Stretch marks occur when the skin has to expand faster than it can produce healthy new cells. It’s typically associated with weight gain, but it can also happen during natural body growth processes like puberty or pregnancy. Stretch marks don’t fade on their own, but there’s evidence in the research that microneedling performs as well as or better than a lot of the office treatments someone might try in order to reduce or remove their stretch marks (cite, a study in which 90% of microneedling patients see some degree of improvement as opposed to 50% of fractional laser patients).
Because stretch marks are caused by collagen being stretched too far and rupturing, it makes sense that microneedling works, because it causes tiny wounds that your body heals by creating healthy new collagen. This works for both regular and pregnancy stretch marks. This is what most treatments for stretch marks intend to do: isotretoinin, Fraxel, IPL and all the other expensive or prescription treatments seek to cause the skin to create new collagen within the stretch mark itself.
This post will offer a suggested protocol for how a home user could treat stretch marks with a dermaroller. You can read more about how I write these protocols here. The last part of this post will discuss some of the research on using a dermaroller for stretch marks in order to explain what this protocol is based on and the evidence that supports microneedling for stretch marks.
The Protocol – Dermarolling for Stretch Marks
What you need
For stretch marks, purchase a 1.5mm dermaroller or dermastamp. You’ll want a dermaroller if you have many stretch marks or if they are particularly long; you might be able to get away with a dermastamp if you have relatively few short stretch marks (you can read more about the differences between a dermaroller and a dermastamp here).
You’ll also want some variety of hydrating serum or lotion. If you’re already into skincare, look through what you have for ingredients like Vitamin C and niacinamide, which encourage skin turnover, and hyaluronic acid, which is hydrating. Retinol is also a popular choice for a post-dermarolling treatment if your skin can tolerate it. (Please note that pregnant and breastfeeding women can not use retinol!!) I will make some recommendations in the list below for serums appropriate for treating stretch marks, but there is no ‘perfect’ serum and many people will already have something appropriate.
- 1.5 mm dermaroller* OR
- 1.5 mm dermastamp from OwnDoc (also available in a larger size with 1.5mm needles)
- Vitamin C, niacinamide and retinol serum* (should NOT be used by pregnant or nursing women) OR
- For women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or people who avoid retinol for any other reason: it is really difficult to find a serum that has Vitamin C and niacinamide that doesn’t also have retinol in it (and retinol can hide under a lot of other names, like retinyl palmitate and other variations!). I would suggest you just use two different serums with simple ingredient lists rather than risk an ingredient that could do you harm. You might try this Vitamin C serum* and this basic niacinamide* if you don’t already have one.
What to do
A few days before your treatment, stop using any chemical exfoliants. If you’re using tret or any other prescription topicals, take a few days off from those too. (Start with 3 days before; if your skin responds well, you can experiment with decreasing the amount of time off from your topical and figure out how much time you, personally, need.) If your treatment area is going to be exposed to sunlight, use sunscreen diligently.
On or around the same date every month, dermaroll or dermastamp over your stretch marks and the surrounding skin. If your stretch marks are close together, you can just roll over the skin in between; if you have marks that are isolated, roll the mark itself and a centimeter or so on either side. It’s better to get more unmarked skin than to potentially miss the edge of a mark.
You can find directions for how to use a dermaroller here.
After you’ve rolled and washed your face, apply your serum or serums. I usually apply them a little more thickly than I would on a night I haven’t rolled, because you’ve increased the surface area that you’re applying to (the surface of your face, and then the “walls” of the prickmarks, if that makes sense). If you’ve chosen to use the two separate serums, apply the Vitamin C, wait until it feels like it has soaked all the way in, and apply the second. You could also choose to use a sheet mask afterwards, if your skin tends towards dryness.
Support in the Research
Justification for the protocol
First: there are no randomized controlled trials for the use of microneedling specifically to reduce stretch marks. There are published case studies. So, this protocol is adapted from the protocol used for treating scarring. I plan to write another post on this soon, so please look out for it!
Outcomes in the research
Because of the lack of RCTs, there’s not a huge body of work to go from here. Literature reviews on the use of microneedling reference stretch marks specifically as an expansion of the mechanism being actively used in offices as far back as a decade ago (see: Dodaballapur (2009), Singh and Yadav (2016).) A 2016 study notes that, in a group of 20 women with stretch marks were treated with microneedling, 90% responded to the treatment by generating new collagen and fibroblasts, resulting in thicker skin (Nassar et al). In that same study, only 50% saw similar improvements from microdermabrasion!
Another study, and an image that I want you to see: in 2010, Aust et al described giving 22 female patients with stretch marks a single session of microneedling and following up six months later. All patients displayed “improved skin texture, skin tightening, dermarl neovascularization and no change in pigmentation”. (‘Neovascularization’ refers to the formation of new capillaries in the skin, and it’s a sign of general improved skin health.) I should note at this point that this description was featured in the Viewpoints section of the journal, so it was not subject to peer review. The description of how the procedure was undertaken is consistent with other descriptions in other literature reviews.
But, check this out:
This is the result of a single treatment! The photo was taken six months later, so this is likely to be the full benefit of a single treatment. (The way my protocol is written, we are not really able to isolate the benefit of any single treatment, because treatments are spaced approx 30 days apart–in six months, you’re seeing the benefit of five treatments, not one, so this is a pretty scientifically interesting insight as far as what a single treatment can do.) The improvements in stretch marks and skin laxity depicted in this photo will continue with additional treatments.
If you’re into the sciencey stuff, following the link to Aust et al’s work will also show you the before and after biopsy images–look how thin the skin was in the sunken stretch mark before vs. how much it has thickened and reinflated with healthy new collagen!
On a personal note, this is a protocol I have used myself for the stretch marks on my belly and hips after my second child was born. I started while they were still new and purpley (the research calls these ‘rubra’ and distinguishes between red and white stretch marks) and I have seen a very significant reduction in my marks–they now sit flush with the level of my skin (instead of being sunken in) and have only the slightest purple tone. I continue to roll them once a month and am curious to see if they’ll go away completely.