Stretch marks, or in more scientific words Striae gravidarum are skin changes occurring during and after Pregnancy that are characterized by stretched and torn linear lesions that occur mainly in the abdomen, buttocks, and breast region of the woman and can last up to 6 months after pregnancy.
These can also appear following extreme weight changes e.g rapid gain of fat or weight loss, as the skin naturally stretches and tears to expand its area and accommodate the new weight of the person.
Stretch marks reportedly affect between 50-90% of pregnant women worldwide and around 20-30% of women who experience extreme weight changes.
In light–skinned females, stretch mark lesions often have a pinkish hue whereas in women of darker skin tones, stretch marks usually appear at least two shades lighter than their natural skin tone.
Topical Products to Prevent Stretch Marks
Despite the fact that stretch marks don’t affect the health of the woman, their ugly cosmetic appearance and the itching that often comes with them, are considered to be a pesky problem for many females. A recent 2016 study has found that the vast majority of women (around 78%) resort in using topical products to prevent treat the appearance of stretch marks. One such ingredient is cocoa butter.
The various cocoa butter products as well as similar natural products for stretch marks and other skin problems e.g dry skin, available in the market include:
100% pure cocoa butter
This the purest and most unadulterated form of cocoa butter as it doesn’t contain any additives and is derived from pure cocoa solids using a manual or semi-mechanical method. Due to its purity, it is considered to be much more potent and effective in combating skin problems compared to other cocoa butter formulations that are mixed with other ingredients. Generally, pure cocoa butter formulations are available in natural health food stores and online and sell on average for $9-20/item.
Cocoa butter and Vitamin E creams
Cocoa butter paired with vitamin E oil is another popular cocoa butter product that is especially aimed towards treating stretch marks and scar tissue. Both products are high in antioxidant fats that able to heal damaged skin fast and replenish lost moisture. It is said that this ingredient combo can prevent stretch marks during the first months of pregnancy to large extent.
Cocoa butter mixed with other oils and butters
Cocoa butter has a similar chemical structure, consistency and skincare benefits with other plant-based fats such as shea butter, palm oil, and coconut oil.
This is the primary reason why some companies choose to combine all these in their cream or serum formulations for the purpose of fighting scars and stretch marks. Specifically, all these plant-derived fats contain oleic acid and palmitic acid in different ratios, which are proven highly antioxidant substances that are able to rejuvenate the skin tissue.
Cocoa butter in today’s market is available in its pure solid and thick semi-creamy form, in oils, serums, moisturizing creams, scrubs, soaps, shower gels and bath creams. Of course, the most efficient form of cocoa butter is its pure form and possibly oil and serum form as these forms can stay on the skin for longer and accelerate the healing of damaged skin after prolonged use e.g at least two weeks.
So What is Cocoa Butter and How Can It Help with Stretch Marks?
Cocoa butter is a type of plant-derived fat in the form of thick and creamy butter that is derived from whole cocoa beans, through a simple mechanic procedure which separates their hulls to produce cocoa nibs. It has a light beige color and a rich cocoa smell.
As a form of plant-based fat, cocoa butter contains a high amount of fatty acids such as Oleic acid (34.5%), Stearic Acid (34.5%) and Palmitic Acid (26.0%) which have been found to be powerful antioxidants, and therefore useful in both health and skincare applications.
Cocoa butter has been a popular stretch mark remedy among women but the question is: does it really help prevent or minimize stretch marks?
The truth regarding about cocoa butter as a preventive and healing agent for stretch marks is blurry as there is conflicting scientific and anecdotal evidence regarding its efficiency. There are also not many scientific trials conducted on actual women subjects within a significant period of time to test the effectiveness of cocoa butter against stretch marks.
The biggest cocoa butter scientific study
Perhaps the biggest study on the matter, as reported by New York Times, was conducted on 2008 by a group of dermatologists and obstetrician gynos. The study involved 175 women that were pregnant for the first time and were split into two trial control groups.
The first group were given a cocoa butter lotion and were instructed to apply this in all stretch-mark affected areas like abdomen and buttocks or breast region daily until giving birth.
The second group were just given a placebo product and specifically a plain moisturising lotion. The results have found that they were no significant differences between the women who applied cocoa butter and women who applied the placebo lotion.
Specifically, 45% of women who were given cocoa butter developed stretch marks during pregnancy as opposed to a slightly elevated 49% of the women who were given a placebo lotion. So even if cocoa butter seems to be a mere 4% more effective in fighting stretch marks, it is still not enough to make any difference. As it is evident by this large-scale study, the effectiveness of cocoa butter as preventive measure against stretch marks is doubted.
The problem with the above study though is that, the researchers didn’t specify whether they’ve given a pure cocoa butter product or not to their female test subjects.
It appears that they’ve used a commercial lotion that contains cocoa butter as its base along with other ingredients and not 100% pure coconut butter to gauge its efficiency more accurately in the prevention of stretch marks.
Unfortunately, there are no other published studies conducted on cocoa butter specifically and its efficiency as a preventing agent against stretch marks. Therefore, we can’t really draw any clear conclusions and say with utmost certainty that it doesn’t work (or does work), from a scientific perspective.
