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Stretch marks are common and absolutely normal for any human. Technically called striae, they indicate a breakdown in the elasticity of the skin as it stretches, explains New York-based dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla. They pop up when the skin stretches quickly—think during pregnancy, rapid weight gain or loss, and puberty—and initially have a purple, pink, or red hue, gradually fading to more of a skin-toned color.
The big caveat when it comes to treating stretch marks is that there’s no magical lotion or potion that will erase them completely; dermatologists unanimously agree that in-office treatments, such as lasers, are the best solution. That being said, over-the-counter creams can keep the skin well-hydrated and help it remain more elastic—a good option for preventing stretch marks from occurring in the first place or getting worse, as Mariwalla points out.
The bottom line: Stretch marks are normal, and you don’t need to feel pressure to cover them up or change them at all. That being said, it's just as acceptable to feel like you want to try and do something about them.
If that’s the case for you, check out the best stretch mark creams on the market.
This brand has a cult-like following thanks to its variety of cocoa butter-based lotions and Mariwalla calls this one the “OG of stretch mark creams.” Ideal for your stomach, hips, thighs, and bust, Palmer's signature formula works to treat stretch marks courtesy of a potent, velvety blend of argan and almond oils, as well as pure cocoa butter, vitamin E, shea butter, and bio c-elaste (which is a combination of collagen, elastin, and centella asiatica). Together, this combo helps increase elasticity in your skin to help ward off new stretch marks (whether or not you're pregnant). And at such a wallet-friendly price, you can slather it on with reckless abandon without having to worry about breaking the bank.
“By moisturizing with ingredients that are well-absorbed by the skin, you can improve skin hydration and potentially the texture stretch marks as well,” explains Mariwalla.
This drugstore staple is proof positive that there’s no need to shell out the big bucks for a good stretch mark cream. Shea, cocoa, and jojoba butters give this formula its ultra-rich and creamy feel—plus, it's 99% natural. Happy reviewers rave about how well it wards off dry, itchy skin, as well as pregnancy-induced stretch marks.
Shea butter is a plant lipid that comes from African shea tree nuts and is rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It's used to help moisturize, nourish, and soothe the skin.
With a blend of organic herbs and essential oils in a creamy shea butter base, this is ideal for expectant moms to slather on the hips, belly, and breasts—and is just as safe and effective to use post-pregnancy, too. Not only does it help prevent stretch marks, but it also helps soothe itching, a common side effect that comes with them. And while it doesn’t contain any synthetic fragrance, it does have a slightly sweet citrusy scent.
Try this super-sized tub of deeply moisturizing body butter meant to prevent stretch marks as your baby belly grows. It uses organic sweet almond and olive oils to relieve redness and itching, while rosehip fruit oil increases cell renewal and reduces excess pigmentation.
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.
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 proprietary botanical ingredient, and centella asiatica (another plant extract known for its outstanding skin-soothing and healing properties) help to fade the appearance of any current marks.
While this product isn’t geared towards stretch marks (it’s meant to be used after skin-tightening procedures), it does in fact work to stimulate the production of new collagen and elastin. According to Mariwalla, that’s what makes it a good pick; she recommends layering it underneath a plain body moisturizer for extra hydration. “The combination truly does improve the elasticity of the skin, and can help address both the depth and width of stretch marks,” she explains.
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% didn’t develop any stretch marks at all. Also nice: It comes in a fragrance-free version, too.
“Another staple for stretch mark sufferers, this is lightweight, easily absorbed, and can improve not only the texture of stretch marks but also the overall pigmentation of the skin,” says Mariwalla. Credit a combination of PurCellin Oil and vitamin A, which also makes this a good pick for treating scars, too. Plus, you can't beat the drugstore price tag.
As the name suggests, this oil is loaded with good-for-your-skin vitamins. Not only is it deeply hydrating—always a good thing when you’re dealing with stretch marks—but also, vitamin A offers many of the same benefits as a retinoid (retinoids are vitamin A derivatives), helping to stimulate cell turnover. Overall, this works great for stretch marks but also helps keep all skin healthy and youthful.
Yes, this is retinoid may be marketed as an acne treatment, but according to Mariwalla, it’s worth trying on stretch marks, too. “Retinoids are my top-recommended topical ingredients for stretch marks, and nightly use of this one will help fade red or purple marks over time and also improve the texture,” she says. But FYI, because it'ss a retinoid, this is definitely a no-go if you’re pregnant.
If you’re on the hunt for a cream that will not only address stretch marks but is also an all-around great body moisturizer, look no further. The brand’s founder and CEO created it when she was pregnant and wanted to fend off stretch marks, so the formula is loaded with all kinds of nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory butters and oils that do exactly that. And despite the name, it has more of a soufflé-like consistency; Byrdie GM Leah Wyar (a self-proclaimed mega-fan of the brand) notes that it melts into skin instantly. Translation? You’ll want to slather it anywhere and everywhere.
It’s totally understandable that many people prioritize using clean, natural products when pregnant or breast-feeding, which is why this cream earns our vote. It contains only 10 natural ingredients, is USDA organic-certified, and also totally hypoallergenic. Use it minimize the look of stretch marks and combat dry itchy skin on your belly, thighs, breasts, and bum—whether or not you’re pregnant.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there.
Meet the Expert
Kavita Mariwalla is a board-certified dermatologist and the full-time provider at Mariwalla Dermatology in West Islip, NY. She specializes in skin cancer detection and treatment and is a fellowship-trained MOHS surgeon, and is also a skilled aesthetic clinician.