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Best stretch mark creams 2023: Topical treatments to nourish skin

Help prevent and improve the appearance of stretch marks by hydrating and healing the skin with our pick of the best stretch mark creams

Stretch marks – those fine indentations on the skin’s surface that result from rapid changes to weight – are a common phenomenon. The marks frequently appear during pregnancy or following changes to the body during puberty, but they can pop up at any time, particularly following any event where the skin is stretched and weakened as a result of weight gain or even weight loss.

Known medically as striae, stretch marks are a form of scar that occurs when there’s a loss of elasticity as the skin stretches, appearing most often on the stomach, hips and thighs. At first the marks are usually purple-pink to brown in colour, fading over time. The marks aren’t usually painful, although they can be itchy when they first appear.

Stretch marks are very difficult to remove completely. However, it’s possible to improve the colour and texture of the marks using a cream or oil at home. Stretch mark creams can be used preventatively, too – if you know your skin is about to stretch rapidly, a moisturising cream can help improve the skin’s elasticity, reducing the scarring effects. Healing creams can also be used after the marks have appeared, to hydrate the surrounding skin and reduce the redness and visibility of stretch marks.

Read on for our guide to looking after your skin as it stretches, and below that you’ll find our picks of the best stretch mark creams on the market.

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Best stretch mark creams: At a glance

How do I choose the best stretch mark cream for me?

What causes stretch marks?

The skin is usually supported by collagen and elastin, two proteins produced naturally by the body that help the skin to stretch gently and maintain its shape. When the skin stretches more than usual – in pregnancy, for example, or when the body develops during puberty – these proteins are ruptured and the breaks show up as marks and indentations on the surface of the skin.

A few lucky people either have skin that tends not to show stretch marks, or don’t experience the kind of rapid change that causes skin to stretch. For the majority of us, though, stretch marks are a normal part of life and not so easily prevented. It is possible to take steps to nourish the skin and reduce the effects of stretching, however.

Which ingredients help to prevent stretch marks?

Rich emollient oils and butters – such as cocoa or shea butter, coconut or jojoba oil – will help the skin to stretch more easily, accommodating a change in shape without rupturing. Hydrators such as hyaluronic acid or aloe vera also help to plump the skin, again improving elasticity and softening any stretch marks that have appeared.

Peptides – amino acids that are found naturally in the skin – are another common ingredient in moisturising creams. Peptides help the body’s production of collagen and elastin, making the skin more supple and elastic, which can help to prevent marks appearing in the first instance.

Which ingredients help to treat existing stretch marks?

The same emollients and hydrators used to prevent stretch marks will also improve the appearance and texture of skin once they appear, plumping up the undamaged surrounding skin to reduce the appearance of indentations. In addition, antioxidants such as vitamin E can help the skin to heal any existing scars and rebuild, while anti-inflammatories such as green tea or chamomile will help to reduce redness. As well as being an excellent moisturising ingredient, coconut oil is also known for its soothing and healing properties.

Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is an ingredient that can boost cell renewal and the production of collagen and elastin, helping to heal existing scars. However, retinol shouldn’t be used in pregnancy or while breastfeeding; if your stretch marks are pregnancy-related, wait until you’ve finished breastfeeding before commencing a retinol treatment.

Are there any other treatments for stretch marks?

If your stretch marks are very noticeable and cause discomfort, a dermatologist may recommend a course of dermabrasion or laser resurfacing to improve the overall texture of the affected skin in order to make the stretch marks less noticeable. The results will depend on the location of the marks on your body and the length of time you’ve had them. Speak to your dermatologist to find out if a dermabrasion or laser treatment would be suitable for you.

Ensuring that the skin is generally healthy with regular exfoliation, moisturising and massage will keep the undamaged skin as plump and smooth as possible, reducing the visibility of stretch marks. Self-tanning lotion can also be used to blend stretch marks into the surrounding skin, making them less visible.

How we test stretch mark creams

At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing delivers the most complete understanding of a product. As such, we personally test all of the stretch mark creams in the roundup, following the directions on the packaging.

We first take note of the active ingredients used in the cream, paying particularly close attention in case any of the ingredients make the product unsuitable for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. We then use the cream for one week, applying the cream to the thighs and stomach areas, and whenever a particular use is indicated – such as applying directly after a bath. We use the cream as directed, noting the effects on the skin in terms of softening, smoothing and plumping, as well as reducing itchiness, redness and fine lines.

We take note of how comfortable the skin feels immediately after application and after a typical day – or night, where a cream is recommended for overnight use. We also note how the product smells, and how long the skin-soothing effects of one application generally lasts, alongside any issues such as heaviness, greasiness or any stinging sensations. Finally, we evaluate each product’s ease of use and the packaging design.

