Pregnancy is a beautiful time in a woman’s life. Full of baby kicks and tumbles, that growing belly is home to a precious bundle of joy. For many women, however, that growing belly also becomes the home of some stretch marks. Stretch marks are caused by the breaking of the elastin fibers in the supporting tissues lying under the skin as it’s pulled tight to accommodate growth.
During pregnancy, stretch marks are most likely to show up on the most rapidly growing areas such as belly and breasts, but other common places include thighs, buttocks, lower back and sides. While these marks are well-earned as they represent the miracle of growing a person, it’s likely they fall in the category of unwanted.
Is there anything you can do to help prevent these marks?
Keep in mind that everyone is different. Genes play a role in the likelihood of developing stretch marks (1), but that doesn’t necessarily have to be your destiny. Following these guidelines can help improve skin health and elasticity, but if nothing else, they will benefit overall health for both mama and baby.
It’s tempting to purchase “the best” stretch mark creams and lotions, but these products rarely penetrate the skin deeply enough to really make a difference. The dermis, or the middle layer of the skin, is where the stretch marks actually lie. Therefore, it’s more effective to focus more on nourishing the skin from the inside for stretch mark prevention rather than relying solely on topical products (4, 11).
Focus on these nutrients
Water and hydrating foods
Drinking enough water will help to keep the skin supple and hydrated, among the many other benefits of water. A good rule of thumb to follow is to drink one ounce of water for every two pounds of body weight. Remember to increase this amount as you gain weight throughout your pregnancy. While this may be tough, particularly in the first trimester when nausea is often present, try to sip on water throughout the day. Drinking some warm lemon water can help relieve some nausea as well contribute to hydration.
Eating foods with high water content will also add to overall hydration status. Organic fruits and vegetables like berries, melons, and cucumbers are healthy additions, especially when they’re in season.
Avoiding excessive diuretics, such as coffee, caffeinated tea, fruit juices, and sodas, during pregnancy is another helpful way to ensure proper hydration.
For optimal health benefits, do your best to drink spring water or clean, filtered water that removes potentially hazardous substances like pharmaceuticals, chlorine, and fluoride, but keeps beneficial minerals. Learn more about water and water filters here.
Fats, in the form of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, are critical for skin health, along with a long list of other benefits. The cell membrane is comprised of 55-65% fat, particularly saturated fat, so be sure to include this macronutrient in the diet. Skin cells that lack integrity with a weak membrane are more prone to damage.
Healthy fats also play a role in keeping the skin moisturized (slightly different than hydrated) from the inside. There are many fats necessary for overall health and skin health, but there are a few that specifically play a role in stretch mark prevention.
Coconut oil, a saturated fat that can be both applied and consumed, is made up of medium chain triglycerides and contributes to skin elasticity (10).
Omega 3 fatty acids, on the other hand, is a polyunsaturated fat that nourishes and reduces inflammation of the skin (12). For omega 3, turn to wild-caught fish like salmon, or a high quality cod liver oil such as Rosita can provide a safe source. Remember that when it comes to fish oils and cod liver oils, it’s important to consume only high quality products!
Fats to avoid
Vegetable oils including canola, soybean, sunflower, cottonseed, and
sunflower oils as they are rancid and introduce free radicals to the body. While these
oils are inflammatory to overall health, including during pregnancy, they are also
inflammatory to the skin and can promote cell damage. These are found in foods like baked
goods, fried foods, many processed snacks and packaged roasted nuts, creamers and
Collagen is a protein found in the skin. It is responsible for providing structure, strength and elasticity. As the skin stretches, marks can be left behind if there’s too little collagen in the skin. The best way to provide this protein to the skin is through the diet since collagen applied topically is too big to absorb through the skin.
One way to consume collagen is through supplements, either in powder form or capsule form. These are most commonly from bovine, porcine, or fish sources. Though these are all beneficial for skin health, fish collagen is most bioavailable and most easily digested (6).
