Experts Debunk the Biggest Myths About Stretch Marks

Experts Debunk the Biggest Myths About Stretch Marks
Photo: Getty Images/Allison Kahler

Stretch marks are a natural part of life … or are they? It seems we’re never done debating whether they can be avoided, treated, or gotten rid of altogether. And although it seems women as a whole are becoming more accepting of them and other parts of our natural appearance—like body hair—stretch marks are definitely still a sore spot for some. Even I’ll admit that it took me a long time to embrace those squiggly lines across my chest and thighs, instead of trying every “miracle” product to get rid of them.

Now, while we agree that what a woman does with her body is definitely her choice, it’s high time we got to the bottom of what is and isn’t in our control. Ahead, two doctors—Harold Lancer, MD, and Howard Sobel, MD—debunk the biggest myths around stretch marks, from treatments to prevention (if that exists), and explain how they actually form.

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Myth: Stretch Marks Are a Natural Part of Body Development

According to Lancer, this is true in some cases. Sometimes it has to do with a rapid shift in weight, and other times, it can depend on your gene pool, puberty, or hormone (such as estrogen) production. In laypeople’s terms, every woman can’t necessarily control whether they have them or not.

“Stretch marks may occur after puberty, although there are also familial traits, ancestry, or hormonal traits (estrogen) to consider, too. But there’s usually a body mass shifting with either weight gain or weight loss or fluid retention that causes a stretching component to the skin,” he says. This includes pregnancy, too.

Sobel agrees, saying, “Stretching of the skin is the most common cause, but stretch marks can be caused by hormonal changes, medications, and stress that weakens the elastic fibers in the skin.”

Myth: Stretch Marks Occur Only in Women

This is complete fiction, but Lancer notes they’re usually much less common in men (maybe about 1 percent of cases). When men do develop stretch marks, it usually has to do with medical therapies or weight and body image shifting.

Myth: Stretch Marks Change Color

There may be truth to this. Most stretch marks may start ruby-red or violet and eventually lighten to pink or pale pink. Ultimately, color fluctuation will depend on the person’s ancestry and ethnicity. And none of these colors indicate a problem, as stretch marks aren’t a threat in any way to your health.

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Myth: You Can Make Stretch Marks Disappear with Products

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in general, topical treatments alone aren’t going to prevent or resolve stretch marks. However, there are some things you can do to at least minimize their appearance, if that’s what you want. First, hydration makes a huge difference.

“Keeping the skin moisturized does help increase the skin’s elasticity and treat symptoms of existing stretch marks including itching and irritation,” says Sobel. He highly recommends a daily moisturizer like DDF Moisturizing Dew , but remember that this will only lighten the marks, not cure them.

And according to Lancer, you can also use retinoids to fade their color a bit. “There are really high-potency over-the-counter retinols, but you have to be careful in using them, so it should be under the supervision of a board-certified dermatologist,” he says.

Ultimately, if you are serious about eliminating your stretch marks, the best thing you can do is consult a board-certified dermatologist for cost-effective, more therapeutic treatments.

“At the [Lancer] practice, there’s a complete history taken to make sure there isn’t some internal physiological flaw, like adrenal gland function disorder or ovarian dysfunction,” says Lancer. “If necessary, maybe some physical lab studies are conducted, just to fully ensure there isn’t some outstanding medical disorder. Then, topical retinoid therapy for two to four weeks before engaging in any procedural therapy.”

MORE: 5 Products That Actually Help Prevent Stretch Marks

Myth: Tanning Can Cover Up Stretch Marks

Tanning actually makes stretch marks look more prominent. If this is hard to understand, Lancer suggests thinking of them as scars.

“Scars don’t have functional melanocytes to the same extent as non-scarred skin. Stretch-mark-damaged skin has an unreliable skin-repair mechanism, so chances are they will not tan to the same color as the rest of the skin, so it’s not a good idea.”

Myth: Diet Has No Effect on Stretch Marks

We know it seems like a “stretch,” but according to Lancer, “if you have a highly inflammatory diet, then your metabolism is going to lead toward being overweight. Chances are, it’s going to increase the propensity for a hidden trait for making stretch marks more visible.”

Sobel agrees, adding that “along with daily moisturizer, it’s important to drink enough water to keep your skin hydrated. Vitamins A, C, and E also help keep your skin healthy, as well as repair damaged skin, and can be found in foods such as avocados, berries, carrots, oranges, nuts, and bell peppers.”