Stretch mark creams are designed to prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks or striae. Stretch marks are tears in the dermis, or middle layer of the skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. They initially appear as rough, red or purple lines and eventually fade to silvery white. Any rapid weight gain, including pregnancy, may cause stretch marks, particularly on the belly, breasts, thighs and hips.
Stretch mark creams and oils are intended to moisturize the skin and improve collagen production and reduce the appearance of striae. Vitamin E, cocoa butter, alpha-hydroxy acids and other ingredients are commonly used to treat stretch marks. While skin elasticity and the tendency toward stretch marks is primarily genetic, many women strive to reduce or eliminate these unsightly mementos of pregnancy or weight gain.
Stretch mark products intended for use during pregnancy to prevent stretch marks are predominantly rich, vitamin-enriched moisturizers. The most common of these and most popular are cocoa butter-based creams, like Palmer’s Cocoa Butter and Formula and Tummy Honey. While applying these may be soothing, they have no therapeutic value, according to the Mayo Clinic. They also pose no actual risk and will treat dry or irritated skin, common in pregnancy.
Several over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are well reviewed and may improve stretch marks, according to the Stretch Mark Cream website. Revitol cream may be used before, during and after pregnancy. Squalene oil, Vitamin D-3, Vitamin A and Vitamin E work together to encourage new skin cell growth. Mederma is a treatment marketed to reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks, according to the Mederma website. TriLastin cream includes elastin, collagen and soy protein to help rebuild the structure of the skin.
New stretch marks can be treated effectively with tretinoin cream, like Retin-A, available with a prescription from your dermatologist. If you need to treat stretch marks from weight gain, rather than pregnancy, this can be an excellent option. Women may opt for Retin-A treatment postpartum if not breastfeeding. While ineffective on older stretch marks, tretinoin may help to rebuild collagen in stretch marks less than six weeks old, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some stretch mark creams are designed for pregnancy, while others include ingredients that may not be safe for the developing fetus. If you are hoping to reduce or prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, choose a product designed especially for your situation, like a cocoa butter cream or Revitol. Avoid Retin-A products and more aggressive treatments during pregnancy.