How I avoided stretch marks with pregnancy and got rid of old stretch marks too!

I always thought this was a myth, and that it was impossible to avoid stretch marks or to get rid of stretch marks. My back is actually covered in stretch marks from when I used to be a professional ice skater, and my legs were, too, from all the stretching. But my tummy? No stretch marks. And I managed to diminish the ones on my legs, too! I’ve had those since I was 12! Okay, full disclosure, there’s the tiniest little scattering to the left of my belly button but check out the pics below to compare my belly to the stretch marks on my back, I am still shocked by how well this worked. I am 9 months postpartum.

Here’s how I did it. As they say, prevention is the best cure. It’s important to know that buying products won’t solve the problem by itself, you need to know how to use them, and you need to actually do it daily. When I was pregnant my skin got very sensitive so I had to be very careful what products I used. I all but stopped doing my facial skincare routine and had to completely avoid products containing retinol or hyaluronic acid, which are usually skincare staples for me, so pregnancy was a challenge to completely re-think my skincare routines and make them more natural. Links to products are further down.

 

  1. From about the second trimester, I tried to avoid exercising my stomach muscles. I cut my usual workout down to just gentle “granny yoga” or “chair yoga” every day. The goal was to stay in shape but to make sure my body prioritised growing a healthy baby not growing my muscles! I still did a bit of walking every day, and in my third trimester, I did a bit more, to prepare my body for labour (I had a C-section in the end but I really, really wanted to try for a v-birth).
  2. During the third trimester, I followed the brilliant active birth “hip wiggle” workout produced by Ulster Hospital (where I gave birth) available here on Youtube. This got the skin moving in all the right ways, opening up the hips and gently stretching which helped me avoid stretch marks. I did 15-30 minutes per day from 34 weeks pregnant.
  3. During every shower, I used a sponge and shower gel and massaged in gentle circles all over my body. This breaks up cellulite and scar tissue and increases cell turnover which promotes skin healing and renewal.
  4. After every shower, I gently massaged my growing stomach. Most days I used body lotion and Innisfree soybean essence. Once or twice a week I used either the Therapy? massage bar from Lush or grapeseed oil. I used this time to connect with my baby and tell them they were loved, wanted, and that we were looking forward to their arrival when they were ready.
  5. I took my prenatal vitamins every single day after the first trimester (I was too sick to take tablets in the first trimester but I’d been taking them daily for 6 months beforehand in preparation for this). These are especially formulated to give you the extra boost you need to grow the healthiest baby possible. They are also good for your skin, hair and nails.
  6. I tried to get at least 50g of protein everyday. Because I am dairy free, this came from peanut butter, nuts, pumpkin seeds, Silk soy milk, Silk almond milk (the UK equivalent to Silk soy milk is probably Alpro soya growing up milk but read the label to check the protein), textured vegetable protein (aka soy mince or TVP) and tofu. I also used vegan protein powder to add to my smoothies. The recommendation is 75g of protein per day but, living in a foreign country where food wasn’t as easy to source as it is in the west, I generally averaged about 55g (and this required a lot of effort, dairy free homemade lattes and peanut butter on everything).
  7. I drank a lot of fruit juice and worked hard to eat as many different types of fruit and vegetables as possible.
  8. I took lots of baths (with no bath bubbles). Usually I kept these at 37-38 degrees Celsius (just below 100F), although when I was in Japan I used the hot baths because there’s no scientific evidence that this is problematic for babies.
  9. I didn’t wear any kind of support band or compression band either during or after pregnancy. I tried about three different ones but I found they stopped my body’s natural movements and made me feel squashed, and I didn’t like that.
  10. I didn’t wear a bra until 7 months pregnant because I couldn’t get a maternity bra in China that fitted over my bump, so I eventually picked one up from Mothercare in Ireland and I highly recommend a shaped maternity bra.
  11. I didn’t wear anything at all with a waistline after I was about 6 weeks pregnant. No hose, no leggings, no trousers, no skirts… I stuck to dresses and flat sandals, and if I was cold, socks. This was on the advice of my ob-gyn in China, and I’ve heard this is also what they advise you in Japan and South Korea. My goal was to let my body grow and stretch in its most natural way possible, without being forced into a certain position or shape by clothing. They tell you to do this to protect the growing baby, and ensure blood flow to the womb, and I 100% get behind this. I don’t know if it’s why I had no pregnancy issues this time but seriously it was so comfortable. I met pregnant women in Ireland who were barely standing up at 7 months pregnant and I was still able to walk easily, clean my new house and carry furniture until about 4 days before the baby came, when a disastrous membrane sweep seemed to have moved the baby into an oblique lie. People can say I’m crazy, but I think our “maternity fashion” has a lot to answer for in the west and at the end of the day, I have the lack of stretch marks to prove it.
  12. After I had the baby, I continued using grapeseed oil and the Therapy? massage bar, as well as using a sponge to massage my skin in the shower.

