Stretch Mark Cream: Does It Work? There is Zero Evidence

ZERO Evidence of Topical Products that Prevent or Reduce Appearance of Stretch Marks

how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy

After reading this post, you’re going to:

1) Save time and…

2) Save money every time you walk down the body care aisle filled with topical products that promise the prevention of stretch marks, or improving the appearance of them.

When I’m not working or spending time being a Mommy, I’m scouring the Internet to learn more about my craft. Upon doing so, I came across a gold mine! A study published by John Wiley & Sons and The Journal of the European Academy, that basically debunks all the big brand stretch mark topical products on the market, including Bio Oil and Palmer’s Cocoa Butter, plus many more.

Now when I was pregnant, I was just like you. I wanted to do anything I could to prevent getting stretch marks, including buying bottles and bottles of Bio Oil, Palmer’s and other more expensive products I could slather on my growing body. If I had known what I now know after reading this study, I would’ve still moisturized my skin, but wouldn’t have wasted so much time obsessing over which products to use.

How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy “ is one of the hottest, most popular topics on any pregnancy forum and I was constantly reading them for any tips to try, which honestly only confused me more because everyone’s skin type and genetics are so different.

Speaking of which, the reason why there aren’t a lot of medical studies on stretch marks is because they do not pose a health risk to us, which is a great thing in the grand scheme.

You’ll have to take a look at the study for extensive details, but here are a few things I found most valuable…consider this the cliff notes version:

About the study…

“The aim here was to assess the evidence for the use of topicals in SD (striae distensae, or for short “stretch marks”) and to propose a structured approach in managing SD. A systematic search of published literature and manufacturer website information for topicals in SD was carried out. The results showed that there are few studies (n = 11) which investigate the efficacy of topicals in management of SD.

The causes of stretch marks…

The causes of SD are proposed to be due to the mechanical effect of tissue stretching;19 from growth in adolescence and rapid increase in the size of certain locations of the body.20, 21 The most common anatomical locations which are affected by SD are the abdomen, breasts, buttocks and thighs (Fig. 4).22

Most common methods for treating stretch marks…

The most common method for treating SD is the use of topicals.33 Only a limited number of topical agents have been evaluated in formal studies for the treatment of SD (such as tretinoin,34 Trofolastin,35Alphastria,36 cocoa butter,37 olive oil38 and silicone gel39), although, there are many topical products, available commercially on the market, which claim benefits for prevention and/or treatment of SD, which have not been formally evaluated in any clinical study.40

The use of topical therapies aims to provide lasting improvements in pigmentation and texture of both striae rubrae and albae, with minimal side‐effects, in patients of all skin types.41 However, in order to improve the appearance and reduce the symptoms associated with SD, the following processes should occur; increased collagen production and fibroblastic activity, increase in elasticity and blood perfusion, improvement in cell proliferation, increased skin hydration and anti‐inflammatory properties.353742

It is important to assess the evidence available for the use of these topical formulations. Overall, there has been insufficient clinical evaluation of these products and many studies have failed to demonstrate efficacy. Indeed, no single treatment or management plan has been advocated for SD and the literature provides no gold standard therapy; all hampered by a paucity of level 1 evidence. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the available evidence for the use of topical treatments for the management of SD and to propose a structured management approach.

Popular topical products on the market and their claims…

The majority of topical products claim to improve the appearance of SD by the stimulation of collagen production in order to increase skin elasticity. StriVectin‐SD® (StriVectin®, New York, USA) is a skin repair cream, which is indicated for use on SD, wrinkles and ageing skin.41 The active ingredient is the molecule NIA‐114™. It is thought to work by increasing collagen type I and IV synthesis. However, there is no published evidence for its efficacy on SD.

Another topical on the market is Cussons® Mum and Me Bump Stretch Marks Cream (PZ Cussons Ltd, Manchester, UK) which is recommended by the manufacturers for use in preventing SD. It contains Lupin Seed extract, which is used to increase collagen in the skin. It is claimed that this product is clinically proven.43 Their topical formulation was tested against 5 ml of skin treatment oil. Twenty‐eight women applied the two formulations twice daily for 12 weeks. The results showed that there was a 16% increase in elasticity of the skin using the cream, within 12 weeks. This study was briefly reported on the company website, but there are no published peer‐reviewed clinical trials.

