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Published Sep. 27, 2021

Stretchmarks often form when your skin stretches or shrinks very rapidly, breaking down the structure of proteins like collagen and elastin that give skin its strength and flexibility. Situations like changes in size due to weight gain or loss, growth spurts, pregnancy, or muscle building can all lead to stripey marks on skin, though genetics and hormonal changes can make you more prone to their development, too. These lines represent permanent scars, but over time they can heal and fade to be nearly invisible. 

Stretchmark ointments can help fade these colorful marks more quickly with ingredients that speed the wound healing process or help your skin produce more collagen. While the American Academy of Dermatology Association has debunked several common home remedies like olive oil and cocoa butter, research suggests that products containing hyaluronic acid, a potent moisturizer, and certain types of retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, can get your skin looking smooth and even more quickly than it can on its own. Here are a few stretchmark ointments, creams, and oils to aid the healing process. 
(Note: Retinoids are not recommended during pregnancy, so expectant parents should take note of ingredients before purchasing!)

How We Chose The Products

Methodology

After researching stretchmarks, we scoured the web for products that contain the ingredients that can actually help heal them. We dove deep into research on the efficacy of various skincare actives, and on the safety of various substances while pregnant and nursing. We based our recommendations on expert advice, user reviews, and personal experience.

The Best Stretchmark Ointments: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Bio-Oil Skincare Oil

Rave Reviews

This stretch mark oil has legions of fans and comes at a very affordable price. Bio-Oil

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Why It Made the Cut: With more than 7,000 5-star reviews on Amazon at the time of publication, Bio-Oil reigns supreme in the world of stretchmark treatments. You can use it on any type of skin, anywhere on your body, and users report marked improvement in skin tone and elasticity. 

Specs:

  • Contains vitamins A and E
  • Soothing rosemary, chamomile, and calendula oil formula 
  • Non-comedogenic

Pros:

  • Suitable for use on face 
  • Highly moisturizing 
  • Also helps treat scars and acne 

Cons:

  • Contains some Vitamin A, which is not recommended for pregnant people in high doses
  • Oil formula may stain clothes 

Bio-Oil is a tough product to beat by reputation alone. In a 2016 study that tried to suss out which products pregnant people used to prevent stretchmarks, more than one-third of participants used Bio-Oil. One subject told researchers that they picked the product because they “hear[ed] lots about Bio-oil everywhere.” The treatment has more than 7,600 five-star reviews on Amazon alone, with users reporting success in improving dry skin, dark spots, acne, scarring, and, of course, the appearance of stretchmarks. 

Bio-Oil contains a mix of oils, including the company’s own innovative PurCellin Oil, which is designed to dry quickly, leave skin moisturized, and help keep active ingredients like vitamins from just rubbing off your skin. Those active ingredients include several plant extracts intended to soothe and hydrate skin, as well as vitamin E, which promotes wound healing, and vitamin A, which has been shown to help reduce the appearance of stretchmarks and other scars. 

There’s not a lot of evidence one way or the other on whether regular application of Bio-Oil can prevent stretchmarks, but there is some evidence that it can reduce the severity of stretchmarks and help them heal more quickly. 

But is Bio-Oil safe to use during pregnancy? The answer is a bit complicated. For starters, while pregnant people are currently advised not to use topical products containing retinoids and other forms of vitamin A, there isn’t a lot of data out there on how much these substances actually increase the rate of birth defects. Some studies actually suggest they’re safe to use. (Note: The evidence on orally ingesting these substances is much more clear, and pregnant people should definitely avoid doing that.) Bio-Oil’s manufacturer has confirmed that the level of Vitamin A contained in the product are low enough that, when you account for the fact that absorbing vitamins through your skin is less effective at getting them into your system than consuming them, a pregnant person would have to apply nearly two bottles a day to be in any danger. Still, given the lack of certainty and solid medical advice around vitamin A and pregnancy, it’s understandable if pregnant people feel more comfortable avoiding the product. 

Best Value: Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Massage Lotion For Stretch Marks

Budget-Friendly Find

This classic lotion uses all-natural ingredients, is safe for use during pregnancy, and can be found at your drugstore. Palmer’s

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Why It Made the Cut: If affordability and all-natural ingredients are your top priorities in a stretchmark treatment, this drugstore favorite will provide excellent moisturization to help keep your skin supple and healthy. 

