As if growing a person inside you for 9 arduous months wasn’t enough, women would then give birth, only to be faced with postpartum depression and stretch marks (AKA striae). As obesity rates climb, men too are finding out the heartbreak that comes from having your body suddenly riddled with lines from sudden weight gain, or weight loss. Hoping to remain looking youthful and vibrant, many of us have sought out every bit of snake oil, lotion, and balm to help get our skin back into shape. The results have been less than encouraging.
Short of cosmetic surgery, there’s not a lot that people can do about stretch marks. That’s the hard truth that the beauty industry is scrambling to cover up. Some people have genetic luck, and their stretch marks will eventually go away on their own. Most will be stuck with them until wrinkles, liver spots, and other issues take over. Some individuals can find reduction – or a good placebo effect – from using one of the 8 best stretch mark creams, but know that it isn’t guaranteed.
What Are Stretch Marks
To determine whether or not stretch mark creams will work, it helps to know what these striae are. Scientifically, stretch marks are minute scar tissue that is embedded in your skin. As with any other scar, they often stay of their own accord, fading or not with time. If you were hoping to remove scars with a topical ointment, your results are going to be mixed.
Types of Stretch Marks
It is important to note that there are generally two kinds of stretch marks. There are those that appear red or purple, and those that are a paler or pinkish version of your skin. The reddish type are active, and are still settling into scar tissue. The paler type are like old wounds, and happen once the skin has settled.
If you opt to use a stretch mark cream, using it during the red period is best. Those are fresh “wounds” – so to speak. Treating them is more likely to give you results than after they’ve become embedded in your supple flesh.
Do Stretch Mark Creams Actually Work
The short answer to this is “no.” The same way that any scarring is permanent cosmetic damage that comes from your body’s natural healing, so too are striae.
Most stretch mark creams rely heavily on ingredients like vitamins A and E, aloe vera, cocoa and shea butters, and even emu oil in many cases. The vitamins and emu oil are intended to help your body produce collagen, which gives your skin more elasticity. It also helps with clean healing and limits or eliminates visible scarring. The aloe and butters soothe and moisturize, which is why they’re used on burns. This combination can help some people reduce the appearance of their stretch marks, but promises of elimination is akin to claiming that a poultice will get rid of an appendectomy scar.
The mixture of skin-building nutrients and organic healing reagents is helpful on red striae for the same reason it would be good on standard cuts. It nourishes the body while it’s healing, before the marks become part of you. Once they’re dug in, they’re far harder to get rid of.
If you’re hell-bent for leather and looking to try out these creams, we found those that had the greatest effect on the most people, and were healthiest for your skin overall. But temper your expectations.
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Tummy Butter
Cheap & Easy: Perhaps our favorite choice, there’s not a lot of braggadocio or inflated price tags to make this product appear more than it is. The simple, paraben-free makeup is totally safe, wholly natural, and basically what everything else on the market has. This is as close as you’ll get to a natural, homemade cream that won’t bust your wallet with false hope. Purchase: $6
Body Merry Stretch Marks & Scars Cream
Quick Results: Most creams can offer results in about two weeks, if they show up at all. Body Merry’s mix of jojoba oil, cocoa butter, and green tea leaves tends to be quicker. Usually within the first week you’ll see some changes. The ingredients are hypoallergenic and unlikely to irritate sensitive skin. Purchase: $20
Mederma Stretch Marks Therapy
Serious Support: What impressed us with this thick salve wasn’t so much what was in the bottle, as what the company promises: Which is results or refund. Since the beauty industry knows these creams aren’t likely to help, they rarely show that level of confidence in their product. Largely created for prevention, rather than cure, the blend has Centella asiatica, Hyaluronic acid, and a bunch of safe botanicals that are good for pregnant women. Purchase: $34
Usual Suspects: Dermology is exactly what we’ve said to expect from a stretch mark cream. Lots of natural vitamins (A, E, D3), oils, and aloe go into this. It’s easy to therefore dismiss it as being middle of the road, but somehow it’s greater than the sum of its parts, providing fairly quick results, and good prevention as well as healing of existing marks. Purchase: $34
Belli Elasticity Belly Oil
Ounce of Prevention: This isn’t likely to help you much with existing marks, but it also doesn’t claim it will. The aim here is to start using this when you know you’re going to start stretching, or once the stretch has already begun. Mostly, it’s geared toward women who are about to start their second trimester. Equipped mostly with vitamin E, some lavender oil, and gotu kola, it’s completely safe for mother and baby. Fairly inexpensive, it’s far better than trying to lube up after the marks are already entrenched. Purchase: $34
Revitol Stretch Mark Cream
Industrial Strength: A preventative cream that can help reduce the appearance of existing stretch marks, Revitol is loaded up with heavy hitters. More than 10% of the concoction is squalene oil, an olive oil derivative. Then there’s a load of vitamin E, backed up by DL-panthenol, which is more commonly known as pro-vitamin B5. This is good for lowering inflammation and reducing itching, which is a common complaint among pregnant women. Purchase: $40
Proprietary: With few exceptions, there aren’t many creams that show more than a token amount of research. Skinception does, and the product is backed with a 100% money-back guarantee if it doesn’t do the job promised. You’ll find the two main ingredients are trademarked by the company, and are specialized molecular formulas that enhance collagen and elastin, but also help smooth out skin. Purchase: $76
Mixed Bag: This is intended for both stretch marks and wrinkles. While it has many natural ingredients, and several peptides – made to build collagen – the real story is NIA-114. This is a proprietary chemical that came out of skin cancer research. It’s primary job is to protect the body against damage, which helps more with wrinkles than stretch marks, but does reinforce the scar-reducing effects. StriVectin is strictly free of artificial dyes, colors, petroleum, parabens, and mineral oil, so it’s safe. The issue is it can take 8 weeks before results show up. Purchase: $139