Typically when we set out to research a questionable medical claim that’s associated with a superfood or other natural substance, we come across at least a few things suggesting the benefit. The evidence may not be black and white proof, but often times it at least suggests that there is a small possibility the claim is legit.
For example when we looked at gotu kola for stretch marks, there was only one clinical trial directly about that topic, but a slew of medical papers (dozens) you could say were indirectly related.
Thanks to the Paleo diet – which is also questionable, but a topic for another time – this particular oil has been all the rage during the past several years. It’s like how olive oil was in the 90’s.
People are peddling it as a miracle food for practically everything, ranging from haircare to health benefits. Pregnant women are slathering it on their tummy in hopes that coconut oil offers stretch mark prevention. We even hear of some men doing it on their thighs and butts for removal of the old scars. Some use it in hopes of helping cellulite, too.
But unlike your run-of-the-mill lotion, buttering up your body with coconut oil before bed is quite disgusting.
You’re crawling back into that same bed the next night, with sheets that are likely coated with oily residue. That may work at the Hilton where housekeepers change your bedding daily, but not at home where you’re probably using them for a week between washes.
Then again, beauty is worth the sacrifice, right ladies?
Though what if you were making that sacrifice, but not getting results in return?
What the science says…
The US National Library of Medicine maintains the PubMed database, which is basically the Google of bona fide health care information. There are over 26 million entries for medical journal articles, clinical trials, case reports, validation studies, reviews, and much more.
We were shocked at the stretch marks results…
That’s right… zero. Nothing!
We looked under both the slang as well as the scientific term, striae. There a several different types, but they all contain that same word (e.g. striae distensae are the normal marks, striae rubra are those which are red, and striae gravidarum occur during pregnancy).
We couldn’t believe that there was literally nothing within the 26,000,000+ entries which contained those 3 words.
We also ran searches to see if coconut oil for cellulite treatment had any research. That included the scientific names adiposis edematosa, status protrusus cutis, dermopanniculosis deformans, and gynoid lipodystrophy. We were left empty handed with all the terms.
Even for the most dubious food benefits we research, we always find at least some shoddy or minimal research. Almost never do we draw a blank.
Why are so many talking about it?
That’s a good question. We spent a fair amount of time looking into this and it appears to be just that… talking about it. Actually doing it is another thing.
From Yahoo Answers, to blogs about home remedies, and poorly written health articles, it’s like a game of telephone. “I heard it works good during pregnancy to prevent stretch marks…” and “You should try coconut oil because I heard it helps.”
A bunch of people talking, about other people who talk about it!
So is coconut oil good for stretch marks after pregnancy or not? We always prefer to try foods and test products ourselves, but since none of us are currently going through this issue, it’s not something we can vet ourselves.
However we did read several reviews, from new moms who actually tried using the oil for reducing old stretch marks. They documented their results with before and after photos. None that we saw were satisfied. They said there was change. Since a couple left one half untreated for comparison, their conclusions seemed fair and accurate.
Though in defense of the remedy, those reviews of using it for 1 to 3 months might not have been long enough.
How long then? Topical treatments of scars, whatever kind they are, typically require a good 6+ months of ’round the clock application in order to achieve even half-way decent results. This holds true whether you’re using creams or silicone scar sheets, which are a 6 to 8 month process if you want the best outcome possible.
Is preventing them any different?
In addition to the aforementioned sites, we analyzed reviews from over 100 women who used the remedy, which were found on the following forums; BabyCenter, Mothering, What To Expect, Momtastic, Cure Zone. For the goal of preventing stretch marks, these were the instructions typically followed:
- Began application while pregnant, during the second or third trimester
- Applied unrefined coconut oil at least twice daily, preferably after showering
- Some continued using after giving birth
Following that regimen, some – as in a very small minority – claimed they did not develop stretch marks OR they only developed a few during their pregnancy, which often appeared during the last 2 months (when your belly really balloons).