Specs: 

  • Contains cocoa butter, shea butter, and vitamin E 
  • Free of mineral oil, parabens, and phthalates
  • Lotion formula 

Pros:

  • Can be used all throughout pregnancy
  • Suitable for sensitive skin
  • Moisturizes skin for 48 hours 
  • Inexpensive 

Cons:

  • May be less effective than products containing vitamin A or hyaluronic acid 
  • Some Amazon reviewers report fake sellers 

If you want a cheap, completely natural treatment to prevent stretchmarks, a good moisturizer is your best bet—while it won’t make stretchmarks disappear, it may help keep your skin healthy and elastic enough to minimize the number that form in the first place, and help your body heal them a bit more quickly. 

Given that most pregnancy-safe stretchmark creams are essentially just good moisturizers, you might be hesitant to drop a lot of money on the purchase. Luckily, Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Massage Lotion offers a wildly popular option you can find cheap at any drugstore. 

The shea butter, cocoa butter, vitamins, and botanical extracts found in Palmer’s may not eliminate your stretch marks, but they will help keep your skin healthy and moisturized with regular use. You can rest easy knowing that the product’s ingredients are definitely pregnancy-approved. 

If you’re tired of rubbing in creams and oils, you can even get a belly-sized sheet mask containing the same moisturizing ingredients. 

Best for Pregnancy: Mustela Maternity Stretch Marks Cream for Pregnancy

Safe During Pregnancy

This ultra-hydrating cream is formulated to keep your skin moisturized and help reduce the appearance of stretchmarks. Mustela

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Why It Made the Cut: This thick, ultra-moisturizing cream is formulated specifically for pregnant and breastfeeding people, and gets rave reviews from parents for keeping skin supple and elastic with regular use. 

Specs: 

  • Contains shea butter and plant extracts to promote collagen production
  • Free of fragrances, caffeine, alcohols, parabens, phthalate, retinols, and phenoxyethanol and certified safe for pregnancy 
  • Vegan

Pros:

  • Ingredients certified by independent lab testing
  • Fast-absorbing cream formula 
  • Improves skin elasticity to help minimize the development of stretchmarks

Cons:

  • May be less effective than products containing vitamin A 
  • Some users report unpleasant smell 

While products containing vitamin A or retinoids are shown to be the most effective at treating stretchmarks, you certainly won’t make your skin more prone to developing them if you focus on keeping it as healthy as possible. That’s where products like Mustela Maternity come in: This is essentially just a super-rich, ultra-hydrating moisturizer, designed to absorb quickly so it can be applied multiple times a day without leaving you feeling greasy or soiling your clothes. It’s also absolutely, definitely safe to use as frequently as you like while pregnant. 

Mustela’s cream doesn’t contain any ingredients known for magically minimizing stretchmarks, but it’s still wildly popular among pregnant people. That’s because its benign ingredients support overall skin health and elasticity, which may make you slightly less prone to developing large and dark stretchmarks, and may help your skin heal slightly more quickly when stretchmarks do form. Use it regularly, especially after bathing and showering, as it will help lock in the moisture on your skin. 

Best with Retinol: Paula’s Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment

Post-Pregnancy Powerhouse

This popular body treatment is made with powerful retinols that are effective in fading stretch marks after pregnancy in addition to acne scars, body acne, and sagging skin. Paula’s Choice

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Why It Made the Cut: Retinols are crucial for making stretch marks disappear more quickly. Skincare addict cult-favorite brand Paula’s Choice offers a potent, affordable formula that won’t irritate your skin. 

Specs:

  • Contains retinol, vitamin C, vitamin E, shea butter, and evening primrose oil
  • Paraben-free and fragrance-free 
  • Lightweight cream formula 

Pros:

  • Certified cruelty-free 
  • Highly effective at lightening stretchmarks and smoothing skin
  • Absorbs quickly
  • Formulated and manufactured in the USA 

Cons:

  • Somewhat expensive
  • Frequently out of stock 
  • Not suitable for use while pregnant or breastfeeding

When it comes to retinol-packed body creams, nothing can beat Paula’s Choice. The lightweight formula absorbs quickly enough not to stain your clothes or sheets, making it perfect for bedtime application. And while the fact that it contains retinol means that it’s not recommended for use while pregnant or nursing, that active ingredient also means it’s actually capable of making your stretchmarks fade more quickly. This product is such a crowd favorite that it frequently sells out, both on the manufacturer’s website and on Amazon—so it’s a good idea to stock up. 

