When rapid weight gain overstretches the skin (most often during puberty and pregnancy), collagen and elastin fibers tear, creating these annoying—and, unfortunately, intractable—scars. But though you'll never get rid of stretch marks completely, there are a few treatments that can permanently improve their appearance.
Pulsed-Dye Laser: When stretch marks are new and still red (it can take months to years before they become white), a pulsed-dye laser can fade them. Most women require two to six treatments (spaced four to six weeks apart). Results vary significantly, says Patricia Farris, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University: Some see a 25 percent improvement, others closer to 75 percent. The treatment feels like a light rubber-band snap and leaves a bruise that lasts about a week. Cost: $300 to $750 per treatment
Fractional Nonablative Laser: Once stretch marks are white, a fractional nonablative laser (like Fraxel Re:store or Harmony Pixel) is the most effective treatment, says Chapas. It feels like electric zaps on the skin, and calls for prescription-strength ibuprofen and topical anesthetic. Four or five treatments, every six to eight weeks, can improve the texture of stretch marks by 50 percent, at most. Cost: $500 to $750 per treatment
Prescription Retinoids: Though many creams are touted as stretch mark solutions, a prescription retinoid is the only one that creates any appreciable improvement in stretch marks—and it's most effective in the early stages. In one study, when applied daily to red stretch marks for six months, a retinoid improved their appearance by about 14 percent. (You can't use retinoids while pregnant or breastfeeding, though.) For white stretch marks, a retinoid won't restore color but can help even out texture. Cost: $40
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