The problem? Without a comparison (i.e. the same woman having a former pregnancy without treatment) we really have no way of knowing whether it was the oil or just good genetics that was responsible for minimizing their formation.
For example, none of the “success stories” said they got marks with an earlier pregnancy, but not with this one because of rubbing coconut oil. You need a comparison like that to rule out the genetic factor.
And none of the forum posters said they left an area untreated, for comparative purposes. So how can we know if the improvement they saw is anything more than their body’s natural healing?
If you think the problem was that they were using unrefined, we did come across some who were not. Using refined or unrefined coconut oil didn’t seem to affect the striae results differently. Is it good after pregnancy? Again, the consensus seemed to be the same.
What causes stretch marks?
There are some factors you can control (1):
- Being overweight – It puts more stress on the skin, stretching it out.
- Rapid weight gain – When occurring quickly, your body has even less time to adjust.
- Rapid weight loss – Much less common in this scenario, but it still occurs.
- Getting breast implants – This is the equivalent of rapid weight gain in your chest!
- Corticosteroids – Medications like prednisone are known for causing stretch marks
But there are many you cannot control:
- Genetics – Your genes play a major role and arguably trump the other factors listed here.
- Being a woman – Females are more prone to develop them than males.
- Pregnancy is the equivalent of rapid weight gain – There’s no way around this, as a whole new person is being created inside you! It’s also NOT the time to diet, as you now need nutrition for two.
- Diseases – Marfan syndrome (MFS) and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are genetic disorders which affect the the healthy creation of connective tissue. Cushing’s syndrome is caused by prolonged exposure to the hormone cortisol. While excess cortisol can come from drugs, it can also be created by your adrenal glands. Whatever the source, it weakens your skin’s elastic fibers.
Ultimately you could do everything right for the things you have control over, yet still end up with a terrible case of stretch marks simply because you’re more genetically inclined to get them.
Cellulite is a different problem, but often times the two issues are found in the same location.
While there are different medical theories as to the exact biological mechanisms which cause the stretch marks, most are in agreement that the elastic fibers of the dermis (which is the deepest lay of your skin) is damaged and your body’s inflammatory response to heal, which leads to these unsightly scars (2). Lower amounts of collagen in the skin are also blamed.
Coconut oil vs. cocoa butter (and others)
Whether it’s this, jojoba, tea tree oil, or virtually any other type of oil, they all provide hydration to the skin they’re applied to.
For many years cocoa butter has been touted as a solution. Unlike coconut oil, at least cocoa butter has been studied in clinical trials for the purpose of preventing striae gravidarum (SG).
There were 175 women who completed a double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial (6). Out of those, 91 received cocoa butter lotion and 84 received a placebo version. This began in the first trimester and they were instructed to use the lotion until giving birth.
The conclusion? It “does not appear to reduce the likelihood of developing striae gravidarum.”
Whether it’s cocoa butter or coconut oil, if moisturizing is doing anything beneficial in preventing or minimizing their formation, the effect must be quite minimal. Because at least with cocoa butter, we know the effect is not enough to sway the results.
As mentioned up top, there has not been comparable trials of using coconut oil for stretch marks and cellulite. The current research suggests it does nothing other than moisturize them.
However, some other substances may do more… not only do they moisturize, but they also might stimulate the production of elastin fibers and collagen.
Whether you’re trying to remove old stretch marks or prevent new ones, doesn’t it make more sense to try a substance that is suspected to work in multiple ways, other than just hydrate?
Can you increase collagen and elastin?
In a nutshell, there is no proven or good way to do this for the body. Let’s just get that statement out of the way, before you get your hopes up.
For a few substances, there is some research to suggest they might boost the production of elastin and/or collagen. We reiterate the word might, as these are NOT claims you should rely upon, since there is not enough research to fully substantiate them.
Furthermore, even though they might increase production, that doesn’t mean it will get rid of stretch marks or prevent them. We are not aware of studies which evaluate whether or not they help striae.
With those caveats out of the way, here are a few options to consider.
