In a perfect world, our skin would be able to maintain its hydration and elasticity. Yet, the reality remains that factors such as harsh cleansers and exposure to environmental elements dry us out, leaving our skin looking less than ideal. So we layer on the lotions and moisturizers looking for a remedy. But the burning question is: which wins in the battle of lotion versus moisturizer? Are they so different? And how do you choose which one your skin needs?
As it turns out, these products aren’t opposites, but rather shades of a spectrum. Let’s take a further look so you can smartly slather on these products for smoother, softer skin.
Chemical Components: Where the Subtle Difference Is Clear
What’s the real difference between a lotion and a moisturizer? Trick question! Moisturizers are a spectrum from water to vaseline—with lotions, creams and ointments being varying combinations of the two. In fact, most product lines carry two or more forms of a moisturizer, such as one cream form and one lotion form, to satisfy every skin type (more on that below). So, a lotion can actually be a moisturizer. Moisturizers use a mixture of oil and water soluble components (emulsion) to restore the outermost layer of the skin to its natural condition. You’ll find common emollients such as petroleum jelly and mineral oil, plus waxes used to thicken the creams and seal in moisture.
Lotions have the most added ingredients. Why? Because they are placed toward the water end of the spectrum. The higher the water content, the easier it is for bacteria to form. To combat this, preservatives (like parabens, benzyl alcohol or salicylic acid) are used—usually between the levels of 0.01 percent and 5 percent. Fragrances are then often added to mask the scent of these ingredients. This is why we normally use lotion for the body and heavier products on our (more sensitive) faces. These additions aren’t necessarily harmful to the skin—just be sure to apply and see how your skin feels. If you feel any sort of burning sensation, your skin is telling you it’s a no.
Texture: From Liquid Moisture to Heavy-Duty Skin Savers
Creams, lotions, gels and oils all feel very different when you apply them. A cream is a very standard thick moisturizer that we use for those extra stubborn flaky areas like our elbows or applied all over the face before bed. Are you left with a greasy feeling? While maybe not ideal for daytime use, the greasy-feeling creams are often most effective at keeping moisture in and irritants out.