Stretch marks are common and absolutely normal for any human. Technically called striae, they indicate a breakdown in the elasticity of the skin as it stretches, explains New York-based dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla. They pop up when the skin stretches quickly—think during pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, and puberty—and initially have a purple, pink, or red hue, gradually fading to more of a skin-toned color.

The big caveat when it comes to treating stretch marks is that there’s no magical lotion or potion that will erase them; dermatologists unanimously agree that in-office treatments, such as lasers, are the best solution. That being said, over-the-counter creams can keep the skin well-hydrated and help it remain more elastic—a good option for preventing stretch marks from occurring in the first place or getting worse, as Mariwalla points out. The bottom line: Stretch marks are normal, and you don’t need to feel pressure to cover them up or change them at all. That being said, it’s just as acceptable to feel like you want to try and do something about them.

Can you permanently remove stretch marks?

Unfortunately, most stretch marks can’t be fully removed, confirms Manish Shah, MD, a plastic surgeon based in Colorado. This is because stretch marks are technically breaks in the skin, which are difficult to repair. However, he says that there are ways to soften the appearance of stretch marks by improving the collagen content of the skin and getting the color to fade with time.

“In my opinion, the single best treatment for stretch mark reduction is microneedling,” says Shah. “Microneedling improves the color and appearance of stretch marks by creating tiny pinhole injuries in the stretch mark itself. The skin responds by making new collagen, filling in the broken dermal layer. As the dermal layer expands, the color fades because the skin thickens and the tiny blood vessels that give early stretch marks their pink/purple color retreat,” says Dr. Shah.

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If you opt for an in-office procedure to nix stretch marks, a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist will look at each case individually and determine what combination methods such as radiofrequency and a pulse dye laser might provide a remedy.

Do stretch mark creams work?

Stretch mark creams per se do not have any scientific evidence of working,” Dr. Rabach says. Womp, womp. But it’s not a total lost cause. When it comes to fading existing ones, Dr. Rabach says to look for one of the three ingredients that have the most data on improving or reducing the appearance of stretch marks: prescription retinol (which resurfaces and strengthens skin), silicone (which smooths the feel of marks), and hyaluronic acid (which plumps lines). And, as it turns out, there’s no sure-fire way to avoid them, either, and according to Dr. Rabach, there’s even a genetic predisposition to getting them. With that said, you can take steps as a preventative measure that might help.

Stretch marks can be caused by a number of things, including pregnancy, weight or muscle gain, and growth spurts. Most adults have at least a few of these scars, but some of us find stretch marks embarrassing and would prefer to get rid of them.

Luckily, there are stretch mark creams on the market that can help. However, not all stretch mark creams are created equal and some don’t even work at all – especially the over-the-counter brands that are available in most local stores.

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