How to Treat Stretch Marks on Legs Caused by Pregnancy

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Stretch marks on the legs are a common cosmetic complication of pregnancy. Some of the same forces are at work in creating stretch marks that cause cellulite.

Cellulite is a condition of dimpling in the skin of women’s thighs. The tiny bumps that appear on the skin are often compared to the tiny bumps on an orange peel. The reason women get cellulite and men do not is the orientation of the fat cells underlying the skin.

During pregnancy, a woman’s entire body expands, not just her abdomen. The hormone relaxin, which is produced about a month before delivery and which stays in circulation for several months after the baby is born, signals the sinews and tendons to expand and relax so the muscles around the cervix can dilate to open the birth canal.

Fat cells under a woman’s skin are lined up vertically so they can push out when there is pressure from the tissues beneath them. Fat cells under a man’s skin are lined up horizontally so they can cushion the tissues beneath them from injury. If a man’s body were somehow to generate relaxin, his skin would burst. In a woman’s body, there are dimples and stretch marks.

The most common advice given to women concerned about stretch marks on their legs that start in pregnancy is “Just wait, they’ll go away.” The fact is, stretch marks will usually improve a great deal on their own by the time the baby is three months old. Greatly improved stretch marks, however, are not necessarily completely invisible stretch marks.

The simplest and most effective treatment, and also the least expensive treatment, is simply to keep the skin moist and supple even before the first stretch mark shows up. A very effective product for this purpose is Mother’s Friend, which contains just enough lanolin (taken from sheep’s wool) to lubricate the skin without so much that the cream is greasy. There are no ingredients in the cream that harm the unborn child, and Mother’s Friend is not expensive. A shea butter product like Palmer’s Stretch Mark Cream works on the same principle but does not include any animal-based products.

After the baby is born, there are other options. One is application of any cream containing retinol. These vitamin A-based stretch mark cream ingredient stimulates the growth of the skin so it can fill in stretch marks as the swelling beneath them subsides. One of the most popular retinol creams is Revitol.

It’s possible to conceal stretch marks with concealers and fillers, but it’s usually not a good idea to invest a lot of money in collagen that is applied directly to the skin. That’s because collagen put on the skin stays on the skin, and only until it is washed off. The best approach to covering up stretch marks on legs is not to use concealers unless the stretch marks are red or purple. To cover up old stretch marks, or fine stretch marks, rely on bronzing agents to add darker tones to the skin that make stretch marks and lines less visible.

When is it a good idea to see a dermatologist about stretch marks on your legs? Many of the treatments dermatologists perform to get rid of stretch marks simply are not practical during pregnancy. The medications Accutane, Retin-A, and Differin, for example, may be useful for treating red and purple stretch marks, but they are not safe for women who are pregnant or breast feeding. Microdermabrasion for legs is not usually practical because of the inherent toughness of the skin. Most doctors will not do laser surgery on pregnant women because stretch marks shrink and move once the baby is born.

The best treatment of stretch marks on the legs, however, is to make sure they never occur in the first place. Regular application of moisturizing creams during pregnancy is the first and best line of defense.