These days it seems as if my friends, family, and colleagues are getting pregnant en masse. There must be something in the water. Because it's the first wave of my peers to experience the miracle of birth, I feel invested in the process. I have been researching the range of bodily changes they can expect and the sort of skincare products available to address them. Without a doubt, the most common cosmetic concern amongst new mothers is stretch marks. 75% to 90% of women develop them throughout pregnancy. As the skin expands to accommodate the growing fetus, it (more often than not) leaves behind lasting scars.

One of the most affordable and natural stretch mark treatments I've come across is the one-two punch of Mommy-to-be Stretch Cream and Oil by Erbaorganics. These two products employ organic plant oils and antioxidant-rich extracts to moisturize, nourish, and heal the skin. Both products surround the senses with a purely perfumed herb garden, particularly redolent of lavender. The readily-absorbed cream (85% organic) is meant to be applied in the morning and the messier oil (USDA-certified 96% organic) at night. Though they may not work miracles on fully formed stretch marks, Erbaorganics's moisturizers promote healthy, soft, and supple skin, no matter whether or not it's expanding.

Besides pregnancy, other causes of stretch marks include growth spurts during adolescence and dramatic weight gain. Once the middle layer of the skin (dermis) is physically stretched and the production of collagen is disrupted, striae (aka stretch marks) are often the outcome. These slightly raised red, pink, or dark brown streaks can manifest themselves on the stomach, thighs, breasts, hips, and buttocks- anywhere that pockets of fat reside. They usually fade to several shades lighter than the body's natural skin tone, appearing thin, dull, and silvery. At this point, stretch mark removal products are less likely to be effective. Creams and oils like those by Erbaorganics are typically most successful at fading when applied regularly to freshly formed stretch marks.

It is believed that continuous moisturizing of stretch marks is the best natural method for diminishing them. Erbaorganics's Stretch Mark Cream has a base of aloe vera leaf juice, a vast improvement on ubiquitous water. This succulent not only moisturizes and reduces inflammation, but it also may even slow down signs of aging by stimulating the synthesis of collagen and elastin fibers. The cream also treats skin to a hearty helping of shea butter, which is rich in carotene, saturated and unsaturated acids, and vitamin E. Though clinical studies are lacking, anecdotal evidence indicates that moisturizers fortified with vitamin E may help replenish essential components in the epidermal maintenance system. It would follow that helping the body regulate and speed up growth of new skin cells may reduce the appearance of stretch marks in the long run.

Both the cream and the oil are enriched with natural emollients that soften skin, protect against dryness, and accelerate the healing of superficial wounds. With its high levels of vitamin E and essential fatty acids, wheat germ oil is valued for its ability to rejuvenate damaged skin, scars, and stretch marks. Carrot seed oil can reduce wrinkles and improve elasticity, powers that would be useful for sealing stretch marks. Aromatherapy oils, such as chamomile, jojoba, sweet almond, and avocado, have been trusted for generations to treat stretch marks. Erbaorganics's formulas also include excellent botanical extracts such as the highly healing  lavender, antioxidant-rich rosemary, and skin-soothing sea buckthorn. There is nothing not to like here.

Another mommy-friendly anti-stretch mark product belongs to Belli Skincare. Its "Say No to Stretchmarks" set includes the Elasticity Belly Oil, packed with gotu kola extract, collagen hydrolysates, lavender, sweet almond oil, and vitamin E, and the Stretchmark Minimizing Cream, proven to reduce stretch mark depth up to 72% with the help of active herbal extracts and peptides. Of course, Belli will set you back more than double the price of Erbaorganics, but it comes with a bonus seal of approval from independent clinical trials. There is enough botanical overlap between Erbaorganics and Belli to engender an equally refreshing and nourishing experience.

Even though a carefully crafted cream (or oil) can help fade or even prevent stretch marks, there is no surefire solution to eliminate them entirely. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated are key. Moisturizing products work on the external layer of skin, while it is the layer underneath that stretches. Nevertheless, topical treatments for reducing the appearance of stretch marks seem to be everywhere. Some of the most popular stretch mark-busting ingredients are alpha hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, and retinoids, which break down the proteins that hold dead skin cells together and accelerate cellular growth. But these common inclusions are conspicuously absent from Erbaorganics's and Belli's formulas.

Keratolytics like salicylic acid and glycolic acids are most likely excluded from motherhood products because of some questionable links to birth defects (according to published medical studies). On the other hand, lactic acid, which does make an appearance, is deemed safe. If you're not pregnant or nursing, you needn't be so cautious around cosmetic chemicals (natural or synthetic). But mommies-to-be will have a hard time finding a superior treatment to care for their stretching (or already stretched) skin.

Ingredients in Stretch Mark Oil:

Organic carthamus tinctorius (safflower) seed oil, organic helianthus annuus (sun flower) seed oil, organic rosa canina (rosehip) fruit oil, triticum vulgare (wheat) germ oil, organic lavandula hybrida (lavandin) oil, organic lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, organic citrus nobilis (mandarin orange) peel oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) extract, tocopherol (vitamin E), organic citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) peel oil, organic cedrus atlantica bark (cedar wood) oil, daucus carota sativa (carrot) seed oil.

Ingredients in Stretch Mark Cream:

Organic aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, organic glycine soja (soybean) oil, organic helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, glycerin, cetearyl wheat bran glycosides (and) cetearyl alcohol, methyl glucose sesquistearate, organic butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), cocoglycerides (and) palm glycerides (and) maltitol (and) tocopherol (vitamin E), sodium levulinate, laminaria digitata (seaweed) extract, organic hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorne) kernel extract, organic hippophae rhamnoides fruit extract, potassium sorbate, organic lavandula hybrida (lavandin) oil, organic lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, organic citrus nobilis (mandarin orange) peel oil, organic rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) extract, lactic acid, organic citrus aurantiumdulcis (orange) peel oil, organic cedrus atlantica bark (cedar wood) oil, daucus carota sativa (carrot) seed oil.