A second way to consume collagen is through bone broth. Bone broth is simple to make at home, or there are a few high quality brands found in health food stores, such as Bonafide Provisions and Kettle & Fire. Look for words like “grass-fed”, “pasture raised”, and “organic” on the label. A good homemade bone broth is rich in collagen and gelatin, as well as plenty of minerals that provide additional health benefits.
Egg yolks are another good source of natural collagen that provide many other health benefits to both mama and baby.
Vitamin C is a necessary component of collagen production (3, 4). The skin holds a certain amount of vitamin C for health. For example, both aging and sun exposure deplete the skin of vitamin C, leading to things like wrinkles (3). Skin elasticity can be improved with adequate amounts of vitamin C in the diet. Food sources that provide vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, kale, pineapple, and Brussels sprouts. Additionally, you can consider taking a whole-food vitamin C supplement, such as Pure Synergy’s Pure Radiance or Garden of Life Vitamin C.
Bonus attributes of vitamin C: Antioxidants like vitamin C also are helpful in boosting the immune system and helping to keep illnesses at bay during pregnancy. It can also help with
recovery from delivery as vitamin C aids in wound healing and scar tissue formation (5).
Zinc, a trace mineral, is an important co-factor in collagen synthesis (7). Similar to vitamin C, zinc supports both immunity and wound healing, so while it’s needed in smaller amounts, it’s one to make sure to include in the diet. Rich amounts of zinc can be found in foods like oysters, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, beans, and nuts (8).
This is another trace mineral that plays a role in collagen production. Find sulfur in foods such as eggs, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, and onions (9).
While advertising suggests that topical vitamin E oil can prevent or reduce stretch marks, there’s not much evidence to prove that theory. In fact, stretch marks happen deep within the skin (2). Foods rich in vitamin E, on the other hand, can help to nourish the skin from the inside. Look to avocados and nuts for a good vitamin E supply.
What about Topical Creams for Stretch Marks?
Though nutrition is a major factor in prevention of stretch marks, it can still be beneficial to pair it with nourishing products, if nothing more than for comfort, because the skin tends to feel itchy as it stretches. It’s important to be aware that anything applied to the skin will end up in the bloodstream and may make its way to your baby. Choosing a safe product is critical. Look for products with a few ingredients that are easily recognizable and will nourish the skin such as grass-fed beef tallow, shea butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil.
You can even make your own at home (13)!
Here’s my favorite recipe for skin-nourishing cream
1/2 cup each of tallow, shea butter, and coconut oil
5 tbsp jojoba oil
Melt the tallow, shea, and coconut oil in a bowl over a double boiler.
Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, add the jojoba oil.
Place bowl in fridge until solidified.
Remove from fridge and whip with an electric mixer until frosting consistency is reached.
Store in glass jar in cool area.
When it comes to stretch marks, prevention is the best medicine. However, if you do end up with “skin stripes”, remember your body has done an amazing thing housing your beautiful baby.
**This post was originally written as a guest contribution for Feed Your Fertile Body.
(1) genes – https://blog.23andme.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ASHG2012poster-Mullins-Stretch-marks3.pdf
(2) vitamin E – http://www.cochrane.org/CD000066/PREG_topical-preparations-for-preventing-stretch-marks-in-pregnancy
(3) vitamin C – http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C
(4) starts inside, vitamin C – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
(5) vitamin C recovery – https://draxe.com/vitamin-c-foods/
(6) collagen – https://draxe.com/fish-collagen/
(7) zinc – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2981717/
(8) zinc sources – https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
(9) sulfur – https://www.drkellyann.com/all-about-collagen/can-increase-collagen-synthesis/
(10) coconut oil – https://draxe.com/how-to-get-rid-of-stretch-marks/
(11) starts inside – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25255817
(12) omega 3 – https://chriskresser.com/nutrition-for-healthy-skin-part-2/
(13) recipe – https://bodyrebalanced.com/my-favorite-pregnancy-safe-skincare-products/