Clarins® Stretch Marks Cream (Clarins® Ltd, London, UK) is indicated for reducing the appearance of SD. The active ingredients in this product are, Crowberry and Centella Asiatica extracts, olive, coconut and palm oils and siegesbeckia. There are no clinical trials associated with this product.

Bio‐Oil® is recommended by the manufacturers for use in helping improve the appearance of scars, SD and uneven skin tone. There have been two randomized controlled studies performed to assess the efficacy of Bio‐Oil® in improving the appearance of SD.48, 49 However, these studies were only reported on the company website and the full details and results of the studies are not available. The first, a single‐blinded, randomized controlled trial, demonstrated that 50% of subjects had improvement in appearance of their SD at 8 weeks.48 As this study was only single blinded, this could have led to a positive bias.

Palmers® Cocoa Butter cream is used for prevention and to reduce the appearance of SD by maintaining epidermis elasticity and rehydration of the skin. This topical is made from cocoa butter and vitamin E, elastin and collagen. There have been two randomized controlled trials, which have investigated the effects of cocoa butter vs. a placebo, for the prophylactic treatment of SD.37, 52 Both studies found that there were no significant differences between the creams.37, 52

In conclusion…

There are a number of topical products used either therapeutically or prophylactically for the management of SD. There are several mechanisms of action reported, (none with level 1 evidence), to be associated with these topical formulations, which include the ability to stimulate collagen production, increase elasticity, improve cell proliferation, anti‐inflammatory properties as well as rehydration simultaneously.

I chose to summarize the name brands I’m most familiar with, but the study outlines an entire table chart of all the topical products they researched. I also want to mention that the study was performed without the authors having any conflict of interest or funding sources. After reading this, has this changed the way you see stretch mark creams? What about your purchasing power? I know I feel more empowered :).

As always, thanks for reading and please comment with your thoughts. I’d love to hear them.

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What is SMP?

Scalp Micro Pigmentation (SMP) was developed as both a cosmetic procedure for men and women suffering with all types of hair loss, and as a medical procedure to help conceal scars, burns, birthmarks, as well as the full spectrum of alopecia. During the SMP procedure, a blend of unique pigments specifically formulated for the client are deposited into the dermal layer of the skin on the scalp. These deposits create an extremely realistic illusion that replicates hair follicles. SMP is a viable alternative to traditional hair transplant surgery, hair systems, pills, and fibers.. Around the world, thousands of clients live their lives free from hair loss without lengthly maintenance routines, unwelcome side effects or signifiant ongoing financial outlay.

Does scalp micropigmentation look real?

A typical scalp hair from a Caucasian woman is about 77 micrometers in diameters (67 Um in those of Asian descent, and 120 Um in those African descent). Typically, SMP dots placed in the dermis layer are 90-140 micrometers in diameter.

While this might seem a bit larger than a real human hair, this slight difference is virtually indistinguishable from real hair follicles. Often, when viewed 1 foot away, close friends and family will not be able to tell where real hair ends and the SMP begins.

What causes hair loss?

As hair on the scalp goes through it’s normal cycle of growing and shedding, DHT makes the follicles miniaturize. That means they get thinner and shorter because the growing cycle doesn’t last as long. The growing cycle becomes so brief that new hairs can’t grow through the skin. For women, hair loss can be caused by an imbalance of thyroid hormones, pregnancy, disease and certain medications.

How long will SMP last for?

With proper care and treatment, including using high sunscreen when outside, SMP will commonly last for many years. For a healthy client with a normal immune system, we expect that the color will last with original vibrance for about 4-6 years, with gradual fading of the pigment to last up to 8 years.

Fortunately, if a touch up is needed, a fee is charged which is generally cheaper per session than the original treatment fee. It’s important to note that each individual is different so an estimated range of longevity will be provided at our consultation meeting.

