Don’t let the miraculous promises fool you – most stretch mark creams available today are nothing but glorified moisturizers that harbor a staggering amount of toxic and unsafe ingredients. Here, we give you a low-down on what works and what doesn’t, and what to look for when considering a stretch mark cream (or lotion or oil) to use during pregnancy and post-partum.
The worst stretch mark creams
While we cannot provide names due to conflict of interest, a quick look at the ingredient deck of any stretch mark cream will tell you whether that product actually helps prevent and/or minimize stretch marks like it promises to do or whether it exposes you to potential health hazards, while doing little to target stretch marks.
Retinoid-based stretch mark creams
Retinoids (also appearing on ingredient lists as retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene and isotretinoin) are a class of chemicals related to vitamin A and have become a common active ingredient in several stretch mark creams and lotions, despite a well-established link between topical use and birth defects. There are several published case reports (1) of birth defects and malformations caused by topical use of retinoids during pregnancy. However, despite this very real risk, products using this ingredient continue to be sold as miraculous treatments for stretch marks. Do they work?While retinoids are proven to help with stretch marks by repairing old skin cells, and increasing skin division and renewal, the damage they can cause to you and your unborn child are not worth the risk. Luckily there are natural alternatives that work just as well, with none of the side effects. Scroll down to our ‘best stretch mark creams’ section to learn more.
Stretch mark creams containing mineral oil
Mineral oil is a byproduct of the distillation process used to create petrol from petroleum. It also appears on ingredient lists as paraffin oil, petrolatum or petroleum jelly, and is yet another standard ingredient in several well-known stretch mark removal and prevention products.
Do they work?
While mineral oil is promoted as an effective moisturizing ingredient with a low risk of allergic reactions, in reality it is a cheap filler that acts as a sealant on the surface of the skin, not allowing it to breathe. It has few therapeutic benefits outside of its lubricating façade.
Stretch mark creams with low concentrations of therapeutic ingredients
Several popular stretch mark creams base their claims on the use of natural, botanical ingredients, renowned for their skin strengthening and skin rejuvenation properties. This all sounds great. However, take a quick look at the ingredient labels of these products and you will see that most of these ingredients figure at the bottom of the list, while the top of the list is dominated by ingredients such as several types of alcohols, chemical fragrances and other questionable ingredients that are used mainly for:
- Imparting a silky feel to the product
- Lubrication on the cheap (example Mineral Oil)
Because ingredients are listed in descending order, with ingredients used in the greatest amounts first, followed by those used in smaller amounts. In other words, you’re paying for mostly fillers and controversial chemicals and preservatives that do not provide any skin benefit, and certainly do not help with preventing or minimizing stretch marks.
The best stretch mark creams
The best stretch mark cream might not even be a cream
Although there are some stretch mark creams that work well, consider stretch mark oils as well. A cream(or lotion) is essentially an emulsification of oil and water, and water is typically listed first on ingredient labels, meaning it is the ingredient that occurs in the greatest amount in the product. Instead of paying for water, go with an oil that combines only therapeutic, skin strengthening and rejuvenating ingredients that are neither watered down, nor replete with cheap fillers.
Rosehip oil based stretch mark creams
As we mentioned above, while retinoids are an effective treatment for stretch marks, side effects of photo-sensitivity, severe irritation, and more importantly, a scientifically established link between topical usage and birth defects means that it is an ingredient to avoid at all costs. Consider Rosehip Seed oil instead - A lightweight, non-greasy oil, abundant in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin C, and the best source of trans-retinoic acid, a natural form of vitamin A that encourages skin to regenerate faster. Its high concentration of vitamin C helps promote collagen production, while the essential fatty acids act as emollients to help soften skin and increase hydration, making it one of the most powerful stretch mark and scar remedies available. Once again, if looking at stretch mark creams and oils that contain Rosehip Seed oil, ensure that the ingredient figures near the top of the product ingredient label, so that you’re ensured the biggest bang for your buck. At Avishi Organcis, we have developed a great, organic stretch mark oil with Rosehip Seed oil as a star ingredient.
Stretch mark creams containing Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola(also known as centella asiatica, Indian pennywort, brahmi, or spade leaf) is one of those rare plants that not only has a long history in traditional chinese and indian medicine as a potent skin healer, but has also caught the eye of modern science. According to Forbes Magazine (2), “Recently, researchers delving into how Gotu Kola heals wounds have identified specific plant chemicals called triterpenoid saponins (more specifically asiaticoside, brahmoside, brahminoside, madecassoside and madecassic or madasiatic acid) that have been shown to help heal wounds by boosting antioxidants, increasing the blood supply to the area and strengthening the skin.” One particularly extensive review of clinical trials involving topical treatments for stretch marks, suggests that a combination of Gotu Kola and vitamin E is one of the most effective treatments for combatting stretch marks (3).
Or, make your own
If you have the time, you might consider making your own stretch mark oil from a blend of essential oils and botanical extracts. Choose plants that have naturally high concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and strong anti-inflammatory properties. A few to consider include Rosehip Seed oil, Helichrysum Italicum, Seabuckthorn Oil, Tamanu oil, Gotu Kola, Borage seed oil, Lavender essential oil and Aloe oil. Or, use code stretch30 to get 30% of our best-selling, certified organic, intensive stretch mark oil.
- Stargrove, Mitchell Bebel, Treasure, Jonathan and McKee, Dwight L. Herb, Nutrient, and Drug Interactions. s.l.: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2008. ISBN 0323029647, 9780323029643.