Up to 90% (1) of pregnant women will end up with stretch marks—call it a maternity souvenir. That’s why the internet is full of creams and lotions and potions that promise to prevent these completely harmless but largely undesirable scars. By and large, stretch mark prevention products are largely anecdotal (and definitely unproven). But what about collagen? There’s a big body of research that supports oral collagen supplementation during pregnancy, thanks to its beneficial impact on skin elasticity and hydration plus its key role in all the major growth that’s taking place. But the million-dollar question is this: can collagen prevent stretch marks? Here’s what the research says.
Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
As the name implies, stretch marks are indeed a type of scarring that appears after the skin quickly, well, stretches. During pregnancy, it’s common for them to appear on that rapidly-expanding belly, but they may also appear on the breasts, thighs and hips. When stretch marks make their grand debut, they can be a little shocking, resembling an irritation or an outright wound. Depending on your skin tone, they can range from reds and pinks and purples to dark browns (2). In time, stretch marks fade to a lighter shade of your natural skin color, just like regular scars.
But these marks aren’t just a discoloration. They’re actual fissures created by the skin stretching beyond the point of its own elasticity, so they have a slightly raised, swollen feeling at first. As time passes and the inflammation fades, stretch marks flatten out slightly but still feel different than the surrounding skin.
So, is collagen the key to avoiding them entirely, especially during pregnancy? To answer that, we have to take a close look at what collagen does for your skin.
The Role Collagen Plays in Your Skin
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and it’s found quite literally from head to toe. Think of it as the glue holding everything together, and you’ll have a general idea of the role this important protein plays. Your body is whipping this stuff up constantly, and much of it goes to maintain skin health. As we get older, our ability to synthesize collagen slows. During pregnancy, our needs for collagen increase. In both cases, oral collagen supplementation (3) can help ensure you’re getting enough collagen to meet your needs. In the case of pregnancy, that includes supporting hydrated and more elastic skin structure, which makes it stronger and healthier during and after your pregnancy. Growing babies, meanwhile, require plenty of protein for important work like growing new tissues, supporting their tiny little immune systems, ensuring proper muscle function, making hormones, and the list goes on.
Collagen & Stretch Marks
Clearly, collagen is good stuff while you’re pregnant. But does that hydrated, elastic skin mean a reduced risk of stretch marks? Well, it might! At this time, there are no clinical studies to confirm the claim, just because it’s a tricky thing to test when everyone reacts to pregnancy so differently. But by consuming higher amounts of collagen protein before the tummy-stretching business of pregnancy, it stands to reason that you can boost skin elasticity in anticipation of what’s to come. In that case, collagen protein may really be able to minimize or even prevent stretch marks, which, again, are caused by skin stretching too quickly for its elasticity level.
Unfortunately, no oral collagen will change existing stretch marks. The scars themselves are the repair your body executed once the skin was stretched. There are options for making mature stretch marks less noticeable, with varying degrees of success, but nothing truly gets rid of them. Again, collagen can help improve your skin’s general elasticity over time, which is no small thing.
The Bottom Line
Oral collagen supplementation, ideally before a pregnancy, is one of the very best ways to support your skin's elasticity and hydration (among other benefits), which could be helpful in the prevention of stretch marks. But there are a few other sensible steps that are worth taking. Remember that rapid weight gain is the biggest culprit, so doing your best to gain weight at a steady pace to support your baby’s development and growth is wise. That means eating a nutritious diet and making time for regular exercise. Prioritize hydration from the inside out—smearing butters and creams into your tummy may be relaxing, but the idea is hydrating the skin and that’s best done with plenty of water every day. And to hedge your bets, up your protein intake with a high-quality collagen protein like Beli Collagen Prenatal Protein Boost (and check out 7 easy collagen powder recipes right this way!). Whether or not it collagen prevents stretch marks, you can be confident that it’s supporting you and baby in all the ways that matter.
Stretch Marks. (2022). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10785-stretch-marks
Stretch Marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them. (n.d.) https://www.aad.org/public/cosmetic/scars-stretch-marks/stretch-marks-why-appearSkin collagen through the lifestages: importance for skin health and beauty. (2020). https://parjournal.net/article/view/3863