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Ever run out of your daily face cream before you had the opportunity to buy more? Maybe you reached for your regular body lotion instead.

“What’s the harm?” you might have wondered. “They’re both moisturizers.”

Plus, since body lotion comes in a bigger (and often more affordable) container, using lotion might seem like an instant way to save money.

But here’s the thing: Body lotion doesn’t contain exactly the same ingredients as products intended for your face, even if the two look similar once they’re outside the bottle.

Here’s what to know about the difference between facial creams and body lotions and how to use them effectively.

When it comes to your face, you should probably skip the body lotion.


In a nutshell, your skin on your face is different from your skin on the rest of your body — so they need different care regiments.

“The skin on the face is much thinner and more delicate,” explains Dr. Anna Chacon, a dermatologist in Weston, Florida.

Your skin on your eyelids is some of the thinnest, most delicate skin on your whole body, next to your skin in your groin. According to Acne.org, facial skin also has smaller pores that contain a higher concentration of skin oil glands, making it more prone to acne.

“Meanwhile, skin on your back and feet is often very thick,” she continues. This skin has larger pores, but it’s also stronger and more resilient.

Facial skin care products and body skin care products tend to reflect these differences.

In short, face and body products serve different purposes.

“Products made for the body are generally stronger in terms of moisturizing or exfoliating the body,” explains Dr. Renée Moran, a board certified anesthesiologist who also performs cosmetic procedures.

In other words, they could be too tough or aggressive for the sensitive skin on your face. Facial creams, on the other hand, are specially designed to protect this delicate skin.

Many facial skin care products also have a more specific purpose, such as treating acne or reducing the appearance of redness or discoloration, dark spots, or wrinkles. These skin concerns tend to show up more commonly on your face, due to its thinner skin and extra oil glands.

In fact, you’ll notice that many facial products aren’t lotions at all. Instead, they’re creams. “Creams are often richer, while lotions are more water-based and liquid in form,” explains Chacon.

Facial skin also spends a lot more time exposed to the elements, like heat, cold, or the sun’s UV rays. Consequently, many facial products have a dual purpose: They help protect facial skin from potential damage while also working to improve any skin concerns you might have.

They also contain different ingredients

Since face creams and body lotions serve different skin care roles, they contain different ingredients.

Body lotions usually contain moisturizing ingredients, like butters or oils, to lock in moisture. However, these heavier ingredients can worsen skin concerns like acne.

You might also choose a body lotion based on how appealing you find its fragrance — but those fragrances can easily irritate more delicate skin.

Facial lotions and creams, meanwhile, tend to contain more active ingredients that help manage skin concerns. These ingredients tend to have a higher cost, so they’re often not included with body lotions.

What’s more, your facial cream has most likely gone through a more rigorous testing process to make sure it’s both safe and effective at doing what it advertises — reducing the appearance of dark circles, for example.

That said, while you’ll generally want to avoid using body lotion on your face, using facial cream on your body is probably just fine.

“I have done this when traveling,” Chacon notes.

Since body lotions are designed for tougher, thicker skin, you run the risk of aggravating the delicate skin on your face.

As a result, you might notice some of the following side effects:

  • redness or discoloration
  • stinging or burning
  • itching and other irritation
  • dryness
  • acne breakouts

These side effects are particularly common across areas of more delicate skin, like your eyelids. You might also have a higher chance of side effects if you have oily or acne-prone skin.

If you have an inflammatory skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, using body lotion on your face could lead to even more irritation.

If you really need to moisturize your face, body lotion can work, in a pinch. Still, some types will probably offer a little more benefit — not to mention a lower risk of side effects.

Moran recommends a lighter lotion, especially if you have more oily facial skin.

You’ll generally want to stick to unscented lotions, no matter what skin type you have.

It never hurts to choose a moisturizer with vitamins, either. In particular, vitamins C and E help protect new skin and fight skin damage. Vitamins A and B5 can help moisturize and boost firmness.

One lotion you’ll always want to avoid putting on your face? Hand lotion.

These formulas are even thicker than body lotions, since they’re designed to stay on your hands as you go about your day. In other words, they can easily clog the smaller pores in your face and trigger breakouts.

It’s generally best to steer clear of thick body butters, for the same reason.

Moisturizing your skin, on your face and your body, offers plenty of benefits, including:

  • helping prevent dry skin
  • reducing itchiness and inflammation
  • firming and plumping skin, helping reduce the appearance of fine lines
  • promoting growth of new skin cells
  • protecting new skin

Of course, using the right kind of moisturizer can go a long way toward helping you achieve those benefits.

On your body, you can use a heavier lotion. On your face, though, you’ll typically want to aim for a product that’s:

  • lightweight
  • gentle
  • oil-free
  • noncomedogenic (which means it won’t clog your pores)

The University of Tennessee says that choosing a moisturizer with sunscreen can also help you protect your skin from sun damage.

Keep in mind that many moisturizers have also undergone testing for common allergies and skin sensitivities. It may be worth considering these products, especially if you have sensitive skin.

It can also help to choose a moisturizer designed for your specific skin type. If you have dry skin, for example, you may want to choose a moisturizer with active emollient ingredients, like ceramides or peptides.

Not sure about your skin type? This guide can help.

You can also get more insight by talking with a dermatologist or skin care expert.

Keeping these tips in mind can help smooth the way toward healthier skin:

  1. Wash your face (and body) with warm — not hot — water. Very hot water can dry out your skin.
  2. When washing, massage skin gently instead of scrubbing roughly.
  3. Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing or air-drying. Gently patting your skin helps it retain some of its natural moisture.
  4. Moisturize your skin twice a day after cleansing, gently massaging moisturizer into your skin with upward strokes.
  5. If your moisturizer doesn’t have sunscreen in it, or has a lower SPF, make sure to apply SPF 30 or higher sunscreen before going outside.
  6. Look for a moisturizer that matches your skin type: oily, dry, normal, combination, or sensitive.

If you notice any ongoing skin concerns, a dermatologist or skin care expert can offer more guidance.

Get more tips on moisturizing.

Putting body lotion on your face once or twice probably won’t cause any lasting harm. All the same, body lotion isn’t meant for facial skin, so it could make some skin concerns worse.

Sticking to products specifically formulated for your face will generally do more to benefit your skin in the long run.

Simone M. Scully is a writer who loves writing about all things health and science. Find Simone on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.