If you happen to be a human with human skin, then there’s a high likelihood that you are familiar with stretch marks. Most of us have them: around 80 percent of Americans, in fact. In an average month, 49,500 people Google the phrase “How to get rid of stretch marks” — almost three times as many as “How to get rid of dark circles.”
If you do search that term, you find a ton of misinformation, much of it preying on people’s insecurities. It has been the Cut’s longtime position that there’s nothing wrong with stretch marks, much as there is nothing wrong with being a human with human skin. But to investigate the many myths around stretch-mark removal, we reached out to Z. Paul Lorenc, an aesthetic plastic surgeon, and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a cosmetic dermatologist and the author of The Pro-Aging Playbook: Embracing a Lifestyle of Beauty and Wellness Inside and Out.
Is running this story a shameless ploy to reel in people who search for “How to get rid of stretch marks?” Of course it is. But we also want to use it as an opportunity to tell you not to waste your money or your time worrying about a skin feature that eight out of ten people have — including your humble author.
Myth No. 1: Stretch marks are a sign that you need to lose weight.
Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, this myth always seems to stick around. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh; anyone can develop stretch marks, whether you’re a man, a woman, young, old, active, or sedentary. From a medical perspective, stretch marks happen when skin is forced to thin itself and, you know, stretch. This thinning exposes a deeper layer of your skin through tributary-like tears that can range in color from red to purple to white.
So why does this skin stretching happen at all? Lorenc cites a few leading causes. “Pregnancy and fluctuations in weight are the No. 1 reasons people develop stretch marks,” he says. “Growth spurts during puberty can also cause stretch marks during your younger years.” In other words, stretch marks come from change — something every body goes through eventually.
Cushing’s syndrome — a condition that exposes the body to high levels of the cortisone hormone over a long period of time — can also lead to stretch marks. Another factor? “Regular use of steroid creams can thin out the skin, causing it to lose elasticity and result in stretch marks,” says Lorenc. Genetics also plays a role in whether you’re likely to have stretch marks, says Frank. “Some people naturally have more elastic and thicker skin than others.”
Myth No. 2: You can prevent stretch marks with products.
“Not much can be done to prevent stretch marks, other than avoiding fluctuations in your weight and body size,” explains Lorenc. Frank agrees, adding, “There is no way to completely prevent them.” Keeping the skin moisturized may help a little. “Moisturized and well-massaged skin can help with the trauma of stretching skin.”
So save your money. Stretch-mark creams can feel and smell nice, but they won’t have any effect.
Myth No. 3: You can eliminate stretch marks with products.
Seriously, you’re better off just moisturizing your skin. “You cannot get rid of stretch marks using topical creams,” says Lorenc. “There are no really effective at-home treatments for stretch marks,” confirms Frank. Stretch marks are like acne scars in that the damage is far below the skin surface, so creams won’t help (this includes retinols — Frank says they aren’t strong enough and will cause irritation). If you feel as though you must lessen your stretch marks’ appearance, Lorenc suggests investing in a self-tanner or tinted lotion as an affordable option.
There are a few treatments that can erase stretch marks, but they’re very expensive and their success depends on a number of factors, including the degree of the stretch marks and how long you’ve had them. (Older stretch marks are much more difficult to treat.)
Lasers are one option, but one session can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000. For younger stretch marks, which are still red, Frank likes the VBeam Laser, which directs light energy at blood vessels. He says it helps “reduce the redness, improve the texture, and slow down the scar’s progression in its tracks.” Fraxel Restore is a resurfacing laser Frank praises for having an 80 to 90 percent success rate in getting rid of stretch marks (you will need somewhere between three and five treatments, though).
Microneedling with PRP (platelet-rich plasma) can help too. PRP is a “growth factor” liquid believed to accelerate wound healing and lessen inflammation. A physician applies this liquid to the treatment areas over the course of three to six sessions, at four- to six-week intervals. You’ll need to shell out more than a few bucks, however; each session ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, according to Lorenc. Frank likes Vivace, an energy-derived form of microneedling. Maybe it’s worth it if you’re an underwear model; then again, at least one Victoria’s Secret Angel has stretch marks, so maybe not.
Myth No. 4: Drinking water can help with stretch marks.
While drinking water has many benefits, it does not, in fact, do anything for stretch marks, either before or after they have formed. “There is no direct correlation between drinking water and stretch marks, but staying hydrated does help to improve the overall appearance of the skin and is something people should really consider as part of their skin-care regimen,” says Lorenc.
Myth No. 5: Changing your diet can help with stretch marks.
“No specific foods will prevent them,” says Lorenc. Eat what you want, and call it a day.
This article was originally published June 7, 2018. It has been updated throughout.