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There’s no denying that stretch marks are one seriously unsightly skin issue. Whether they pop up on your breasts, belly, or butt, no one wants to have to deal with these less-than-pretty stripes. In order to best understand how to both treat and prevent them, it’s important to first understand what causes stretch marks. True to their name, these lines appear when the skin stretches—or shrinks—quickly. Most commonly, stretch marks are associated with pregnancy for this very reason, though they can also crop up after weight loss or gain, or even during growth spurts in kids and teens. These sudden changes cause the collagen and elastin—essential proteins for maintaining skin’s elasticity and structure—to breakdown; the stretch marks then start to show up on the surface of the skin as it heals.
The bad news: Because stretch marks are essentially a scar, there’s no way to permanently get rid of them, particularly when you’re using just topical treatments. (In-office laser procedures are the best bet for the most effective and permanent removal.) The good news: There are plenty of creams out there that can both help fade and prevent them. Because when it comes to stretch marks, the best offense is a good defense; keeping your skin healthy and hydrated can go a long way to decreasing the likelihood that these annoying lines will ever appear in the first place. Ahead, the top stretch mark creams out there.
Best Overall: Mederma Stretch Marks Therapy
This paraben-free formula earns points for both helping to prevent new stretch marks from forming and treating existing ones, too. For prevention purposes it contains a combination of hydrating hyaluronic acid and dimethicone; increasing moisture in the skin keeps it more elastic and less likely to tear and scar. But it doesn’t stop there: Cepalin, a botanical ingredient proprietary to the brand, and centella asiatica (another plant extract known for its outstanding skin soothing and healing properties) help to fade the appearance of any current marks.
Best Budget Option: Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula For Stretch Marks
This brand has a cult-like following for its variety of cocoa butter-based lotions and creams; this one in particular is a fan favorite among pregnant women and anyone looking to address stretch marks. At work is a laundry list of ingredients that work together to help keep skin moisturized and more elastic for up to 48 hours.
There’s cocoa butter, of course, plus shea butter, both of which deliver a heavy hit of hydration. It also contains lutein, a powerful antioxidant that helps support stretching skin, nourishing vitamin E, as well as argan oil, known to help reduce the appearance of scars. And at such a wallet-friendly price, you can slather it on with reckless abandon without having to worry about breaking the bank every time you need to pick up a new bottle. It comes in a lotion version too, choice for those who prefer a lighter texture and consistency.
Best for Prevention: Mustela Stretch Mark Prevention Cream
Pregnant women rave about the preventative benefits of this cream. At work are avocado peptides, which reinforce skin elasticity, and galactoarabinan (say that five times fast), a patented ingredient that helps skin withstand stretching. In a study of 26 women who used this throughout their pregnancy, a whopping 96 percent didn’t develop any stretch marks at all. Also nice: It comes in a fragrance-free version too.
Best to Use During Pregnancy: Earth Mama Belly Butter
With a blend of organic herbs and essential oils in a creamy shea butter base, this is ideal for expectant moms to slather on hips, belly, and breasts—and is just as safe and effective to use post-pregnancy, too. Not only does it help prevent stretch marks, it also helps soothe itch, a common side effect that comes with stretch marks. And while it doesn’t contain any synthetic fragrance, it does have a slightly sweet citrusy scent.
Best Natural: The Honest Co. Organic Belly Balm
What you won’t find in this rich and thick balm: Petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, parabens, phthalates, or synthetic fragrances. What you will find: A simple and straightforward ingredient list of certified organic oils (sunflower, coconut, olive, to name a few), cocoa butter, and beeswax. The hypoallergenic formula is packed with omega fatty acids that help soothe itchiness, keep your skin soft and supple, and reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Use it as often as you’d like, being sure to rub it well into skin; the more you massage and rub in any stretch mark cream, the more effective it will be.
Best Patch: StretchPatch
It’s not just creams and lotions that can help minimize the look of stretch marks. This innovative treatment features a lotion-infused adhesive patch that delivers 18 different ingredients that help with skin regeneration and aid in collagen production. The mess-free, flesh-colored patches stick to skin for up to 10 hours, making them ideal to use as an overnight treatment. The one caveat: Don’t use these while you’re pregnant; save them for post-pregnancy and after you’re done breastfeeding. But if your stretch marks aren’t pregnancy-related, these are ideal, and work well to treat scars, too.
Best Multi-Tasker: Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil
This one little bottle can do it all, not only helping diminish the look of stretch marks, but also doing the same for scars, as well as evening out skin tone, smoothing wrinkles, and hydrating. Credit a mix of botanical oils—calendula, lavender, rosemary, chamomile—along with vitamin A (great for promoting healthy collagen production) and antioxidant-rich and deeply hydrating vitamin E. This formula also contains a unique ingredient calls PurCellin Oil, which actually changes the consistency to make it lighter and extra fast-absorbing, so there’s no need to stress about it leaving behind any kind of a greasy residue.
Our writers spent 6 hours researching the most popular stretch mark creams on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 35 different creams overall, screened options from 40 different brands and manufacturers, read over 20 user reviews (both positive and negative) and tested 7 of the creams themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.