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When you’re pregnant, it’s hard to fathom the changes that are taking place inside your body. You’re growing a person, a whole new organ to support it and the organs that belong to you are shifting and making way by the minute.
Suffice to say, a lot happens on the outside too. Most notably, an ever-growing belly. And as your belly expands (and eventually contracts), you might find yourself with a few new badges of honor–stretch marks.
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What are stretch marks?
First things first. Stretch marks are natural! From growth spurts in puberty to pregnancy, stretch marks are scars that can occur any time skin changes rapidly. When they first appear, they’re often a darker hue (which depends on your skin tone), raised and itchy. Over time, they fade and sink but can remain visible nonetheless. And while no amount of stretch mark cream, oil or magical potion can prevent or erase them, using a stretch mark cream throughout your pregnancy can help improve skin elasticity and nourish your skin as it grows.
When should you start using stretch mark cream during pregnancy?
If you’ve already got a moisturizing ritual, great! Keep it up. If you occasionally slap on some moisturizer when your legs look ashy, pregnancy is a great time to get into the habit of giving your skin a little extra love on the daily. Throughout pregnancy your belly, boobs, hips, thighs and bum will likely need a little extra attention. All those hormones can affect skin in a variety of uncomfortable ways and keeping it hydrated can help. That said, there’s no set date to start using stretch mark cream, but many of the formulas on the market are suitable for use before, during and after.
What should you look for in a stretch mark cream?
Mostly, it’s a personal preference. If you’re sensitive to fragrance, you can find plenty of fragrance-free options. Look for formulas with gentle but nourishing ingredients like nut butters (cocoa, jojoba oil and shea) and coconut oil to moisturize, vitamins A and E which heal and protect the skin, and botanicals like calendula to soothe and calm irritated skin. Most importantly, while retinol can be an effective treatment for damaged skin, do not use retinol during your pregnancy. There is plenty of pregnancy-safe skincare out there instead.
Rest assured that everyone has stretch marks. (Literally. Everyone.) There is nothing you need to do about them if you don’t want to, nor should you feel vain if you want to address them. If you’re the latter, we’ve done the research to help you find a formula that works for you.
Discover the top-rated and most-loved stretch mark creams for pregnancy!
A version of this story was published September 8, 2021. It has been updated.