We at POPSUGAR recognize that people of many genders and identities have vaginas and uteruses and can get pregnant, not just those who are women. For this particular story, we interviewed experts who generally referred to people who can get pregnant as women.
Pregnant people already know of the laundry list of items they need to be cautious about when they're pregnant. They've heard it many times before: lay off the booze, skip unpasteurized cheese, and avoid risky activities while expecting. But do they need to add stretch-mark creams to the list of things to be concerned about? With all the growing that comes with having a baby, it's a question that has likely crossed many bump-sporting minds.
What Are Stretch-Mark Creams?
When someone becomes pregnant, they may develop stretch marks (i.e. scars) that occur due to stretching skin. While they can occur during pregnancy, they can also occur as a result of any rapid weight fluctuation or even a genetic predisposition. After pregnancy, some people look at stretch marks as a badge of honor, while others don't love the permanent memento. If you fall under the latter category, you may think to use stretch-mark creams to prevent scars on your belly, thighs, or breasts as your pregnant belly is growing.
"A well-formulated oil can help increase the skin's elasticity, which may help reduce stretch marks as the belly grows," Kenosha Gleaton, MD, an ob-gyn based in Charleston, SC, told POPSUGAR. She explained that applying oils to your skin can supplement the natural lipid barrier, which helps the skin retain moisture as it stretches. "Body oils like the Belly Oil by Natalist make a good addition to any self-care routine, especially during pregnancy when the belly is beautifully changing," she said.
Stretch-mark creams, lotions, and gels are widely available for pregnant people to use, with promises to prevent stretch marks from developing in the first place. They may contain cocoa butter, almond oil, or a wide variety of other ingredients that have been proposed to offer benefits like supporting circulation and producing collagen. While many experts recommend stretch-mark remedies, the American Academy of Dermatology Association warns that no single treatment works for everyone — and many products don't seem to work at all.
Are Stretch-Mark Creams Safe to Use During Pregnancy?
"Many stretch-mark creams marketed towards pregnant women will be safe in pregnancy, as they usually contain ingredients like cocoa butter, aloe, vitamin E, almond oil, olive oil, or hyaluronic acid," Claire O'Bryan, ANP-C, nurse practitioner and co-owner of TheSkinClique, told POPSUGAR. She explained that one known treatment for stretch marks — tretinoin, or any ingredient in the retinoid family — should be avoided while pregnant, as these products could potentially harm your baby.
Certain terms that can be tricky to navigate include "natural" and "hypoallergenic." Since the Food and Drug Administration has not defined the terms "natural" or "hypoallergenic" and has not established a regulatory definition for these terms in cosmetic labeling, seeing them on your belly-cream label does not imply that it is safe.
Ingredients like parabens are added to some products like some stretch-mark creams as an antimicrobial preservative. These manmade chemicals have weak estrogen-like properties and are collectively referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
Using stretch-mark creams during pregnancy can be a potential source of paraben exposure to the pregnant person and the fetus. Excessive paraben exposure during pregnancy may result in outcomes including childhood overweight development or possibly increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. Data suggests that in comparison to diet and indoor dust ingestion pathways, paraben-laden stretch-mark creams may be a major source of paraben exposure in pregnant and lactating people. Along with parabens, too much prenatal exposure of other endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates has been linked to childhood behavior challenges and even spontaneous pregnancy loss.
How Can I Select Stretch-Mark Creams and Oils Safely?
Although there are risks associated with using certain stretch-mark creams, thankfully there are plenty of safe options for pregnant bellies. "While we know that the best 'treatment' of stretch marks is actually preventing them in the first place, that can be difficult," O'Bryan explained. Since she acknowledged that most ingredients used in expensive stretch-mark creams (as well as home remedies) have been found to not actually work, choosing the right remedy is key to not wasting your time and money. She advised that there may be some evidence that hyaluronic acid works, and she thinks this ingredient is a worthy one to include in a stretch-mark prevention plan. Using products that contain aloe vera have been shown to safely support collagen production (which gives your skin elasticity).
Belly butters, creams, and oils are popular choices to ease itchiness that occurs as tummy skin stretches. However, many options may contain artificial fragrances and oils that parents-to-be should use with caution. Choosing options that are fragrance-free and instead made with certain oils like sweet orange peel and jojoba can help nourish your skin safely. When possible, potential hormone-disrupting chemicals should be avoided. This includes not only parabens and phthalates but also BPA and certain fragrances. Your best bet is to read the ingredient label and ask your doctor questions.
Regardless of your plan of attack, know that stretch marks can appear on your body despite your best efforts. If you happen to find them on your belly, thighs, or breasts, know that the chances that you did something "wrong" to make them show up are very slim. Stretch marks are perfectly natural, and many people develop them — there's nothing to be ashamed of! But remember, if the stretch marks really bother you postbaby, laser treatment is always an option.