Stretch marks suck. Either they strike you during weight loss (you were doing something good for your body!), or weight gain (life happens!), or when you’re growing a human being inside your body (you’re growing a human being inside your body!), and now you’re stuck with these purpley-red, jagged little marks. And high-five for you if you’re cool with them—we really are envious of you—but if you’re not, we’re here to dispel any weird myths surrounding them, so you can get the facts on what they are, how to deal with them, and if they’re here to stay. Below, the three biggest stretch-mark myths.
MYTH 1: Once you get stretch marks, they never fade.
We have good news: This is super false. Stretch marks, which can occur during quick weight loss, weight gain, or pregnancy, aren’t a life sentence, and they typically fade over time, changing from red and pink to white and nude within a few years. No, they won’t totally be gone, but they won’t be as noticeable as they were when you first got them.
MYTH 2: Cocoa butter can prevent stretch marks.
Sorry, but this straight-up isn’t true. Though slathering cocoa butter on your growing tummy definitely can’t hurt in the fight against pregnancy marks (and it’ll definitely help with that uncomfortable itch that comes with stretched skin), research shows that it doesn’t actually prevent stretch marks. The reason? Moisturizers don’t penetrate your skin deep enough to affect stretch marks, which are actually tears in the middle layer of your skin that reveal underlying blood vessels. Basically, your skin will stretch the way it needs to, and only genetics and crossed fingers will decide what happens in the stretch-mark department.
MYTH 3: Stretch marks are untreatable.
Thanks to modern medicine and a universal hatred of problematic skin, treatments for stretch marks have come a long way since your grandmother’s time. The most-effective (and, consequently, the most-expensive) treatment for stretch marks is laser therapy, like Vbeam Perfecta, which is best for new stretch marks, or Fraxel, which can be used on old stretch marks. They don’t come cheap, though—each session can cost up to $1,000, and multiple sessions are required to see results.
If that’s painful to stomach, your next best bet is trying a topical retinoid, specifically tretinoin, which is a prescription vitamin-A derivative that can reduce the appearance of stretch marks with prolonged use. They won’t totally disappear, but they’ll lessen in size and color. The downside: Retinoids can’t be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so if you’re expecting or recently gave birth, you’ll have to wait to start treatment.