An estimated nine out of ten women get stretch marks at some point in their lives, and it’s a surprisingly common condition in men too. While stretch marks aren’t a health problem in and of themselves, they do tend to make people uncomfortable when it’s time to dust off the swimsuit and hit the beach.
In women, by far the most common cause of stretch marks is pregnancy. Rapid expansion of the abdomen during pregnancy outpaces the growth capacity of the middle layer of skin, called the dermis. As a result, minor tears can form along certain areas of the dermis, showing as a series of thin red or purple lines. It’s almost like a rite of passage for us ladies, but that doesn’t mean we need to bear the marks for the rest of our lives.
In men, the most common cause of stretch marks, otherwise known as striae distensae, is either puberty or unhealthy weight gain. Some folks during their teenage years experience such a rapid gain in height that their dermis simply can’t keep up, and tearing can result in the fastest-growing areas of the skin. The same happens when a person experiences rapid weight gain due to dietary or lifestyle issues, and in this case the stretch marks are very much a call to action.
Regardless of the cause, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of effective natural stretch mark remedies out there. Here are five natural stretch mark remedies that really work.
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A, otherwise known as retinol, is a well-known treatment for all things skin-related. In particular, a metabolite of vitamin A known as retinoic acid has been shown to reduce stretch marks particularly during their early active phase. In an early study, 80 percent of study participants who applied retinoic acid topically had a “definite or marked improvement” in stretch marks.
While there’s still a fair amount of head scratching as to why the vitamin A metabolite worked so well on the stretch marks, its thought that the key mechanism is fibroblast stimulation. Happily, vitamin A is found in a wide range of skincare creams. Even more happily, rosehip seed oil contains high levels of trans-retinoic acid, making it an excellent natural remedy for stretch marks.
2. Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
You’ve probably heard mention of gotu kola from time to time, but like me you have no idea what the heck it is. Well, according to this study, gota kola (Centella asiatica) is a medicinal herb widely used in many parts of Asia. In Ayurvedic and traditional medicine, it’s commonly used for a wide range of skin conditions, including varicose ulcers, eczema, psoriasis… and stretch marks.
Research examining the effects of treating stretch marks with a mixture of gotu kola extract, vitamin E and collagen hydrolysates has been very promising indeed. A study involving 80 pregnant women found that while 56 percent of the placebo group developed stretch marks, only 34 percent of the gotu kola group developed stretch marks. That’s actually a pretty significant reduction when you think about it. A more recent study using a similar topical cream with gotu kola extract found the same positive results.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing highlighted the importance of multiple treatments for stretch marks. A large group of first-time mothers were separated into three treatment subgroups: application of bitter almond oil with massage, application of bitter almond oil without massage and a control group (no treatment).
While bitter almond oil had a slightly more protective effect against stretch marks then the control group, it was the group who applied the bitter almond oil with massage who experienced the greatest improvement in stretch marks. This suggests that potentially using any oil, provided it is thoroughly massaged into the stretch mark area, is a good move.
Cutting back on sugar but loathe to throw out that giant bag of organic cane sugar? Strangely enough, you could use it on your stretch marks instead! While this might sound a little far-fetched, using sugar to treat stretch marks via microdermabrasion is one of the few clinically proven methods.
In a 2016 study, microdermabrasion, in which tiny crystals are sprayed directly onto the skin, provided mild to moderate improvements in acne scars, aging skin and (you guessed it!) stretch marks. Researchers concluded that the microdermabrasion treatment increased the density of collagen fibers in the skin, thereby making it more elastic and more capable of growing and healing fast enough to offset the stretch marks.
While you might have some difficulty spraying sugar onto your skin, you could try making a sugar scrub instead. Mix together half a cup of sugar with a small amount of water — enough to make a thick gritty paste. Then simply use your hands to massage the scrub onto your stretch marks in a circular motion. Leave the paste on for a few minutes, then rinse off with warm water and apply some cocoa butter, olive oil or (for best results) rosehip seed oil to lock in the moisture and provide some glorious healing nutrients to your dermis.
In my opinion, collagen should be the focal point of any natural stretch mark home remedy. Collagen is the very compound that gives our skin that supple, elastic feel and it is an inability of the body to produce sufficient collagen during rapid weight gain that causes stretch marks in the first place.
The beauty of collagen is that it’s amazingly easy to come by. First and foremost, a good cup of bone broth will provide a decent whack of gelatin — a substance that provides the essential amino acids required to stimulate collagen production in the body (and the skin). Simply drinking a cup of high-quality bone broth (preferably homemade) should go a long way towards both preventing and treating stretch marks. Combine the gelatin drinking with a good vitamin C supplement and you’re away laughing.
If you can’t get your hands on some good bone broth, there’s plenty of effective collagen hydrolysate supplements to be had — otherwise known as collagen peptides. There is some evidence to suggest that applying a collagen cream directly to the skin can stimulate local collagen production, but you’re probably better off sticking to oral collagen supplementation.
— Liivi Hess