When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember looking at my stomach in the mirror, wondering how on earth it would stretch to accommodate a whole person. It seemed impossible. But, as the months progressed, my body expanded to make room for another life. That expansion came with many new experiences. One of them was itchy stretch marks.
Many women experience itchy stretch marks in the course of their pregnancy. When mine appeared I figured there wasn’t much I could do. I lathered my belly in whatever lotion I was using at the time and when that didn’t help I just tried to suck it up.
But I didn’t have to suffer through that discomfort—and if you’re dealing with itchy stretch marks right now, neither do you. There are a number of ways to treat this common pregnancy skin condition.
What Are Stretch Marks?
To understand how to treat itchy stretch marks, it helps to know what they actually are.
Stretch marks are tiny tears or indentations in your skin. They can appear anywhere on the body, not just the belly, and can vary in size and color. Stretch marks tend to appear over the course of a few months, and aren’t painful.
Under normal conditions, skin can stretch and grow without tearing. But when your body grows rapidly as it does during pregnancy, stretch marks may appear.
What Causes Itchy Stretch Marks?
The skin covering stretch marks is tight and can be especially dry. That dry skin is the result of your skin being weaker due to the “wound” created by the stretch marks. And skin that is healing tends to be itchy.
Hormone imbalances can also exacerbate dry skin issues—so all the hormones raging through your body during pregnancy also contribute to the itch.
In short, the combination of rapid growth and all the hormones released during pregnancy create the perfect storm for itchy stretch marks.
In some cases a rash can develop on top of your stretch marks. This condition is called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) and polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (PEP).
Doctors don’t know what causes PUPPP/PEP, but it usually appears in the third trimester and goes away shortly after the baby is born. Luckily, the rash is not harmful (to mom or baby), but it is really uncomfortable.
While there is no cure for PUPPP or PEP (aside from delivering your baby), the tips below can help alleviate your itchy stretch marks.
How Do You Treat Your Itchy Stretch Marks?
When my stretch marks appeared, I thought they were just something that happened to every pregnant person. I didn’t think there was anything I could do about them. To a certain extent I was right.
“The predisposition to developing certain types of scar tissues is genetic,” explains Dr. Sarina Elmariah, a board certified dermatologist, instructor in dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and a scientific advisor of baby- and pregnancy-safe skincare line Evereden.
“The genes that encode everything are still being understood,” she continues. “You may have a natural predisposition to developing scars or stretch marks.”
Though they may be inevitable for some, there are options available to help you manage your itchy stretch marks. The following methods can help heal your skin and relieve the itch.
1. Stay hydrated during your pregnancy to avoid itchy stretch marks.
One of the things that keeps skin smooth and healthy is moisture.
“Limiting the size of a scar via … hydrating during pregnancy from the inside and outside can help with how the skin deals with the wounds,” says Dr. Sarina.
That’s because when you are well-hydrated, your skin remains soft and supple—which makes it less prone to itchy stretch marks.
mater mea community member Claude Viard says drinking water was one of the ways she prevented itchy stretch marks during her pregnancies. Claude, who didn’t develop stretch marks on her belly, swears by drinking half your weight in fluid ounces a day. (So if you’re 180 lbs, you’d drink 90 ounces of water every day).
An added benefit of staying hydrated during your pregnancy? It reduces your likelihood of dealing with urinary tract infections, hemorrhoids, and constipation, among other ailments.
2. Moisturize with topical creams to keep itchy stretch marks at bay.
While drinking water hydrates your body from the inside, it’s equally important to hydrate on the outside.
Using topical moisturizers helps your body retain moisture and stay hydrated. Covering your itchy stretch marks in moisturizer keeps moisture from evaporating, which helps treat your wounds.
Moisturizers also boost collagen and elastin, which give your skin its elasticity. Properly moisturizing your skin can both heal existing itchy stretch marks and prevent new ones from forming.
3. Massage your belly with oil to protect your skin.
Massaging your skin with oil can break up the scar tissue that causes stretch marks to stick around long after pregnancy. You can use coconut oil, Vitamin E oil, or a serum specially formatted for pregnant people like Evereden’s Golden Belly Serum.
“Marula oil and centella asiatica, which are my two favorites, help to hydrate and provide the skin with lipids and fatty acids while also promoting the skin’s own production of its lipids by stimulating the keratinocytes, which are the skin cells on the top most layer of the skin,” says Dr. Sarina.
A lipid barrier is at the top-most layer of your skin, protecting you from harmful toxins. When the lipid barrier is weak or damaged, it can lead to skin issues like dryness, itchiness, and irritation. (Sound familiar?) Applying oil to your belly rejuvenates your skin’s lipid barrier and helps create those natural oils that protect your skin.
Using oil on your itchy stretch marks also reduces the friction between your hands and your belly so you don’t end up doing more damage. And massaging increases your skin’s elasticity, helping it to withstand further stretching.
4. Exfoliate your belly to heal damaged skin.
Microdermabrasion reduces the appearance of stretch marks by removing dead skin and encouraging the skin’s natural elasticity. This procedure is typically performed by a dermatologist, but at home, you can put together a simple sugar scrub to get your itchy stretch marks to fade.
Mix sugar with an oil, like Evereden’s Soothing Baby Massage Oil, and a little bit of lemon juice and scrub the part of your belly. You can repeat this process several times a week. Exfoliating regularly will help to heal the damaged skin causing your itchy stretch marks.
5. Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it.
Washing your skin with a gentle moisturizer is an important part of not just treating your itchy stretch marks, but caring for your sensitive skin while pregnant. However, what you do after your shower is just as important.
Rubbing your wet skin with a towel can make your itchy stretch marks a lot worse. It creates heat and friction that can lead to further skin damage.
Gently patting your skin dry after you bathe is clutch when trying to prevent irritation.
6. Boost your body’s collagen production.
Collagen is what makes your skin strong and allows for its elasticity, which is crucial when preventing and treating itchy stretch marks.
“The lack of collagen during pregnancy allows for the stria, or stretch marks, to develop,” explains Dr. Sarina. “Marula oil and centella help to promote collagen development and reduce the degradation of collagen. It’s more than just putting on a barrier cream.”
You can boost your body’s collagen through eating foods rich in Vitamin C and amino acids and by taking a daily supplement. You can also boost your collagen topically. Evereden’s Nourishing Stretch Mark Cream rebuilds collagen in the body and improves the skin’s overall elasticity.
These tips can help you treat itchy stretch marks, but it’s best to implement them before your belly starts growing. Claude attributes the lack of stretch marks on her stomach to the fact that she started her pregnant belly skincare regimen early. t
“Never let the belly get to the point where it itches,” Claude recommends. “If you drink tons of water … and lotion [and] oil diligently, you can avoid the itchiness and likely the stretch marks.”
Itchy stretch marks are just one of the many changes you may experience during pregnancy. Your body is going through a lot. It can be challenging to accept the ways its changing—especially when those changes are uncomfortable, like itchy stretch marks. (I know it was for me!)
But we need to offer our bodies grace and gratitude, precisely because pregnancy asks so much of them. So be proud of your body. Show it some love.
This article is sponsored by Evereden, a baby- and pregnancy-safe skincare line created by dermatologist moms for moms.