The best stretch mark treatments — whether in the form of lotions, oils, balms, and butters — nourish skin and help it heal (it’s self-care, amiright?). Although stretch marks should be considered a badge of honor, if you wish your badge were a little less, um, shiny, we’re here to help. While many pregnancy side-effects are short-term— like morning sickness that lasts all day, heartburn that lasts all night, postpartum hair loss, or the inability to hold in your pee after a light sneeze— others are long-lasting. Some are even with us, well, forever. And we’re totally okay with that, but we’re also totally okay with helping you find safe solutions if you’d prefer these scars to fade. Enter, pregnancy stretch mark products.
Turns out, some of the peskiest and most common pregnancy hold-overs that last well after your Baby makes their big debut are skin issues— usually in the form of stretch marks or hyperpigmentation (aka melasma, or “pregnancy mask”). Stretch marks are also hormone-related, and they also happen when our skin stretches (or shrinks) in a short amount of time. They can happen to non-pregnant folk too—from growth spurts or weight gain/loss. “When stretch marks are forming initially, collagen, which is responsible for the structure of our skin, becomes thickened and then heals with an abnormal pattern,” explains Papri Sarkar, M.D., a dermatologist in Brookline, Massachusetts. “In addition, elastin, which is responsible for the ability of our skin to snap back to shape, is decreased.” The result? Lovingly loose skin that starts out red or purple and then gradually fades to whitish lines that are sunken into the skin.
The good news about stretch marks? They get better over time (in other words, they fade). And, in the interim, there are some really great products out there that can help them fade faster. Here are some answers to FAQ, as well as dermatologist-recommended products that tackle stretch marks.
What causes stretch marks?
“Stretch marks happen when the skin expands faster than it can keep up with, leading to an inflammatory response that causes redness before turning lighter in the healing phase,” explains Erum Ilyas, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. That means they can form with weight or muscle gain, and of course, during pregnancy. With the latter, you may see the squiggles appear on your stomach, of course, but also on your bum, thighs, arms, breasts — really anywhere that expands as your baby develops. At first, they can appear red or purple, but they usually fade to white postpartum. The degree to which you get stretch marks can also have to do with genetics — some women don’t get stretch marks at all (although, most do).
Can you avoid stretch marks during pregnancy?
To an extent, there’s no guarantee you won’t get any stretch marks, no matter how diligently you try to avoid them. That said, some things can be done to help prevent these lines or minimize their appearance once your baby is born. “The key here is to keep the skin well moisturized,” advises Dr. Jennifer Conti, Ob/Gyn and Modern Fertility Medical Advisor (Twitter: @doctorjenn). However, she admits, “The biggest predisposing factor for stretch marks is genetics: Some people just naturally are prone to stretch marks whereas others are not. Vitamin E oil is a great option for moisturizing and is good for all bellies.”
What is the best treatment for stretch marks?
The first step is to use nourishing, pregnancy-safe products — usually in the form of creams, oils, balms, and butters — on your growing belly (and anywhere else you think they might form). Because stretch marks are, in many ways, scar tissue, applying a thick emollient to soften skin can lead to some improvement, according to Dr. Ilyas. “Since there is little that a cream can do to actually treat the scars, using hydrating products to improve the turgor of the skin within the stretched skin and improve the overall appearance of the skin. It reduces the crepe-like or tissue paper-like wrinkling of the skin overlying a stretch mark.”
Effective ingredients that are safe to use during pregnancy include cocoa butter, vitamin E, coconut oil, argan oil, peptides, and hyaluronic acid. To reduce the appearance of postpartum stretch marks, you can enlist the help of stronger treatments like products with retinoids, but these, as well as other chemical ingredients and even essential oils, should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding. (And if you have any concerns, be sure to ask your doc.) Dr. Conti also recommends that moms-to-be check out skincare ingredients on the Environmental Working Group site, “which has a wealth of information about various skincare products and their safety in reproductive health.”
