They haunt us for awhile when we're coming of age ... cropping up on our breasts and our hips, sometimes our underarms or thighs. If we're lucky, they fade for the most part. But once we gain weight or get pregnant, they come back with a vengeance.
Lacing their way over our bellies, breasts, and thighs, stretch marks are some women's proud battle scars. But for others, they're just plain annoying and creepy to look at. In the end, neither camp is keen on smearing themselves with cocoa butter, the supposed be-all-end-all for preventing and treating stretch marks.
What's more, it seems like there isn't even research proving that we should bother with cocoa butter for the prevention or erasing of stretch marks. So, you might wonder, what has science found to work?
Here, 4 proven treatments ...
1. Vitamin E
Creams containing alphatocopherol, a form of vitamin E, have a better track record than cocoa butter. One double-blinded study of 100 pregnant women published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that those who used a vitamin E cream developed fewer stretch marks than those who were using a placebo. As for removal, many women say vitamin E works well on newer stretch marks. Plus, it's easy: Just squeeze over-the-counter vitamin E capsules (found at any drugstore), then smooth oil onto stretch marks.
2. Radio waves
Yes, it is the future. There is such a thing now as a radiofrequency (RF) heating system that is proven to increase collagen production in the treated area, in turn smoothing over stretch marks. A small clinical study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment looked at 17 women treated with the RF system once a week for six weeks. Sixty-five percent of them were "very satisfied" with the results. One huge caveat: Treatments can cost anywhere from $400-$1,500.
Using scattered pulses of light, fractional laser treatment creates microscopic wounds, which triggers production of new collagen and epithelium. Sounds a little brutal, but it works, according to one Brazilian trial done in 2007, which found that 5-6 fractional laser treatments resulted in a 75 percent improvement in stretch marks. Again, though, the price may raise eyebrows. If you want to try fractional laser treatment for stretch marks, it's in the same ball park as RF -- $500-$1,000 per session, with a minimum of three sessions.
4. One cream to try
All stretch mark sufferers (especially pregnant or formerly pregnant women) should know about Belli. It's an all-natural cosmetics company created by Jason Rubin, MD, who wanted his pregnant wife to have lotions and potions that would be free of baby- and mama-harming chemicals. One of the products in their line is a Stretchmark Minimizing Cream ($49 for 6.7 oz.). Belli asserts that the cream "reduces stretchmark length and irregular surface area by up to 52 percent" and "stretchmark depth by up to 72 percent." The two active ingredients: Darutoside and registril were both shown in independent clinical trials to reduce the appearance of any kind of stretch mark (young, old, pregnancy-related or not). Dr. Rubin recommends using the cream twice daily for 30 days for max results.
To what lengths would you or have you gone for stretch mark cream removal?
Image via Patrick Fitzgerald/Flickr