NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Applying cocoa butter lotion during pregnancy does not help prevent the stretch marks that many women develop, according to a new study.
Stretch marks, or striae gravidarum as doctors refer to them, typically occur on the abdomen and breasts, but can also appear on the hips, thighs, and buttocks. The cause of the problem is unknown, but many women believe that rubbing cocoa butter on the skin can help prevent the marks.
Although scientific evidence supporting the use of cocoa butter is lacking, many physicians and midwives continue to recommend it.
In the present study, Dr. A. H Nassar and colleagues sought to settle this issue by examining the stretch marks that arose in 210 pregnant women who were randomly assigned to apply cocoa butter or inactive "placebo" to their abdomen, breasts, and thighs once daily starting during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Eighty-three percent of women completed the study, Nassar, from the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Lebanon and colleagues note.
Overall, 45 percent of cocoa butter-treated women developed stretch marks compared with 49 percent of women given placebo lotion. Although the percentage is slightly lower in the cocoa butter group, from a statistical standpoint, the difference was not considered significant, meaning that it may have simply arisen by chance.
There was also no difference between the groups in the severity of their stretch marks.
"Our findings do not support the use of cocoa butter lotion for the prevention of striae gravidarum," Nassar and colleagues conclude. Further studies, they say, are needed to confirm their findings in other populations and to evaluate the effectiveness of other commonly used products in preventing stretch marks.
SOURCE: BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, August 2008.