Stretch Mark Creams: What Works, What Doesn't

Thinking about investing in some of those tempting stretch mark creams? According to one study, you might want to save your money, or spend it more carefully.

pregnant woman applying stretch mark cream
Photo: AnikaNes/

We hate to be the bearers of bad news but stretch mark creams might not be the miraculous skin-savers some of us thought they were.

Frank Wang, M.D., an assistant professor and dermatologist at the University of Michigan Health System, led a study that found that stretch mark-reducing creams might be completely ineffective—which means taking care of those marks may not be as easy as shelling out for a product and rubbing it over your belly.

"We are finding a lot of changes in the second layer of the skin, which is called the dermis, including changes in elastic fibers, which is what this recent study was about," says Dr. Wang. "What we haven't published yet is that there are other changes occurring. The problem with a lot of the current creams and other modalities available is that they don't seem to be able to effectively prevent those changes—or, for that matter, repair those changes once they've occurred. Very few products seem to be effective."

According to Dr. Wang, almond oil, which is another popular stretch mark eliminator, might be a better option. "There's a lot of very popular products out there: Almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil and so forth. There is a little bit of scientific evidence that massage with bitter almond oil can be helpful to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy—but other studies involving almond oil have not really shown the same thing. Furthermore, there are popular products that have things like almond oil and cocoa butter—those really don't seem to be effective for treatment or prevention."

Preventing Stretch Marks

Dr. Wang and his team suggested that prevention is a smarter approach than treatment. "Based on the scientific evidence that's out there, there is some evidence to suggest that topical creams containing centella, which is derived from a plant, as well as some products containing hyaluronic acid [might help with prevention.] There's some evidence that products containing those ingredients might be helpful in preventing stretch marks while you're pregnant, but those findings come from much older studies."

According to Dr. Wang, the usual recommendations might be the best course of action: Healthy diet, exercise and regular massages can possibly help prevent stretch marks, which affect between 50 and 90 percent of women (we know. We know.)

Dr. Wang plans to study whether or not collagen could be a possible stretch mark cure next.

Should I Use Stretch Mark Creams?

Dr. Wang offered up a few pieces of advice for pregnant women. For one thing, he said you should start thinking about preventing stretch marks in your second trimester. "What I would suggest for prevention would be creams containing centella [like Belli Elasticity Belly Oil, $34] or hyaluronic acid, as well as some kind of stretching or aerobic exercise. Massaging each quadrant of the abdomen for about fifteen minutes each day—those would be safe things you can do during pregnancy that might be helpful," he says.

As for massages, Dr. Wang suggests that women use "light, gliding rhythmic continuous motions—more of a rubbing [motion] than a pressing [motion.]" He also added that women should implement the massages themselves and do it on a daily basis.

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