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Best stretch mark creams 2023

1. Palmer’s Cocoa Butter for Stretch Marks: The best stretch mark lotion for preventing stretch marks

Price: £4.75 | Buy now from BootsCocoa butter is renowned for its deep moisturising properties, which, with repeated application, can help the skin to stretch gently without the ruptures that cause stretch marks. This formula from classic skin moisture brand Palmer’s, developed specifically to defend against stretch marks, combines cocoa butter with nourishing argan and almond oils, healing vitamin E and collagen-boosting Asiatic pennywort (centella asiatica).

Like all Palmer’s products, the thick cream smells deliciously chocolatey, and at this low price you can apply it liberally over any areas affected by stretch marks without breaking the bank. A great-value product that fends off damage to the skin and leaves it feeling supple and soft.

Key specs – Pack size: 250ml

Buy now from Boots

2. Bio-Oil Skincare Oil – The best stretch mark oil for healing scars

Price: £8.10 | Buy now from AmazonBio-Oil is another classic skincare treatment used to treat both new scars and stretch marks, as well as those that have been around for a while. The key ingredients are vitamins A and E; vitamin A promotes cell regeneration, while vitamin E is a healing antioxidant that helps to improve the appearance of scar tissue. Together these ingredients work to nourish and replenish skin, smoothing scars and indentations over time and reducing any redness. The oil has a distinctive herbal scent, which isn’t at all unpleasant.

Massage the oil daily into affected skin for two weeks to see a visible improvement. Bio-Oil can be used all over the body, and its healing vitamin combination is also good for pockmarks, acne scars and fine lines on the face.

Key specs – Pack size: 60ml

3. Science of Skin Solution for Stretch Marks: The best luxury stretch mark cream

Price: £40 | Buy now from Derma Care DirectThis hero product formulated by a team of skincare experts specialising in scarring combines soothing green tea extract, vitamins C and A, and seawater algae to create a nourishing moisturiser with powerful antioxidants that boosts the skin’s own healing and repairing processes. The SoS Solution is great for calming and hydrating itchy and irritated skin, and with repeated use will bring down redness and inflammation that can make stretch marks more visible.

Cruelty-free and vegan, the cream is designed to target stretch marks after they’ve appeared; to prevent stretch marks forming in the first place, try the Stretch Mark Defence from the same brand. At £40 for a small bottle, this is a pricey product – but with its subtle scent and non-greasy feel, it’s both effective and pleasant to use.

Key specs – Pack size: 100ml

Buy now from Derma Care Direct

4. Burt’s Bees Mama Belly Butter: The best organic stretch mark cream

Price: £14 | Buy now from BootsCombining rich cocoa butter, shea butter and jojoba oil, this is a super-rich and creamy belly butter from Burt’s Bees that’s designed to help growing skin stretch more easily. It’s also a great product to use once baby is born, if pregnancy has left your skin feeling dry and itchy as a result of hormonal changes. The natural formula is free of parabens, sulphates and fragrance, so is suitable to use on sensitive skin.

Having a delicious, almost milky scent, the Belly Butter is rich but sinks into skin easily, without leaving a greasy after-feel. It’s completely safe for use through pregnancy and while breastfeeding, too (although the manufacturer recommends removing any excess product before nursing). Part of the Burt’s Bees Mama range.

Key specs – Pack size: 184g

Buy now from Boots

5. Paula’s Choice Skin-Smoothing Retinol Treatment: The best smoothing cream for non-pregnancy use

Price: £33 | Buy now from SelfridgesThis body treatment from sustainable brand Paula’s Choice, with retinol and antioxidant vitamins C and E, helps to smooth and firm the surface of the skin. Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that’s used in skincare to boost collagen production and plump up skin, while also healing scars and discolouration. It’s an excellent treatment for existing stretch marks, since it addresses both the colour and the texture of marks.

Retinol products aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, so this treatment is advised for stretch marks that aren’t pregnancy-related (or for treating striae after you have completely finished nursing). This is an excellent treatment to improve the skin’s texture and firmness and is suitable for all skin types.

Key specs – Pack size: 118g

Buy now from Selfridges

6. Clarins Body Partner Stretch Mark Expert cream: The best stretch mark cream for firming skin

Price: £40 | Buy now from John LewisClarins’ Body Partner is a plant-based formula from the French skincare giant, made with green banana extract and Asiatic pennywort (centella asiatica) to boost the skin’s elasticity and firmness. Body Partner also contains Glycyrrhetinic acid derived from licorice, to relieve itchiness and inflammation.

The cream is thick but feels lightweight to the touch, melting into the skin without stickiness or greasiness. The immediate results are softer and more hydrated skin; with regular application, the cream leaves skin feeling more supple and less irritated. Over time, it will reduce the redness of any existing stretch marks. Note, too, that this formula is safe to use during pregnancy.

Key specs – Pack size: 175ml

Buy now from John Lewis

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