When your limbs are dry and flaky, it doesn’t really matter if you slather on a body lotion or a body cream. Both will moisturize your skin and make it feel more soft and plump. If that’s the case, then, why are they called two different things? According to dermatologists, there are a few key differences between the two body care staples.
Chances are that you already use one — or both — of the skin care products on a daily basis as part of your beauty routine. Both are meant to be slathered onto the skin below your neck to keep you moisturized from head to toe, and they are pretty interchangeable when it comes to the end result. “Body lotions and body creams both serve similar functions by providing hydration, moisture, and soothing dry skin,” says Rafal Pielek, Ph.D., a skin biology and skin care formulation expert. “They also contain similar ingredients.”
Choosing one over the other often comes down to personal preferences, says Pielek. Read on for the nuances between body creams and body lotions so you know which one is the best choice for your regimen.
What Is Body Lotion?
Think of body lotion as an everyday all-over moisturizer. “It’s used to provide [hydration], soften the skin, and make it feel smoother,” says Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., a double board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. Lotion usually contains humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, skin-soothing emollients, and occlusive ingredients that absorb into your skin. Many also contain soothing and skin barrier-fortifying ingredients like vitamin E and ceramides, adds Dr. Arash Akhavan, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of The Dermatology and Laser Group.
“Humectants are included in lotions because they help provide moisture while emollients make your skin feel smooth and fill in cracks and crevices to reduce rough texture,” Camp tells Bustle. “Occlusive ingredients [are what] trap water in the skin by limiting the amount of water that can evaporate from the skin’s surface.”
Generally, body lotions contain more water content in the formula than the more oil-based body creams, so they’re more lightweight and have a smooth texture that absorbs relatively quickly. You can use a body lotion whenever you want to bring dry skin back to life, relieve itchiness and flakiness, or protect and revive your skin barrier, especially after a shower. “Washing with soap and water can remove some of the natural oils on skin that keep skin feeling smooth and able to retain moisture,” Camp explains. “Applying a lotion after bathing helps restore some of the oils that were removed and makes your skin feel soft.”
What Is Body Cream?
If your skin is extra dry, that’s when you’ll want to dip into a body cream. Just like lotions, body creams work to soothe skin and lock in moisture, but they offer a little extra hydration TLC thanks to the thicker consistency. “Body creams contain a higher concentration of oils, which helps them seal water in the skin more effectively,” Camp says.
You might crave a body cream in the winter when your skin is dry from cold weather. They also come in clutch when you need a more intense treatment for cracked skin — think chapped hands or cracked heels. Some key ingredients to look for include moisturizing ceramides, fat-based lipids, shea butters, and plant-based oils, Akhavan says.
According to Dr. Elaine F. Kung, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Future Bright Dermatology, creams can sometimes feel a little greasy, which can be due to something like petrolatum in the formula. This ingredient serves as a semi-occlusive agent that helps protect and seal in moisture.
Body Lotion Vs. Body Cream
The main difference between creams and lotions lies in their consistency. “Body creams are thicker than lotions because they contain a higher concentration of oil,” Camp says. “They are also usually packed in jars because the consistency is thicker, whereas lotions often come in a pump bottle.”
Akhavan adds that lotions tend to absorb faster while creams feel heavier and take longer to rub in. Because of that, he recommends those with extremely dry skin opt for a body cream as the thickness will help lock in more moisture. “Body lotions are better for oily skin because of the lightweight consistency,” he says.
TL;DR? You can’t go wrong with either product, but you might prefer one over the other because of its texture.
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Juncan, AM. (2021). Advantages of Hyaluronic Acid and Its Combination with Other Bioactive Ingredients in Cosmeceuticals. Molecules. doi: 10.3390/molecules26154429.
Rafal Pielek, Ph.D., skin biology and skin care formulation expert
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