When it comes to being pregnant, stretch marks pretty much come with the territory. “Stretch marks (striae distensae) are bands of scar tissue that form at sites where the skin’s ability to stretch is not sufficient to keep up with the rate of growth or expansion of an area,” explains Whitney Bowe, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “The elastic fibers in the deep layers of the skin stretch out and ultimately snap, leaving the surface of the skin rippled.”
Although some mamas-to-be avoid the tiger stripes thanks to good genetics (lucky ducks!), most of us simply aim to do everything we can to prevent and minimize them. But what works and what doesn’t?
According to Bowe, “Avoiding the use of steroids—both topically and orally—can dramatically reduce your risk of stretch marks, especially in areas where skin is thin, such as the underarms, breasts and inner thighs.”
Eating a diet that’s rich in protein can help, too. “It provides the building blocks for new collagen and elastic tissue to form and helps stretch marks to heal over time,” Bowe says. (For easy ways to incorporate more protein into your diet, flip back to page 38.)
Specially formulated topical treatments can also reduce the purple and reddish lines drawing a map all over your belly. “Creams, oils and shea butter prevent the development of stretch marks by keeping the skin well-hydrated and theoretically allowing it to stretch more easily,” says Bowe. Just remember: “The sooner you start rubbing in, the better.”