Almost any department store has at least one cream claiming to fade stretch marks. Many of these products contain shea butter or cocoa butter as an active ingredient. Both are considered emollients, which help to moisturize the skin by replacing lost fatty acids. But replacing these fatty acids does nothing to improve the appearance of stretch marks. It only treats dryness.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks develop when the skin is stretched beyond its normal capacity. Within the underlying layers of your skin, the connective fibers that give skin its elasticity can begin to weaken and break as skin stretches. This causes a form of scarring to develop on the surface of your skin, resulting in bands of discoloration. Repairing the damaged connective fibers or removing the discolored skin cells can help reduce signs of stretch marks. Neither shea butter nor cocoa butter is known to work in this fashion.
Shea Butter Vs. Cocoa Butter
The inability of shea butter and cocoa butter to treat this form of scarring doesn't mean either ingredient isn't sometimes beneficial. While your physician can recommend creams, the Cleveland Clinic doesn't actually specifically recommend shea or cocoa butter to reduce or prevent the appearance of stretch marks. In fact, ointments and creams that assert to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy are of little value, reports the National Institutes of Health. A cream made with shea butter or cocoa butter could be used to soften the skin and help prevent stretch marks as a result of weight gain, as seen in pregnancy.
The only topical agent known to improve stretch marks is tretinoin, according to the CNN Health website. This prescription retinoid is commonly used to treat acne but can also encourage an increase in the production of collagen as well as promote the cellular turnover of epidermal cells. This helps repair damaged connective fibers and stimulate the growth of new skin cells, reducing the discoloration on the surface of the skin and making stretch marks less evident.
Laser Therapy and Dermabrasion
Tretinoin isn't always effective in improving stretch marks, especially those over six weeks old. But other forms of treatment are available to improve the appearance of your skin. One of the more effective is laser therapy, which can stimulate collagen production and repair damaged connective fibers. The Cleveland Clinic claims that dermabrasion and other skin rejuvenation techniques may also help.
Fading and Disappearing Marks
Stretch marks can also fade on their own. Eliminating the cause of the stretching, such as weight gain, may encourage the scarring to disappear, the National Institutes of Health says.