The interesting thing about all this is, it actually helped heal stretch marks I’ve had on my legs since I was about 12 from doing excessive amounts of stretching for sport reasons (but the ones on my back are still vivid). I didn’t work on the ones on my back at all with any kind of skincare products (silly me) and they really stand out. I am now 9 months post partum so I don’t think those stretch marks on my legs are coming back, either.

Products I recommend to avoid stretch marks and get rid of them:

  1. A good prenatal vitamin. Pregnacare is the absolute best (US link). You can get it in loads of places in the UK but it’s here on UK Amazon If you are in the US, check the ingredients of anything labelled as a “prenatal vitamin” CAREFULLY. I bought my first set of prenatals from the US in September 2018 and I was shocked by how many of them contain vitamin A, which pregnant women should absolutely avoid for the safety of the baby. I was generally horrified by how unregulated the supplement industry is in the US and I only recommend Pregnacare. I had another brand which I got from Walmart and I had to throw them away because they were really bad.
  2. Grapeseed oil. This is the only oil that is able to penetrate deep enough into the skin layer to actually make a difference to scarring and stretch marks, and it’s a LOT cheaper than the expensive named-brand oil that claims to do the same thing (I have tried that other oil and found it to be useless). I used Now Solutions Grapeseed Oil which is reasonably priced in the US. In the UK, I’d go for this one next time because it’s a LOT cheaper and certified vegan and cruelty free.
  3. The Therapy? body massage bar by Lush, if you can source it. I had to import mine into China because there’s no Lush over there. It contains Shea Butter which is one of my fave ingredients because it’s so moisturizing.
  4. Innisfree soybean essence. This Korean stuff is amazing for a range of issues and is made from fermented soybeans. I’ve put this in a spray bottle to make a DIY K-beauty facial spritz and I spray it all over my body, too.
  5. A basic bath sponge and gentle shower gel. Literally any cheap sponge from Dollar Tree/Poundland will be fine.
  6. Vegan protein powder. This chocolate one is delicious! Collagen comes from protein so you need lots of protein to grow your skin and heal it during and after pregnancy. Protein is also important for the baby.

Things to avoid:

  1. Sunbathing. Pregnant skin is more sensitive than normal skin and you will burn. A sunburn is a sign of deep tissue damage which causes premature ageing of the skin, and collagen damage, which makes you more prone to stretch marks because age lines are a sign that your skin isn’t stretching as well as it used to. Cover up, even on that coveted babymoon. I travelled extensively while pregnant, in China, Malaysia, Japan and Ireland, and I 100% recommend you avoid the sun even though it’s tempting at times. If you need to go out in the sun, it should be SPF 50 PA+++ all the way!
  2. Anything that constricts your belly or claims to compress or “support” it, unless you need it for medical reasons.
  3. Excessive stomach exercise e.g. leg lifts or sit-ups.

Here’s some pictures of me postpartum (I’m standing in front of the shower curtain and my boobs are weird atm because I’m still breastfeeding and one boob is much bigger than the other, so no bras fit properly). As you can see I only got one tiny patch of stretch marks that are very, very faint on the lower right side of my belly button. This first pic shows my C-section scar to prove I’ve actually had a baby. I’ve also included a pic of the stretch marks on my back from years of exercise, to prove I’m not genetically immune to stretch marks or something (my next task is clearly to work on those ones on my back haha):

 

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That’s my how-to. Now what I really want to know is how to get rid of that brown line that goes north to south down my belly. I think it’s where the muscles separated ready for giving birth (my entire belly button disappeared and turned dark brown because it stretched so much due to past surgery preventing it from popping out, and it hasn’t completely gone back to normal yet) but they’ve never quite gone back. I’ve been doing so many stomach exercises but maybe it will just take time.

PS I’m not a doctor so legally I have to say, please consult a doctor before taking supplements and if you have any concerns about your health during pregnancy. This article contains affiliate links to Amazon where appropriate, but doesn’t affect the price you pay for anything.

Exfoliators Reviewed! St Ives, Sanctuary, Tesco

I really love to exfoliate, and feel it’s a must-have in my beauty regime.  Over the past 3 months, I was looking for the “perfect” exfoliator.  I bought four exfoliating scrubs and two exfoliating mitts and tried them all out to find out which was best.  Exfoliating gets rid of dead skin cells, revealing newer vibrant skin, yada yada yada you all know why exfoliating is important for hygiene, stimulating cell renewal, looking your best, and all that lovely stuff.

