Snake Oil Series: Stretch Mark Creams

I've decided to start a little series of posts about the things cosmetics can't do for us. I think it's important to be aware of the limitations of beauty products, because the more people are aware of these things, the more we can collectively say a massive fuck you to all the companies who try to prey on our insecurities and get us to spend our cash on their useless products.

Stretch marks are one of those things that just about everyone has (or will have) to some degree, and they can be incredibly annoying. Either they're a lasting reminder of something you'd rather forget (a time you put on weight you weren't happy with, maybe, or the always unpleasant process of puberty), or they're an unfair punishment for something otherwise positive (like pregnancy, or working hard at the gym and building some muscle).

Cosmetics companies realise that stretch marks can have a huge impact on our confidence, and they offer a ton of oils and creams that promise to prevent or reduce them. This is something we should be angry about because none of these products do a damn thing - and the cosmetics companies are fully aware that their products don't do a damn thing!
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Stretch marks simply don't form in the same layers of skin that skincare products work on. They start deep down in the dermis (the bottom layers of skin), and oils and lotions don't penetrate that far - all they can do is reduce dryness in the epidermis (the very top layers). When your skin is forced to expand rapidly, scars form from the inside out as collagen and elastin fibres tear; a bit of oil or cocoa butter massaged onto the skin above all of this will, at best, temporarily help with the uncomfortable itching a lot of people experience as stretch marks form (but any oil or cream can help with that).

The unfortunate and frustrating truth is that some people just will get stretch marks. You might have a friend who swears their strict regime of rubbing some fancy oil onto their belly throughout their pregnancy is why they didn't get any marks, but in reality that friend just won the genetic lottery - they would have been mark free either way. It can feel incredibly unfair to see the pink lines creeping up on you when some people don't seem to get any at all, but that's due to their body, not a cosmetic product. Whatever anecdotal evidence there is, there aren't any studies showing that stretch mark cream (or even the action of massaging it in) makes any difference.

There are a few things that might improve stretch marks. There's a small amount of evidence showing that certain active skincare ingredients can have some effect, but the research and the results are limited. Prescription retinoids used on fresh marks can slightly improve things (up to 20%), but they should be avoided if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Lasers, chemical peels and microdermabrasion have been shown to have some effect, but the reduction could be minimal if they work at all and these treatments tend to be uncomfortable and costly. If you're really bothered by marks on your stomach (and you have a spare £6000 and the free time for the debilitating recovery period) you could reduce them with a tummy tuck, but it's disheartening that so many opt for such an expensive and invasive procedure to
"repair" their post-pregnancy body. 

The reason we should be angry at the brands who offer topical stretch mark solutions is that the more we're told to we need these creams, the more the marks feel like a problem. When so many skincare brands tell us we can "fix" this thing that about 90% of us have on our bodies, it's no easy feat to decide not to care about it. It's difficult to adjust to something you perceive as a flaw, but stretch marks are normal and they don't stay red foreverUltimately, the important thing to know is that a bit of patience works better than any cream ever will, and that aside from companies hoping to profit from it, very few people will ever notice a few marks on another person's body.

Massage creams into your skin if you like how it feels, and look into proven methods to reduce stretch marks if you can afford it and are really bothered by them. But stretch mark creams are just bottles of false hope, and they aren't worth your hard-earned money.

Do you worry about stretch marks? How do you feel about products claiming to get rid of them?
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  1. I worry about stretch marks, even though I didn't get any (on my belly) during my first pregnancy. And while I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said, I do believe that moisturized skin is more elastic than dry skin (and there is evidence for that), so oils and keeping the skin hydrated may play a (small) role in prevention. I think the main reason why I didn't get stretch marks on my belly is because I am already "old", and thus my connective tissue isn't as firm as it is when you are in your early twenties. So my skin has a lot more "give" to it. The stretch marks I do have (on my butt and very few on my breasts) are from puberty and related to the weight gain and rapid growth of this time. And I know that nothing will ever make them go away, but to be honest, I don't care at all.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

    1. Yeah, I think moisturising helps with a lot of things(from stretch marks to scars to ageing!), but there's nothing to suggest that any of these stretch mark products are better than a tub of coconut oil or a bog standard lotion! And at best, you can hope for slightly fewer stretch marks rather than actually preventing them to any significant degree.

      I'm in the same camp as you though - I went through a phase of being bothered by the marks I have, then decided that as literally nobody else cares neither should I... nobody on a beach or in a changing room is gonna be inspecting my belly, and I highly doubt anyone who's in a situation where they'd be seeing my inner thighs or boobs up close is going to be paying much attention to the little white lines on them :p

    2. I agree with both! A fatty cream will do the same as a super fancy oil. I don't have lots of stretch marks, partly because I haven't had children and because I've not had massive changes in weight (and I'm sure there is a bit of genetic lottery in there as well) but when caring for a surgical scar I've been using the same approach. I don't expect miracles from the oil I use and it is not an expensive one either. My scar won't fade - it just won't, but having it well moisturised helps it not be uncomfortable, especially at the beginning.

      Inma x

  2. Agree entirely about products which prey on our insecurities! These remind me of Nurofen, it's just a more expensive package and pseudo scientific messaging ... It's not going to have any more or less of an affect than any other oil.

    Four Cats Plus Us - Amy

  3. Great post
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  5. On my pregnancy, I use cocoa butter, I have just have a bit of stretch marks on lower part of my belly. Anyway...Would you like to follow each other? if you decided to follow me on BLOGLOVIN and Instagram please let me know so I can follow you back. Thank you.

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