Now that we’ve covered the basics, check out our favorite pregnancy stretch mark treatment picks:
Best Stretch Mark Creams, Butters & Balms For Pregnancy
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter lotions are cult favorites, and that includes this stretch mark formula. “Routinely massaging cocoa butter into the skin preventatively (i.e. before stretch marks actually appear) may help the skin expand with less inflammation making the stretch marks less apparent,” explains Dr. Ilyas. This product also contains vitamin E, which adds some antioxidant properties to also help alleviate some of the redness. And at this price and with this many reviews (almost 22,000!), you really can’t lose.
Remember those peptides I was talking about? This Intensive Treatment Stretch Mark Butter has those bad boys. The formula also contains a bunch of other wonderful ingredients that boost collagen renewal and enhance skin’s elasticity, and help improve the way those stretch marks look. The familiar Shea and Jojoba butters blend nicely to create a consistency that feels nourishing, but not greasy. There’s nothing worse than feeling lubed up all over your body. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing.)
This Belly Balm 101, as I like to call it, is gentle, hypoallergenic, and free from anything related to a peptide. Inside, you’ll find cocoa butter, coconut, olive, and tamanu oils to help with the itching and moisturizing of your growing belly.
Belli’s lotion is made with Darutoside and Regestril, which are clinically proven to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. The brand promises that if you apply twice daily for four weeks and once daily thereafter, it will reduce the appearance of those fine lines.
In addition to vitamin E and jojoba butters, the key ingredient in this belly butter made by mom-trusted brand Burt’s Bees is shea butter. This is not only extremely hydrating, but it also has the power to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. A few other well-appreciated features of Burt’s Bees skincare line is that they’re 99 percent natural and non-irritating—meaning no harmful chemicals in any of their products, including parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, or SLS. This belly butter is also unscented, so you can feel totally confident slathering it all over your pregnant (or postpartum) body.
Best Stretch Mark Oils For Pregnancy
To anyone in the know, Bio-Oil is a miracle skincare product that is synonymous with stretch mark survival. It’s an award-winning product that works to improve the appearance of stretch marks (and also any scars), while nurturing and hydrating the skin. We love that, despite the name, it’s not greasy at all and absorbs pretty quickly.
This easily absorbed oil is rich in plant collagen to keep skin moisturized and supple. Designed with pregnant and postpartum women in mind, the blend of ingredients works to prevent stretch marks. Also, the bottle is a really pretty red and will look great on your vanity. So there’s that.
Best Postpartum Stretch Mark Creams For After Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Pricey? Yes. Effective? According to reviewers, definitely. This hydrating moisturizer is packed with the power to reduce lines, wrinkles, and stretch marks in 15 days. It works to target Collagen I and Collagen III, something known as Youth Collagen. (This is starting to feel oddly related to parenting.) Remember my desire for ridiculous ingredients in these types of products? Well this doesn’t disappoint. We’ve got some Copper Tripeptides (what?) and proprietary Marine Ferment (uh?) which work in synergy to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, so yeah… let’s do this.
Retinol is a go-to ingredient for improving the appearance of lines and wrinkles because it helps stimulate collagen, but for the very same reason, it can help treat stretch marks, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. In addition to retinol, the key ingredients in this product are hyaluronic acid, an ultra-hydrating ingredient that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water as well as a skin-strengthening glucose complex. “By strengthening the foundation of the skin, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum can make stretch marks look less apparent,” says Dr. Zeichner. It is important to note that, because this product contains retinol, it is not meant for use during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding.
In which month of pregnancy do stretch marks appear?
Again, it depends on the individual. They often appear around months 3 or 4, but they could make their debut — or worsen — in the third trimester.
How long does it take for pregnancy stretch marks to go away?
While they may not “go away” entirely, they should be much less noticeable 6 to 12 months postpartum. Also, the products above can help!