Will SMP fade, smear, or turn blue as the years pass?

Any pigment applied to the dermal layer of the skin will eventually fade, but we expect SMP to last several years or more, before even minimal fading is noticed. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun often breaks apart some tattoo inks for easier absorption by the body, resulting in increased fade rates and slight smearing. As the inks are degraded, their chromophores are often altered resulting in changed color. If this occurs, we can easily offer touch up sessions, or revise the ink color by adding additives to mute, neutralize, or warm up the tone again.

Is SMP reversible? Is receiving SMP treatment painful?

Yes, SMP pigmentation can be removed with an electro-optic Q switched laser, which is used to heat and break-up the SMP pigmentation for easier absorption by phagocytes in the dermis. SMP is fairly easy to remove in most cases because the pigment is not deposited as deeply as normal tattoo ink. The electro-optic laser, however is expensive and therefore, many clinics which advertise laser removal do not actually own one.

As for pain, it depends on the individual. In some cases, clients have fallen asleep while I have completed treatment. In other cases, clients experience pain across the temples or above the ears during treatment. Most clients rate their pain on a scale of 1-10, as 3-5 during treatment.

How long will it take for my final SMP appearance to form?

A normal client depending on hair loss extent, will take two to four treatments to achieve their final appearance. Most treatments are 2-3 hours long with small breaks as needed. The first treatment often places a very light application on the scalp to assess fading and density levels. The normal reaction from many clients is to assume that the SMP is too light. However, this is a normal part of the treatment and allows me to better treat the scalp in later sessions. The second treatment is 10-14 days later, and adds the majority of the density to your new look. Treatments three or later are usually for completing the look, addressing darkness matching or to even the density across the scalp.

What will my scalp look like immediately after treatment?

The area of the scalp that has been treated will have some redness for 24 hours after treatment, though this tends to be less visible on darker skin tones. In addition, the pigmentation will be darker for up to 7 days after treatment, again, depending on your skin tone. Thereafter, the pigmentation will appear to become lighter and softer as the pigment filled scabs begin to flake away. These scabs flake away in the first 3 to 10 days. As this happens, it appears to the observer that the SMP dots are shrinking. When the healing process is complete, the final dots are often 90 to 170 Um in diameter and blend seamlessly into any natural hair. By about one month, after any treatment, the pigments will begin to “set” and thereafter, fading will be almost zero.

How do I choose a hairline? If I have hair left, can I leave it long?

If you are unsure of what style or type of hairline will work or you, I will be there to help. With an artistic eye and experience on how to fit a hairline to head shape and age, I can help recommend what’s best. Over the course of our sessions, we can tweak and adjust the hairline for the perfect, natural result.

Depending upon the pattern and extent of your current hair, some clients are able to maintain a longer length. Scalp micropigmentation can help thicken areas so that less of the scalp is seen showing through. However, if there is a strong pattern of hair loss or just not a lot of hair density left, the client is recommended to crop it shorter.

Can Studio Conceal camouflage my transplant scar?

Yes, absolutely! By replicating tiny hair follicles inside the scarring and blending the color around the scarring area, transplant and surgical scars can see massive improvement in concealment.

DOES THIS TREATMENT REMOVE STRETCH MARKS?

Other than a tummy tuck, or the literal removal of skin, there is no proven way to remove stretch marks. The Stretch Mark Camouflage Tattoo only helps to conceal and diminish the appearance of stretch marks so that they are less perceptible to the naked eye. Think of it as having a permanent filter, taking away the white contrast of your scars.

IS THE TREATMENT SUITABLE FOR ALL SKIN TYPES?

Generally, yes! However, there are a small number of people who the treatment would not be suitable for. Your stretch marks and scars need to be at least two years old, lighter than your skin tone and completely healed. Booking a virtual consultation can help determine if you’re a candidate for this procedure and is required for all clients.

CAN I GET TATTOOED IF MY SKIN IS ALREADY TANNED?

We prefer to match only your natural skin tone, and require that our clients postpone their session until their tan has faded. This ensures that we are able to custom blend an ink color that will look most natural whether you’re tanned or not.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TAN?

