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Body lotions and creams have long helped smooth, moisturize, and repair dry skin.
But with so many products on the market, including butters and whips, how do you find the one that works for you? What’s the difference? And what’s best for your skin type?
Read on to learn how to pick the best option for you.
“It basically boils down to viscosity, or thickness,” says Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, the dermatologist at Mudgil Dermatology.
Simply put, lotions are lighter with more water content and less oil. Creams are heavier, with more oil content and less H20.
Then, there are body butters. These are on the thick end of the spectrum.
“Body butter is a cream which includes shea, cocoa, mango, or palm butters. They’re generally a thick cream and may also include essential oils and other oils, such as coconut and avocado oils,” Gmyrek says.
Suffering from dry skin on the hands is common. This can be due to daily habits, occupational duties, and increased contact with chemicals, such as washing detergents or household cleaning products.
Hands are also exposed to more frequent hand washing, which can cause dryness and roughness.
Thicker formulas, like creams or butters, can help counteract this by giving the skin more hydration.
“For the face, a noncomedogenic preparation is key,” Mudgil says. “Noncomedogenic means pores won’t get clogged, which is very important for the face, especially in folks who are acne prone.”
For example, the CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion is noncomedogenic, oil-free, and has broad spectrum SPF 30.
Mudgil says lotions “work best on the face for all skin types. The exception is the lips, where butters are a great option. Their viscosity lends itself to that area.”
For example, the Bath & Body Works Nourishing Lip Butter is made with coconut oil and beeswax to help with hydration.
For dry skin, thicker formulas tend to be best. Depending on the level of dry skin you have, different products may do the trick.
“If you have almost a normal skin or slightly dry skin, you can use a lotion. If you have medium dry skin, you can use a cream. And if you have very dry skin, you can use a body butter,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, a board certified dermatologist.
Jaliman suggests looking for products with shea butter if you’re extremely dry. For example, the Bath & Body Works Coconut Cream Pie Ultra Shea Body Cream is infused with shea and cocoa butters, as well as aloe. Plus, it smells like golden pie crust and toasted coconut flakes.
“Many people with very dry skin or eczema will use a body butter, especially at night, so their skin can heal over the 8 hours when they sleep,” Jaliman notes.
Look for products like the OKAY African Shea Butter, which is formulated with 100 percent raw African shea butter, or the Tree Hut Shea Body Butter, which contains organic shea butter, cocoa butter, sweet almond extract, and safflower seed oil.
Jaliman says lotion is ideal for oily skin.
Body butter contains more oil, while lotion has the most water content. A good tip is to look for the term “non-greasy” on the label.
Try the Hand in Hand Sea Salt Body Lotion for an option that’s palm oil-free, vegan, and non-greasy. The Laroche Posay Lipikar Daily Repair Moisturizing Body Lotion is also non-greasy, noncomedogenic, and gentle on skin.
For the face, go with something like the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer that’s non-greasy and non-comedogenic.
When it comes to combo skin, Gmyrek says to go with lotion.
“If it’s not taking care of the dry skin areas, you might need to use two different products: a lotion for the T-zone and a cream for the dry areas,” she adds.
You can find product sets, like the NIVEA Skin Firming Variety, which comes with a lotion and gel cream.
Whatever your skin type, Jaliman says that light exfoliation is key to help the moisturizer penetrate the skin.
According to the National Eczema Association (NEA), ointments are the preferred moisturizer for eczema, because they have the highest oil content. Creams come in second, while lotions are third.
Gmyrek agrees. “Lotions are generally not thick enough or contain too much water to be of benefit to those with eczema,” she says.
Furthermore, research has shown that most moisturizers show beneficial effects in reducing flares and severity of eczema.
Moisturizers are believed to improve the effectiveness of treatment of psoriasis. Active ingredients, like vitamin E, help decrease severity. However, more studies are needed to confirm this.
Research shows that individualized solutions based on shared decision-making between health professionals and patients are important for successful psoriasis treatment.
Gmyrek suggests going for cream or ointment for psoriasis on the body. When it comes to psoriasis on the scalp, go for a lotion.
Similarly to eczema, you can get creams and ointments to target psoriasis, such as the CeraVe Psoriasis Moisturizing Cream and the Green Leaf Naturals Amazing Aloe Vera Eczema and Psoriasis Cream with Manuka Honey.
For acne, Gmyrek says, “Lotion, lotion, lotion. If you’re acne prone, creams would be too thick and likely occlude your pores, leading to further acne breakouts,” she says.
There are plenty of body and face lotions designed for acne-prone skin, like the Clean & Clear Dual Action Moisturizer or the Burt’s Bees Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion.
Some moisturizers contain metals and botanical extracts for their anti-inflammatory properties, like:
“The only time I would say that someone shouldn’t use lotions, creams, or butters is on broken or damaged skin,” Gmyrek says. “In this case, ointments, which are petroleum-based, are best until the skin is healed.”
Gmyrek explains lotions, creams, and butters all contain preservatives that can cause allergic and irritant reactions on broken or inflamed skin. On the other hand, ointments don’t.
“Otherwise, everyone should apply a lotion, cream, or butter to help keep their skin moisturized and skin barrier healthy,” she says.
When it comes to moisturizing the skin, there are a lot of products out there. Lotions are on the thinnest end of the spectrum, butters are on the heavy side, and creams are right in the middle.
With a bit of trial and error, you can find the product combination that’s right for you. When in doubt, talk with a dermatologist.
Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s written extensively for a range of publications, covering everything from politics and mental health to nostalgic sandwiches and the state of her own vagina. You can reach Marnie via Twitter, Instagram, or her website.