What's the best way to get rid of stretch marks?

I have stretch marks on my breasts, waist and buttocks. The ones I'm most embarrassed by are the most visible ones around my waist. What options are available to me to help either get rid of the stretch marks forever or if not completely eliminate them, then at least lighten them or make them blend in more? I thought tanning might help with the blending in but it made the stretch marks stand out that much more. I'm pretty discouraged right now but I feel like this is the best place for me to turn that around and find out what will work now that I know what won't!


F, 44, California

Tags:woman age 35-44 breasts waist buttocks stretch marks

The short answer is the only procedure that successfully removes stretch marks is surgery. Since surgical removal is inappropriate for most stretch marks due to their size or location, in most cases there is no effective way to remove them completely.

This hasn't stopped hundreds of product manufacturers from marketing expensive so-called “stretch mark removal creams”, comprised of very ordinary ingredients like lemon juice or cocoa butter. None of them have been shown to work.

A stretch mark is a type of scar called a striae that forms beneath the top layer of skin. Stretch marks are created when the skin stretches beyond its elastic maximum, causing small tears in the dermis. This tearing action allows the red, blood-filled capillaries below to show through.

When your stretch marks first formed, they were likely bright red, dark brown or purple, depending on your natural skin color. In these initial stages, when your stretch marks are still dark, an IPL laser can be very effective towards lightening the color. But even as a lighter color the stretch marks will still be visible.

Stretch marks on the breasts can also be improved with a surgical breast lift or augmentation, as skin tightening often makes stretch marks harder to see.

If your stretch marks are bothering you I encourage you to schedule a consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon to discuss which procedural options make the most sense for you.

There are several different types of laser treatment that can be used to treat stretch marks. They include fractional lasers, pulsed-dye lasers, laser microdermabrasion, and laser skin tightening. Each of these options can partially decrease the visibility of your stretch marks, but there is no available treatment which will completely eliminate them.

Fractional non-ablative lasers do not remove the top layer of skin and therefore have rapid recovery times. The laser light from fractional lasers penetrates the skin and encourages coagulation in the dermal connective tissues. The result is a more supple skin appearance, better stretch mark texture, and reduced stretch mark visibility.

Pulsed dye lasers (PDL) are particularly useful for newer stretch marks. The light from pulsed dye lasers is easily absorbed by red blood cells and causes controlled, selective damage to abnormal blood vessels. PDL lasers are perfect for stretch marks that have not yet started to fade.

Microdermabrasion is a laser therapy that strips away dead skin from the epidermis. The treatment improves the texture of the skin in the treatment area but will not directly address the stretch marks. Still, it can be useful if the skin above your stretch marks is rough or uneven.

Laser skin tightening is another laser therapy which penetrates deep into the soft connective tissues surrounding your stretch marks with infrared frequency light. The aim of the procedure is to firm up loose skin around the stretch marks.

None of these laser therapies will "remove" your stretch marks. But with consecutive sessions we have been successful in reducing the appearance of stretch marks by up to 50%.

The only way to truly "get rid" of stretch marks is by surgical excision, which isn’t a realistic option for most stretch mark locations. Stretch marks on the lower abdomen can be removed as part of a tummy tuck procedure, but for stretch marks on the breasts, waist or buttocks the best way to treat them is non-invasively with laser therapy.

It's important to bear in mind that non-invasive therapies reduce stretch marks and improve their visual appearance, but do not make them disappear. The best treatment option we have is laser therapy with a Fraxel laser -- or a pulsed dye laser for red stretch marks. After several laser sessions, a skilled operator is usually able to fade stretch marks and improve their appearance anywhere from 25% to 50%.

To answer your question about what "doesn't work":

There are hundreds of natural remedies on the Internet which claim to remove stretch marks naturally. It’s best to be skeptical of these. Home remedies that promise do-it-yourself stretch mark removal made with ingredients from the supermarket are not effective. I’ve seen no evidence that natural products like coconut oil, almond oil, castor oil or shea butter will help to reduce stretch marks or prevent them from forming.

Unfortunately, stretch marks are extremely difficult to treat. Short of surgical removal, the best option we have is laser skin resurfacing. If you're interested in laser therapy to reduce stretch marks I advise you to contact a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist in your area who has extensive experience with a variety of laser types.

Stretch marks are a type of scar tissue that forms when the dermis layer of the skin stretches so far that it tears beneath the surface. This stretching can occur during periods of rapid weight gain/weight loss or as a result of natural body changes during pregnancy or adolescent growth spurts.

To answer your question about what works to remove them; there are dozens of treatments available for stretch marks. Unfortunately, short of surgery there is no way to make them completely disappear. When stretch marks first appear they are often a purple or red color. Over time, this color fades and usually becomes a cream or white color.

Stretch marks that are still red and haven't begun to turn white are typically easier to treat because different kinds of laser light react with specific colors, and in these cases the scarring isn’t complete yet.

What doesn't work are the endless skincare home remedies which seem to be promoted everywhere online. I would advise you not to waste your time rubbing olive oil, egg whites, aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil in endless circular motions. There is no evidence suggesting these remedies work.

One small exception could be made for home glycolic acid peels. These peels remove the top layer of skin and may stimulate some collagen production within the dermis. Remember though, that while these peels may improve the texture of your stretch marks, they will not remove them completely.

I can't give you any medical advice without a direct consultation, but my suggestion is to consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist who is experienced with Fraxel, Pulsed Dye and IPL lasers. In my experience, laser treatments achieve anywhere from a 20% to 50% improvement after several sessions.