More than half of all women will develop stretch marks during pregnancy. Can vitamin E help prevent the damage?
Nutrition Diva listener Michael writes:
"I was told that vitamin E can reduce scarring and stretch marks. Since my wife and I are having our third child, we’d like to reduce the damaging effects of pregnancy on her skin as much as possible. Is there any truth to this claim? What kind should we look for?"
A. Congratulations to you and your wife (and to the soon-to-be big brothers and/or sisters)! Compared to the creation of a new life, stretch marks may seem like a relatively trivial concern. But if there's any way to prevent them, it would be worth a try!
Vitamin E is important for skin health, both as an antioxidant and as protection against UV damage. Applying vitamin E directly to the skin in a cream or oil is a highly effective way to increase levels of the nutrient in the skin tissue. But when it comes to preventing stretch marks, the evidence is not super encouraging.
There are plenty of anecdotal claims that vitamin E or cocoa butter prevents stretch marks. But stretch marks only appear in about half of all pregnancies, so it's hard to say whether the absense of marks is due to the "treatment" or just good luck.
In a meta-analysis of 6 different placebo controlled trials, involving 800 women and a variety of topical preparations containing vitamin E, analysts found no statistical differences in the formation of stretch marks between the women who used the creams vs. women who used a placebo. Only one trial showed a statistically significant benefit, but that product (Trofolastin) is not currently available in the US. A product called Mederma has some of the same ingredients but, ironically, does not contain vitamin E.
Stretch marks during pregnancy aren't just caused by stretching the skin. Hormonal changes during pregnancy also play a part. Keeping the skin lubricated with a good moisturizer can help keep the skin as elastic as possible but it won't do anything about the hormonal situation.
Hopefully, your wife will get through her pregnancy with a minimum of stretch marks but either way, once that new baby is in your arms, I'm sure that will be the last thing on your minds!