Both body oil and lotion are great for helping you get smoother, soft skin. But the importance of keeping your skin moisturized goes beyond its appearance and feel.
Moisturizing matters not only for your skin health, but also for overall health, since your skin acts as a protective barrier for the rest of the body. Keeping skin moisturized becomes particularly important in colder months and drier climates, or if you have existing conditions that impair your skin barrier function, like eczema or psoriasis.
When it comes time to choose an oil or lotion, though, you might wonder which product will work best for your skin. Knowing the difference between body oil and lotion can make it easier to give your skin what it needs.
So, what’s the difference?
In short, body oil is thicker and heavier than body lotion. It creates a barrier on the outer layer of your skin that helps keep moisture in. Body lotion, on the other hand, is lightweight, with a thinner formula. It can help soothe and soften dry skin.
Below, you’ll find a few more differences between body oil and body lotion.
Body oil is made up primarily of — you guessed it — oil.
Oil is an occlusive. An occlusive creates a physical barrier on your skin’s surface to prevent transepidermal water loss. This is why oils commonly show up as ingredients in moisturizers.
Oil can also function as an emollient, which means “softener” or “soother.” If you don’t have enough water in the top layer of your skin, it can crack and flake, which leaves spaces between skin cells. When you apply an emollient, it fills those spaces with fatty substances, called lipids, for a softening and soothing effect.
Yet since body oil is thicker than body lotion, it doesn’t spread as easily. As a result, oil may have a harder time getting into those spaces.
Body lotion is mostly made up of emollient ingredients. That said, many body lotions also contain occlusive ingredients, like oil, to help you get the best of both worlds.
Since lotion has a more lightweight formula, you’ll typically find it easier to spread. Plus, body lotion penetrates skin more effectively than oil can. That’s why you feel the typically feel the soothing and softening effects right away when you apply it to tight, dry skin.
Your choice of product really depends on three main factors:
- your skin goals
- any existing skin issues
- what you want to get out of the product
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), lotion is the way to go if you experience seasonal dryness in otherwise typical skin.
But if you’re entering perimenopause or over the age of 50, you may want to skip body oil and lotion both. Instead, opt for a cream-based moisturizer, which may more effectively treat dryness caused by hormonal changes. Compared to lotions, creams tend to have a higher oil content.
A lotion that contains oil or any other occlusive can also help prevent some moisture loss. Along with various plant oils, other occlusive ingredients include:
- butters like shea butter and cocoa butter
- petroleum jelly
All of that said, applying a more occlusive product to already-dry skin may be counterproductive — a barrier that keeps moisture in can also keep much-needed moisture out.
If you have chronic dry skin, creams or ointments may have more benefit for dry skin.
If you don’t have dry skin and want to lock in moisture to help your skin stay hydrated, then body oil may work well.
To use body oil most effectively, apply it to damp skin: When your skin is already hydrated, adding that protective, oily barrier can help keep that water in.
You absolutely can mix them, according to Grace King, a cosmetic chemist.
“You use a mixture of both when you need that extra amp of hydration, like in winter. It’s a customized approach,” says King.
You can take advantage of this combo in two ways: You can either mix them before applying or apply one right after the other.
Regardless of which method you choose, it’s important to do it correctly.
If you’re going to mix body oil into lotion, only mix as much as you need for a single application and use it right away. King doesn’t recommend storing the mixture, since this can lead to ingredient separation.
“If you want to apply one after another, do the lotion first and then the oil. The oil is more occlusive, so it seals in the moisture. If you do it the other way, it is harder to absorb and hard to apply uniformly,” says King.
Body oil and lotion are generally safe for most people to use.
Just know that it’s always a good idea to get guidance from a dermatologist or other healthcare professional before using any skin care product if you have sensitive skin, allergies, or a skin disorder.
Body oil and lotions containing oil may not be good options for people with oily skin or acne because these products can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Instead, you may want to opt for a moisturizer developed specifically for oily skin.
You’ll also want to pay attention to other ingredients in any body oil or lotion you’re considering.
Some chemicals used in dyes and fragrances, like alcohol, can dry and irritate your skin, potentially worsening existing skin concerns. Try to stick with products without fragrance or added ingredients if you have any skin sensitivities or concerns.
Body oil and body lotion serve the same basic purpose — helping keep your skin hydrated. Choosing between the two mostly just comes down to your specific needs and preferences.
If you don’t like the feel of lotion or oil and still want to hydrate your skin, cream or ointment may be more your jam. Just take care to keep any existing allergies or skin concerns in mind when shopping for a product.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.