Retinol is the acidic variation of vitamin A that comes from animal fats and products such as eggs, milk and liver. It is used medically for a number of reasons, including treating skin conditions. It is most popular in the treatment of acne, but it is becoming popular in the treatment of stretch marks as well. Retinol creams are available by prescription only.
Stretch marks, or striae, are red or purple marks that occur when the skin is stretched. If you become pregnant, have a growth spurt or gain weight rapidly, you may notice that you develop these marks on your stomach, chest, buttocks, upper arms or thighs. Stretch marks can also occur as a side effect of steroid use, diabetes or certain conditions. These conditions include Marfans syndrome, Cushing's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and some inherited genetic disorders, according to MayoClinic.com.
Retinol, when used in cream form, is known medically as tretinoin cream. How tretinoin works is not exactly known, but it has positive effects when applied to the skin. Regular use of tretinoin cream increases collagen production, which helps the skin to regenerate, healing the stretch marks. Dead skin is also removed with this cream, to reveal the healthier skin underneath the top layer, and skin pigmentation is redistributed to even out skin tone.
Use and Results
Preliminary studies on the use of retinol on stretch marks is very positive. When applied daily for six months, tretinoin cream was found to reduce the width, length and severity of stretch marks, according to a 1996 study performed by Dr. Sewon Kang of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Eight of the 10 women who applied the cream had a significant decrease in the length and width of their stretch marks. Women who used a placebo cream saw an increase in the length and width of the marks. The cream was found to be most effective when used on striae that were less than six weeks old.
As with any topical treatment, you may experience an allergy with tretinoin cream. If you notice a burning or tingling sensation that does not subside quickly after use, blistering, crusting, or red scales, contact your doctor.
The effect of tretinoin cream on certain individuals has not been studied. MedlinePlus advises you to inform your doctor if you are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding before using this cream. If you become pregnant while using this cream, consult a doctor, as too much vitamin A may cause birth defects. Skin may also become more sensitive to the sun after use of tretinoin, so protect your skin from sunlight.
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- MayoClinic.com: Stretch Marks: Causes
- "Archives of Dermatology"; Topical Tretinoin (Retinoic Acid) Improves Early Stretch Marks; Sewon Kang MD, et al; 1996
- "Dermatolic Surgery"; Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks) and Different Modalities of Therapy: An Update; Drs. Mohamed L. Elsaie, Leslie S. Baumann and Lofty T. Elsaaiee; April 2009
- MedlinePlus: Tretinoin Topical