For elastin cross-linking, research has concluded that lysyl oxidases lysyl oxidase (LOX) and lysyl oxidase-like (LOXL) are responsible.
A study suggested that an extract obtained from dill stimulates the expression of the gene responsible for LOXL (7).
That study was 10+ years ago. Another in 2011 actually used humans, who were treated for 56 to 84 days with a topical formula containing 1% dill extract (8).
It was said that “the clinical evaluation evidenced significant improvements in ‘skin elasticity’ compared to placebo.” The lateral elasticity increased by 29%.
Keep in mind this study was looking at facial aging and had nothing to do with using it on the body or for stretch marks. Though in theory, the effect may be similar elsewhere when treated.
Even though the research is preliminary at best, it’s strange how no one talks about the extract of dill weed, but everyone seems to talk about coconut oil, which has literally no research!
We couldn’t find any dill extract lotions or creams for sale (and we checked a number of online retailers). However you can buy 100% pure therapeutic grade essential dill weed oil. If you wanted to experiment with it, perhaps you could add some of the oil to a body lotion of your choice. It wouldn’t cost a lot to try.
It’s inside the mitochondria of every cell in your body, but the production of it declines with age.
As you’ve probably heard, CoQ10 has been heavily researched for having health benefits related to the heart as well as other vital organs. However very little research has looked at what effect CoQ10 has on skin.
A study from 2012 took human dermal fibroblasts (from 3 people) and cultured them outside of the body (in Petri dishes) (9). They found that when treated with CoQ10, it “promoted proliferation of fibroblasts, increased type IV collagen expression” and “increased elastin gene expression” in the cells.
But remember, this is just a study involving cells outside of the human body. It is a far cry from a human clinical trial! Some other literature has theorized as to why CoQ10 might boost collagen production (10).
We love Jarrow Formulas QH-Absorb CoQ10 and take one capsule 3x daily with meals, but we use that as a dietary supplement only and not for stretch marks.
What is this? It’s a patented ingredient which reportedly took $20 million along with 20 years of research and development to make. BCS Pharma owns the technology. Not in our words, but theirs:
“Ethocyn is the only skin care ingredient in the world that can safely and effectively return your elastin fiber levels to that of a 20 year old.”
It’s a pretty bold claim for them to make, but they actually have clinical trials which were conducted by a clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA to back what they say (11).
Can pregnant women use it? This is what they say: “Yes, safety studies prove that the product is safe for pregnant women. But always seek medical advice before trying any new product.”
To reiterate though, we are not making any claims about Ethocyn, as we are merely reporting what has been said.
The bad news?
It’s not cheap! This is a pricey beauty product that is meant for the face. Unlike a tub of organic coconut oil, which probably costs you $10 or $15, the price of this is exponentially higher.
We can’t locate any reviews or information of people using it on their body, probably because it would be too expensive to do so for most.
Plus, even if it does what the clinical trial concluded (increasing elastin fiber production), to make the big leap and say that is a way how to prevent stretch marks or improve the appearance of old ones is a totally unproven hypothesis.
The good news?
If you have money, you can buy it. The Ethocyn containing product is branded as ageLOC Tru Face Essence Ultra.
It’s sold in jars of 60 capsules but these are NOT something you swallow. Rather, each capsule is one topical dose – you break it open and then apply the liquid to the surface of your face.
If one capsule is used 2x daily, then a bottle of 60 would last a month on the face.
If – and this is a big if – one capsule can cover the entire face and neck line, then it’s possible you may be able to stretch it out to cover a sizable portion of your tummy. Though to achieve an equivalent coverage, you probably would need at least 2 capsules (and hence, doubling your dose and monthly cost).
We have seen a lot of positive reviews from both women and men using it for their face, though again nothing for the body, stretch marks, or cellulite.
If you use it, please do share with us your experience so we can report it to our readers.
Nu Skin ageLOC Tru Face Essence Ultra (60 capsules)
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.