Furthermore, there is additional anecdotal evidence which suggests that cocoa butter may be effective for some women, which blurs the truth of the matter even more. There are women in forums and Youtube like this one and this one , of different ethnic origins, who claim that a cocoa butter product has helped them smoothen out their skin and prevent stretch marks during the course of their pregnancy. The issue here is, we can’t really tell whether the reviews of such women are truly genuine consumer experiences or are sponsored by companies who actually sell cocoa butter products. It’s just anecdotal evidence that is not backed up by scientific claims and studies.
What The Companies Claim Regarding Cocoa Butter and Its Ability to Fight Stretch Marks
Companies that produce and market cocoa butter products claim that due to its high fatty acid content, cocoa butter is able to replenish lost collagen, repair scar tissue and prevent skin damage e.g stretch marks, as a result of pregnancy or rapid weight change.
It is also advertised as an excellent moisturizing agent that replaces the need for multiple moisturizing creams, ideal for most skin types, and suitable for both face, body, hair, and scalp use. Some companies go as far to claim powerful scar reduction and anti-aging properties.
The problem is, as said before, there is limited to none scientific evidence to back up these company claims.
What Dermatologists Say
If we go back to cocoa butter’s chemical makeup and consistency, one thing that most dermatologists will tell you is that cocoa butter can’t actually penetrate your skin. It simply stays on top and acts just like any regular emollient and moisturizer. This, of course, doesn’t imply that it can’t help heal or prevent scar tissue–it may actually help but it doesn’t appear to be superior to regular moisturizers who seem to have a similar effect.
There are some dermatologists though like Dr. Loretta Ciraldo though who advocate the use of cocoa butter as a general moisturizing agent in their websites and published videos.
Another New York-based dermatologist and dermatopathologist named Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, claims that cocoa butter is a great emollient and moisturizer that is able to heal and protect skin from damage. The doctor didn’t make any reference to cocoa butter’s ability to minimize stretch marks in particular, but he suggested that since it is a great emollient, it can prevent and heal multiple skin issues, including sunburn and stretch marks.
Dr, Mudgil, also claims that cocoa butter makes a better moisturizer compared to mineral oil and petroleum based products as it is more skin-friendly and natural.
Are There Any Good Cocoa Butter Alternatives For the Prevention and Healing of Stretch Marks?
Since there is not enough evidence to backup cocoa butter’s efficiency against stretch marks, many will now wonder if there are possible alternatives to cocoa butter that are actually effective in the reduction of stretch marks.
Again, there are not many scientific studies regarding the use of topical treatments for the prevention of stretch marks, but there are a few of studies that suggest that some topical products and substances can actually minimize the appearance of stretch marks. The products and substances that have shown to be somewhat effective than cocoa butter are the following:
Vitamin E oil
Vitamin E oil is a carrier base oil that contains Vitamin-E, which is a fat-soluble vitamin with well-known antioxidant benefits. Although there is limited evidence regarding its efficiency in treating skin care problems like stretch marks, a particular study has found that a topical cream that contains Vitamin E along with other antioxidant oils e.g Rosehip oil, was able to reduce the severity of stretch marks appearing during pregnancy by 6.3% as opposed to a placebo cream.
Have a look at our review of Vitamins which you can use to help with your stretch marks.
Trofolastin is a pharmaceutical-grade product produced by the established company Novartis that contains centella asiatica, Vitamin E, gotu kola (Check out our review of the best Gotu Kola creams for stretch marks), and collagen that is specially formulated to fight stretch marks.
Again, there is not much evidence regarding its efficiency but a previous study overview has found that it appears to be more effective than cocoa butter and olive oil in fighting stretch marks. Anecdotal reviews by female consumers also claim that this is the only product that has helped prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.
Bio oil is a combination of various oils and essential oils from both plant and artificial sources that is targeted at healing damaged skin and especially surface skin scars and stretch marks, as a result of pregnancy or rapid weight gain or loss.
An aforementioned study found that this the No.1 product used by pregnant women to prevent stretch marks (60.9%) whereas cocoa butter is the second most popular product, used by 30.2% of the women examined in the study.
Due to its popularity, bio-oil indicates that it may be effective in combating the appearance of stretch marks, however, there is no actual isolated study regarding its efficacy against other topical treatments.
Read our review of the best Shea Butter products to heal stretch marks
Even though there is not enough scientific evidence regarding the use of cocoa butter for the treatment of stretch marks, there are some recognized dermatologists and anecdotal evidence that suggests cocoa butter is a great all-purpose skincare agent that is capable of healing damaged and scarred skin tissue.
However, a couple of specific studies indicate that cocoa butter is not more effective than regular moisturizing agents in the prevention of stretch marks, which suggests that it is just an emollient with equal benefits to other similar types of products e.g coconut oil or even Vitamin E oil. Therefore, strong claims that it is “the best in fighting stretch marks” should be taken with a grain of salt, despite its general skin healing properties.
For more inspiration, check out our review of some of the Best Creams for Stretch Marks.