Lotions 101: When Did We Get So Many Options And How The Heck Do You Choose One?

June 19, 2015 by Lisa Fogarty
shefinds | beauty

When did lotion become so complicated? The primary objective might be to keep your skin hydrated and smooth, but the number of options at your disposal–body lotions, face lotions, body butters–can be overwhelming. Variety, however, is the spice of life and when it comes to skincare these various lotions are there to help address specific skin concerns and ailments. So, let’s celebrate the differences and get to the bottom of each lotion so you can determine which is right for you.

Body Butter Vs. Body Lotion: What’s The Difference?

“Typically, body butters are much heavier and more emollient, giving them a more luxurious feel than lotions,” explains Molly Leahy, bridal hair and makeup artist at Blushing Brides in Boston. “They also contain more oils (coconut, jojoba, etc.) which create a barrier on the skin to help keep moisture locked in. However, due to the higher oil content, a body butter or heavy cream is much more likely to cause a breakout on oily skin than a lotionIf you have dry skin then body butter can be an essential tool to help heal dry patches and rough skin.”

“Body lotions, on the other hand, are have a much lighter consistency and don’t necessarily accommodate all skin types,” Leahy says. “On the plus side, lotions are humectants and help to preserve the moisture that is already in the skin. If you have more acne-prone skin a lotion is definitely the way to go.”

“Facial lotions are for more targeted issues such as acne or wrinkles,” explains beauty expert Julie Ricevuto at “For example, you may have acne on your face, but not necessarily on your back, meaning you shouldn’t be using acne lotions on skin that doesn’t suffer from that specific condition.”

Can You Use Lotions Interchangeably?

The short answer? Don’t even think about it!

“Unless you’re in dire need of some facial hydration and you’re completely out of options, you should never use body lotion on your face,” Ricevuto says. “Body lotion is a lot thicker than facial lotion, so it can cause you to break out or even cause irritation on sensitive skin. Thick skin on the body can withstand much more especially in terms of harsher ingredients or fragrances, while delicate facial skin cannot. On the other hand, face lotion can technically be used on the body; however, it may be too light and not as effective on tougher skin.”

Leahy adds, “When you are looking at your face you want to help problems like wrinkles and acne. When it comes to your body you are dealing with thicker skin that has been exposed to harsher environmental elements (like washing your hands repeatedly in hot water or with hard soap) and are looking to moisturize and relieve cracks and dryness. This being said, most lotions and butters made for the body are too heavy for the face because they are meant to create a thicker topical barrier between your skin and the elements while retaining moisture.”

Which Lotion is Right For You?

Before you shop, get to know your skin. Pay close attention to how it reacts at different times of the month and then proceed with caution when it comes to selecting a lotion or body butter.

“No matter what your skin type, you should be using lotions and creams specific to that body part: face lotion for the face, body lotions
and butters below the neck,” Leahy says. “If your body is on the drier side or during times of the year when the temperatures are more harsh (like winter) go for something heavier like a body butter to help soften and soothe your skin. For other times of the year when you are more active and sweating and prone to body breakouts, go for a more lightweight body lotion.”

Editor’s Picks

If you’re in the market for a rich body butter that will instantly treat rough areas like knees and elbows, Clinique’s Deep Comfort Body Butter is magical. An amazing thick and moisturizing drugstore option? Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Nourishing Comforting Whipped Souffle, which contains cocoa and shea butters.

Are body lotions more up your alley? L’Occitane Lavender Certified Organic Lotion is sweet-smelling heaven in a bottle. For light coverage, Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion is fragrance free and won’t irritate your skin.

I’ve always found face lotion preferences to be quite personal (and you really need to take your skin type into consideration here), but two that I’ve never found disappointing for my combination skin include Peter Thomas Roth Ultra-Lite Oil-Free Moisturizer and Nia24 Intensive Recovery Complex.

For more beauty tips, check out how to shave your knees and the 7 most important makeup rules to follow when it’s hot.


Lisa Fogarty is a lifestyle writer and reporter based in New York who covers health, wellness, relationships, sex, beauty, and parenting.

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