Using stretch mark creams in pregnancy dangerous, can cause congenital abnormalities in babies –Physicians

November 21, 2021

Angela Onwuzoo

Pregnant women with stretch marks who are indulging in self-medication by using creams and oil to remove the marks are wasting their resources and time, physicians say.

The experts stated that there is no scientific evidence to show that commercially available cosmetic products with claims of removing stretch marks in pregnancy work, stressing that the creams could also cause problems for babies in the womb.

According to the experts, there is no cream or oil sold in the market that can remove stretch marks in pregnancy, noting that the claims by sellers of these anti-stretch mark creams are untrue and cannot be substantiated.

The experts advised pregnant women with stretch marks to desist from buying these products, warning that some of them contain dangerous chemicals that could expose their unborn babies to the risk of developing congenital abnormalities.

They also warned that such cosmetic products could expose the users to the risk of skin cancer.

Experts say many women notice changes in their skin, nails, and hair during pregnancy.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, as a woman’s belly grows during pregnancy, her skin may become marked with reddish lines called stretch marks.

“By the third trimester, many pregnant women commonly have stretch marks on the abdomen, buttocks, breasts, or thighs. Using a heavy moisturiser may help keep your skin soft, but it will not help get rid of stretch marks. Most stretch marks fade after the baby is born, but they may never disappear completely,” says ACOG.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise, a Consultant Physician and Dermatologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Folakemi Cole-Adeife, emphasised that most stretch mark creams sold in the market are not effective in removing stretch marks.

She urged women to be careful of the type of cream that they apply to their bodies during pregnancy.

Dr. Cole-Adeife explained, “To the best of my knowledge, most creams claiming that they can remove stretch marks are fake.

“A lot of creams that people are selling as stretch mark treatment are not effective and there is no scientific evidence that they can work.

“There is no scientific evidence of their efficacy. Some of these creams could interfere with the organ formation of the baby.

“They can cause congenital abnormalities in babies and pregnant women should avoid retinol-containing creams.

“Most of the creams that are being touted as stretch mark removal are just for commercial gains. They are not really going to do much.”

The dermatologist noted that in pregnancy, the skin around the abdomen stretches as a result of the growth of the baby, adding that vitamin E-containing oil could help minimise the development of stretch marks.

According to her, a stretch mark generally is not a skin condition that can be completely reversed or cleared.

“But pregnant women are not supposed to use any cream on the stretch marks.

“They should not be applying cream unnecessarily on their skin because a lot of those creams are absorbed into the body and could be harmful to the baby.

“Women should not use cream anyhow in pregnancy. During pregnancy, the only cream that can be used is vitamin E oil and a good moisturiser in the affected area, to prevent the stretch marks from becoming so severe,” she said.

The physician affirmed that using vitamin E oil, shea butter and coconut oil is enough during pregnancy.

She further said, “Those are harmless substances that will help with stretching of the skin during pregnancy.

“All other substances that are mixed with different things can contain dangerous chemicals that may be dangerous to the baby. A pregnant woman shouldn’t start treating stretch marks while pregnant.

“But after the pregnancy, if the stretch marks are there, they should try using the silicone gel.”

Dr. Cole-Adeife also urged women still having stretch marks after delivery to see a dermatologist for proper treatment.

Also speaking on the issue, a Public Health Physician at the Department of Community Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Kaduna State, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, said there are certain reasons why some women may have stretch marks during pregnancy.

The physician said, “Usually when a woman is pregnant, the skin stretches to accommodate the pregnancy.

“In some women, the skin stretches beyond its elasticity and it leaves a mark. That mark is called a stretch mark. What that means is that in the genetic makeup of that person, the skin does not stretch in such a way that it will return to where it was. It is in that person’s genetic build that she will have a mark when the skin stretches.

“So, why would that person now use cream to cover it up? What is ingrained in your genetic makeup would mean that that is what your body makeup is. So, pregnant women with stretch marks who are applying creams on them will not change what their body composition is. The stretch marks will remain.”

Dr. Sokomba pointed out that not all pregnant women would have stretch marks.

“In those that do not have stretch marks, in their genetic makeup, their skin can stretch but it will not get to the elasticity limit that will make them form a mark.

“For women with stretch marks, it is in their genetic makeup, there is little or nothing the cream can do about them.

“Again, in pregnancy, women’s abdomen stretches. But that is not the only reason. Weight gain also adds to the stretch. Usually, when women are pregnant, they need to be wary of unnecessary weight gain and ensure that the skin does not stretch more than what the foetus is causing.

“Pregnant women should eat healthily and drink a lot of water to cause hydration. They should apply olive oil to their skin to moisturise it. These measures will go a long way in reducing the rate at which stretch marks are formed in those that are genetically predisposed to stretch marks.

“Also, they should do a lot of exercises and learn to love themselves because stretch marks are not as ugly as they portray them to be,” the physician noted.

Commenting on the adverse effects of anti-stretch mark creams, Sokomba said they could cause skin cancer.

“Whenever there is a genetic makeup alteration, then there is a chance for the cells of that part of the body to become cancerous. So, when creams that have different chemical compositions are applied and they are capable of causing alteration of the genetic composition of the individual, then it predisposes the person to skin cancer,” he cautioned.

In a 2015 University of Michigan Health System study, published in ScienceDaily, the researchers said most of the existing anti-stretch mark creams are not based on solid scientific research.

“Don’t believe the hype when you see those creams and ointments promising to prevent or reduce pregnancy stretch marks. Dermatologists are still learning about what causes stretch marks in the first place,” the researchers said.


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