretch marks to some degree, says Cohen. The same vitamin A–derived ingredient is used in acne treatments and anti-aging moisturizers because it’s proven to boost collagen production. Products with Retin-A can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a dermatologist in a higher-dose (and harder-working) formulation. A word of warning, though: You shouldn’t use these while pregnant or breastfeeding because they haven’t been proven to be safe for your baby. And they only work on treating existing stretch marks—they’re not preventive.
If you’re really serious about minimizing the appearance of stretch marks, there are laser treatments to be considered. “Fractional lasers work best on white marks and texture changes,” says Cohen. Pulse dye laser treatments can get the red out of dark stretch marks. A dermatologist can walk you through the best in-office treatments for your scars and help you weigh the cost-benefit ratio for your situation. “Treatments range from $500 to $1,000 per session, so they can be pricey but worth it for some patients,” he says. He recommends waiting at least six months postpartum before discussing these treatments with your doctor because the lines and bumps may settle or fade to a certain degree as your body recovers from pregnancy. “And before you invest a lot in procedures, you should decide if you’re having another baby anytime soon,” he says. It would be a shame to end up with the same bothersome stripes a year or two from now, after baby number two.
If your stretch marks extend to a more visible area, like your bustline, and you’re feeling self-conscious about wearing a low-cut dress for a special occasion, there’s always the option of cover-up. A cosmetic corrector stick in a shade of green, yellow or lavender can work with your skin tone to conceal deep red and purple lines. On the other hand, you can also wear your stretch marks with pride. Many moms see them as a badge of honour—proof of all the hard work your body did to bring your little bundle of joy into the world.