Your camouflaged stretch marks and scars will not change color. If you tan, your skin’s overtone will darken, but your stretch marks will remain the same color as your natural skin-toned ink tattoo. Overall, your stretch marks will still be camouflaged because the “white” is no longer there. In short, there’s less of an obvious contrast. Here’s a great video explaining what happens to your stretch mark tattoos when you tan.

WILL IT HURT? DO YOU NUMB YOUR CLIENTS?

The Stretch Mark Camouflage Tattoo is a penetrative skin procedure so a small amount of discomfort will be experienced. Usually on a scale 1-10 (10 being most painful), the average consensus is a 6 or 7. We do not numb our clients to avoid any interference to the purity and insertion of pigment into the scar. In addition, your pain receptors will be heightened if you’re on your monthly cycle, and so we suggest you book your session/touch ups accordingly.

CAN I GET THE TREATMENT WHILE PREGNANT OR BREAST-FEEDING?

Congratulations on your pregnancy, but unfortunately, we are unable to treat women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. We look forward to treating you once your little one is weaned and your scars have been fully healed (usually within two years).

HOW WILL I LOOK IMMEDIATELY AFTERWARDS?

There’s little to no downtime. Most Clients can resume work the same day, or even fly home after their session. It’s normal to experience redness and swelling immediately after the procedure for 1-3 days. For the first 3 days, you’ll be given strict instructions on how to minimize inflammation, speed up the wound healing phase, and how to “ice” the area and keep it clean. Over the next few weeks, the redness will dissipate and go through a variety of shades (from dark to light) until your skin heals. We’ll be in contact with you every step of the way.

HOW QUICKLY WILL I SEE RESULTS?

Everyone’s skin is different. Variables include age, diet, hormones, general health, overtones, sun exposure, etc and so it’s impossible to give an exact number of days it will take you to heal. On average, it takes 45-60 days, but if you’re prone to hyper-pigmentation (you naturally scar dark), it will most likely take longer to heal. During your consultation, we can discuss and assess your skin’s estimated timeline and variables.
*Here’s a recent case study of our fastest healing client to help you speed along your recovery!

HOW LONG WILL THE RESULTS OF THE PROCEDURE LAST?

The Stretch Mark Camouflage Tattoo is a penetrative skin treatment that’s only been around for 6-7 years. According to our industry, it’ll last 5 years, or more provided that the correct after-care procedures are adhered to. You may or may not need a touch up after 5-6 years. Remember, a stretch mark is a scar and so the skin is trickier to penetrate. In addition, as we age, all tattoos transition and change on our skin because there’s less elasticity and melanin production. This can effect your stretch mark camouflage tattoo, as well.

WHAT IS THE COST OF THE PROCEDURE?

The total cost of the procedure varies greatly per technician and is dependent on the location and severity of the stretch marks or scar requiring treatment. Studio Conceal charges anywhere between $500-$2,000/ per area. We require an initial consultation (in-person or virtual) free of charge with zero pressure, during which the final cost can be determined by a formal quote.

DO YOU OFFER PAYMENT PLANS?

Yes we do! We’ve partnered with United Medical Credit to offer easy, reliable financing for all camouflage services and training. It’s really easy to apply and only takes 3 minutes to get approved. They’ll do a soft credit check to determine your options and will be in contact with you in 24 hours. Apply for financing of tattoo treatment or training here, hassle free.

STRETCH MARK CAMOUFLAGE TATTOO VS. LASER TREATMENTS?

While Laser Treatments do work on stretch marks by damaging the skin’s outer layer and forcing it to heal itself, they do not put color back into the skin. So almost all clients who get Laser Treatments for their stretch marks still have noticeable stretch marks. In fact, many of our clients have had many Laser Treatment procedures prior to walking into our studio. Another huge difference is the cost of that treatments. Laser Treatments could run $1,000 to $3,000 per session, and can easily end up costing the client over $10,000 overall.
*Here’s a short video going over the differences of microneedling vs. laser vs. the stretch mark camouflage tattoo