The exfoliators I'm reviewing today: Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator, St Ives Microdermabrasion, Sanctuary Spa Warming Microbrasion Polish and the Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub.
The exfoliators I’m reviewing today: Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator, St Ives Microdermabrasion, Sanctuary Spa Warming Microbrasion Polish and the Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub. The gloves are Home Bargains Exfoliating Glove (89p, left) and Tesco Exfoliating Glove (99p for 2, right)

 

Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub: 8/10.

Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub
Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub

I really loved this one, and it’s scented with a cucumbery sort of body wash smell so leaves me feeling fresh out of the shower. Size: 150ml tube.

Pro’s: It was very gentle and you get a lot of product.  It contains sodium laureth sulphate, which is a surfactant (cleaning agent), and a lot of scrubs don’t contain any surfactant, so this one doubles up as a shower gel.

Con’s: The little microbeads were a bit few and far between so I wouldn’t be able to use this as my regular exfoliator.

A swatch of Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub.
A swatch of Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub on the back of my hand.

Tesco Exfoliating Face Scrub Ingredients:  Aqua, sodium laureth sulphate, polyethylene, cocamidopropyl Betaine, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate, Crosspolymer, Cocamide DEA, Glycerin, Cucumis Sativus Fruit Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Parfum, Sodium Chloride, Potassium Hydroxide, Disodium EDTA, Magnesium Nitrate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Magnesium Chloride, Methylisothiazolinone, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate.

Sanctuary Spa Warming Microbrasion Polish: 5/10.

Sanctuary Spa Warming Microbrasion Polish
Sanctuary Spa Warming Microbrasion Polish. The tube is in a bit of a state at the top and bottom because I wanted to use it for long enough for it to have a fair review.

 

I was really in love with the idea of this but the reality was less pleasing.  It claims to warm your skin (presumably to open pores and draw out impurities) but the warming effect lasts like 2 seconds and only while you’re actually applying it, so your fingers get warm because they’re constantly touching it, but your face doesn’t get this benefit.  It seems like a waste of a perfectly good chemical reaction.  Size: 100ml.

Pro’s: It does scrub your face, and the actual particles are quite small.

Con’s: Something about the chemicals used to make it self-heating seems to make my face unhappy and I always left the shower with a really (really) red face which was pretty annoying, and my face was also left quite sensitive so I couldn’t put my moisturizer on afterwards.  When I put it on my insensitive, normal-skin arms, the same thing happened.   I really don’t think this was suitable for my age.  While the heating part didn’t work, this product still had some skin-burning ingredients in it.  Maybe it’s aimed at people with more mature skin that needs attacking with dynamite to perk it up (why why why don’t 99% of skincare companies put a guide age on the packaging)?!

A swatch of Sanctuary Warming Microbrasion Polish.
A swatch of Sanctuary Warming Microbrasion Polish.

Sanctuary Spa Covent Garden Warming Microbrasion Polish Ingredients: PEG-8, Zeolite, Kaolin, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Hydrogenated Jojoba Oil, Glyceryl Stearate, Cera Alba, PEG-150, CI77891 (titanium dioxide), Cetyl Alcohol, PEG 100 Stearate, Trticum Vulgarae (wheat) Germ Oil, Solum Diatomeae, Bambusa Arundinacea Stem Powder, Maltodextrin, Xanthan Gum, Hydroxypropylcellulose, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Melissa Officinalis Leaf Extract, Geraniol, Citronellol.

St Ives Microdermabrasion: 9/10.

St Ives Microdermabrasion
St Ives Microdermabrasion.

As far as bottles of exfoliating gloop go, the St Ives wins hands down.  I felt my face looked fresher and more radiant after I’d used it and it never looked red and scratched.  The only reason it loses a point is it’s slightly dehydrating to my face because I have dry skin.  Size: You get 125ml of this in a tube.

Pro’s:  It’s WAY more gentle than the Apricot Scrub.  It left my skin looking its best.  It was good for use on most of my upper body (I don’t exfoliate my boobs), especially the neck/decolette.

Con’s: It’s not strong enough to work its magic on my legs, and I was still flaking when I came out of the shower throughout this entire tube of scrub which I detest.  If you don’t have dry skin in this area, this may not be a problem.