Paula’s Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment also contains powerful hydrating agents, so most users won’t need to apply additional moisturizers on top of the cream. Used daily, it should start to lighten stretchmarks and scars within a few weeks. Reviewers also report success in treating body acne, dark spots, and wrinkles, uneven skin texture, and sagging skin. 

Retinol can increase your skin’s sensitivity to light. If you’re applying this body cream in the morning, make sure to apply an SPF on top.  

Best Budget Retinoid for Stretchmarks: Acne Treatment Differin Gel

Prescription-Strength

This gel was developed for acne, but its retinoids help reduce stretchmarks at an affordable cost. Differin

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Why It Made the Cut: Retinols and retinoids are highly effective at reducing the appearance of stretchmarks, but they can be expensive. Differin offers a gentle-but-powerful retinoid at drugstore prices. 

Specs:

  • Contains Adapalene 0.1 percent (retinoid)
  • Oil free, alcohol free, fragrance free, non-comedogenic
  • Light, water-based gel

Pros:

  • Prescription-strength OTC retinoid at an affordable price
  • Gentle on skin, but highly effective at eliminating stretchmarks and other scars
  • Can also be used to treat fine lines and acne on face 
  • Increases cell production and reduces inflammation

Cons:

  • More expensive than non-retinoid products
  • Not recommended for use during pregnancy
  • Does not contain moisturizer

It’s right there in the name: Differin’s Acne Treatment gel isn’t marketed for treating stretchmarks. But as we’ve explained, retinols, and retinoids are pretty much the only active ingredients that are proven to significantly reduce the appearance of these and other scars. 

This Differin product is designed to go on your face, which means the formula is designed to be gentle. But it’s also one of the strongest, cheapest retinoid products you can get without a prescription. Apply a thin layer of the gel to your stretchmarks each night before bedtime, and you’re likely to soon see improvement in their depth, size, and color as the retinoid encourages new cells to grow and helps get rid of dead skin. 

Unlike the other products on this list—all of which are designed specifically for treating stretchmarks—Differin’s acne gel is not a moisturizer. In fact, because retinoids can make skin a bit sensitive and flaky, it’s especially important for you to regularly use a good moisturizer in addition to the Differin gel. Retinoids can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to light. If you’re applying this gel in the morning, make sure to put an SPF on top.  

Remember that retinoids are not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so you should save such treatments for after you’re done nursing.

Things to Consider Before Buying Stretchmark Creams and Treatments

Pregnancy or Nursing

For most people, retinols and retinoids are the best way to help stretchmarks heal and fade more quickly. These compounds, which are derived from vitamin A, help increase cell turnover to get skin healing more quickly. 
But retinols and retinoids are not recommended for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, as some studies have linked high levels of these compounds to an increased risk of birth defects. If you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, the safest products for you to use will simply keep skin healthy and moisturized, which may make it more elastic and help it heal more quickly.

Prevention or Healing

There isn’t much data on effectively preventing stretchmarks, though many dermatologists recommend keeping skin generally healthy and well-moisturized to help it withstand stretching. 

To help existing stretchmarks fade more quickly, your best option is to use a retinol or retinoid. But the same common sense still applies; if your skin is healthier and more moisturized, it should heal a bit more quickly.

FAQS

Q: Are there any at-home remedies for stretchmarks?

Studies have not found any of the typical at-home remedies for stretchmarks to be particularly effective.

Q: What are stretchmarks?

Stretchmarks form when your skin stretches or shrinks rapidly enough to break down the structure of proteins like collagen and elastin. These lines represent permanent scars, but over time they can heal and fade to be nearly invisible. 

Q: How quickly these products fade stretchmarks?

No stretchmark cream will fade your stretchmarks overnight, but most stretchmarks will fade on their own over the course of a year or so. Stretchmark treatments like the ones highlighted here may speed up that healing by a few weeks or months, depending on their active ingredients. Stretchmarks will not disappear, but they will fade in color, and may become more shallow and less noticeable.

Final Thoughts

If you’re in a position to use a retinol, our favorite product—and the most effective one we’ve found—is Paula’s Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment. But given that many people concerned about stretchmarks are pregnant or nursing, our top choice overall is Bio-Oil, which users say can improve all manner of skin concerns and which should be safe for anyone to use.

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