A swatch of St Ives Microdermabrasion Scrub
A swatch of St Ives Microdermabrasion Scrub

St Ives Microdermabrasion Scrub Ingredients: Aqua, Hydrated Silica, Glycerin, Sodium Methyl 2-Sulfolaurate, Decyl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Acrylates/Palmyth-25-Acrylate Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer, Disodium-2-Sulfolaurate, Tocopherol, Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Seed extract, Primula Veris Extract, Chamomile Recutita (Matricaria) extract, Sambucus Nigra Flower extract, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Cocamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Sodium Hydroxide, Disodium EDTA, Polyacrylamide, Propylene Glycol, Sorbitol, DMDM Hydantonin, Parfum (fragrance), Linalool, Limonene, Butylphenyl Methylpropional.

Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator: 7/10.

Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator
Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator. Size: 100ml.

Pro’s:  It smells nice, the liquidy part of the scrub is very kind to the skin and does leave it perked up and feeling renewed.

Con’s: I didn’t like the scratchy bits (what do you call them – clearly not beads).  They were badly distributed through the product and they were of differing sizes.  I think they were supposed to look “all natural” (like you’d just be walking through a forest and be like, ZOMG there’s some exfoliating scrub growing out of that tree!!), but I wanted it to exfoliate my delicate facial area and I felt it was too harsh in the parts with the larger particles and too ineffective in the parts with the smaller particles/no particles.  This left my face with some angry red scratchy patches in some area and other areas didn’t look like they’d been cleaned properly at all.  I suppose this is intended to balance out over time but I don’t think I’d buy it again when I could spend the same amount of money and get a lot more of a lot better product from St Ives.

A swatch of Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator.
A swatch of Sanctuary Spa Radiance Exfoliator.

Alternative Use:  I found it was really good for attacking the cellulite or stretch marks (or whatever that stuff is) on my ass!!!  My ass is far too insensitive to care about distribution of scratchy particles, it could barely feel this stuff, and it did leave the skin in this area looking fresh and happy, so I added points for this because it was useful.  So there you have it, this one’s actually good for a shiny hiney rofl!!

Sanctuary Radiance Exfoliator Ingredients: Glycerin, Aqua, PEG-60, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Polysorbate 60, Glyceryl Stearate, Sorbitan Stearate, Prunus Armeniaca (apricot) Seed Powder, PEG-100 Stearate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, /vitis Vinifera (Grape) seed powder, Lactobacillus/Cucurbita Pepo Ferment Extract, Limonene, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Benzoate, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) peel oil, Citris Nobilis (mandadrin) peel oil, Disodium EDTA, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Carica Papaya (papaya) fruit extract, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Ananas Sativus (Pineapple) fuit extract, EDTA, Citric Acid, Benzoic Acid, Dehydroacetic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide.

Home Bargains Exfoliating Glove: 2/10.

Home Bargains Exfoliating Glove
Home Bargains Exfoliating Glove

Home Bargains has some phenomenal bargains and it’s a shop I trust when I want to try new things.  This was the first exfoliating glove I’d ever tried in my life, and in the shop I’d gently rubbed it against my palm to find out what the texture was like, but somehow I misjudged this.

Pro’s:  You could use it as an offensive weapon.

Con’s: The fabric on the “exfoliating” side turned coarse, hard and rough when it got wet, and I only put up with it for one shower because it was horrific.  For all that pain, you’d expect to emerge squeaky clean right?  So I was profoundly disappointed that it had removed NOTHING and all my dry flaky skin was covering my towel.  I HAD TO GO BACK IN THE SHOWER AND USE THE ST IVES TO FIX THIS, DAMNIT!!  I really don’t think this exfoliating glove was designed for anyone with skin and I strongly recommend not bothering with exfoliation if this is your only option.  I don’t know why I still have this in my bathroom, except to make me feel safer when I’m in the house alone in the shower, because of the previously-mentioned potential for use as an offensive weapon.

Tesco Exfoliating Glove: 10/10.

Tesco Exfoliating Glove Mitt
Tesco Exfoliating Glove

Pro’s: This was the second-to-last thing I tried, and after all the others, I can definitely say this was far-and-away the very best thing I have exfoliated with recently, and it now lives looped over the handle to my shower door.  I know you’re supposed to use both of these gloves one on each hand, but I generally only wash myself with one hand at a time so I put the second glove aside so I can use it when I throw this one away.  It’s gentle enough for the face and neck but strong enough to properly get rid of the dry skin on my lower legs.  I used it with my usual shower gel, which is the Original Source Lavender and Tea Tree shower gel, and my skin has been really happy with this one.

Con’s: None, really.

So that’s my round up of exfoliators.  My conclusion?  Save a boatload of cash and buy a 99p fuzzy exfoliating glove in your choice of fun colors. Or, if you really don’t like that idea, grab the St Ives – it won hands down for a liquid exfoliator.