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Is Lotion A Moisturizer? Differences Between Lotion and Moisturizers


For the longest time, I used the words ‘lotion’ and ‘moisturizer’ interchangeably. They’re both just products to hydrate your skin, right?

Turns out, there are lots of differences between moisturizers and lotions and you might even be using the wrong product for your skin.

So, how do you tell the difference and which should you use? The moisturizer vs lotion decision is determined by your skin type and needs.

We’ve done the research for you and put together this little guide. So get comfy, you’ll be a hydration pro in no time!

6 Differences Between Lotions and Moisturizers


1. Moisturizers and lotions are used for different purposes

In general, lotions and moisturizers both have the same use: to hydrate and repair skin. This similarity makes it confusing to tell them apart, especially because they can both target skin issues like wrinkles or blemishes. Lotions are often designed for use on the body, while moisturizers are used on the face. This is because moisturizers tend to offer more hydration power and protection than lotions do.

The light texture of lotions ensures that they sit on top of the skin, providing hydration to the upper layers. Moisturizers, however, soak in deeply, resulting in minerals and water being brought into the skin.

2. Their ingredients differ

Most lotions have a very high concentration of water and very little oil in their formulas. Moisturizers, on the other hand, have a higher oil content, making them generally denser than lotions.

Moisturizers also add sealing ingredients that lotions often lack. Petrolatum and mineral oils, for example, can act as barriers on the skin, locking in moisture. This often makes moisturizers feel heavier and soak in slower than lotions do.

It’s important to note that heavy fragrances and preservatives are most often found in lotions, not moisturizers. This is because higher water content makes it easier for a product to spoil faster, so these ingredients help prevent and mask this issue. Sensitive facial skin may react badly to heavy perfumes, so opting for a moisturizer, not a lotion may be your best bet.

3. Differences in texture

Lotions are frequently thinner and lighter than moisturizers. The water-based formulas feel light and soak in fast, where as dense moisturizer formulas can feel richer and take longer to fully soak into the skin.

This makes sense because the water-based formulas of lotions evaporate faster than their oil-based moisturizer counterparts.

4. Lotions and moisturizers may be packaged differently

Moisturizers and lotions are all in the same family, ranging from how much water they contain, to how many “seal-type” additives they have. The most water-based products are gels and lotions, which often soak in easily without clogging pores. The more oils and sealants you add, the more your product starts to look like an ointment or cream.

These dense products contain more emollients, which soothe skin and strengthen its protective barrier. The downside to heavier ointments is the greasy feel they often give, thanks to plenty of oils. If you can deal with the texture, ointments can offer amazing hydration results. Creams are the happy medium between ointments and lotions, offering deep hydration with less grease.


5. They can target different skin types or issues

Lotions are thinner and usually contain very little oil, so they can be great for oily or acne-prone skin. The light formula normally won’t clog your pores and they’re often designed to meet many skin needs. For example, many lotions have SPF in them, are medicated to treat acne, or can even contain dyes to lightly tan your skin.

Because of the perfumes and additives found in lotions, they are often better for the body, rather than the face. Places where hair grows can benefit from the light hydration and lack of stickiness lotions offer.

Moisturizers are thicker products that usually target one issue: skin hydration. The heavier formulas are used to soften skin and trap moisture inside, rather than treating a multitude of skin issues. Drier skin types can benefit from a heavier moisturizer that packs a big hydration punch.

6. When to use them in your routines

When hydrating your face, a moisturizer or lotion should go at the end of your skincare routine, after cleansing, but before SPF or makeup.

It’s always a good idea to apply some hydration on your body after you shower, as this is the time your damp skin can trap water easily. Many people opt for a scented lotion, but heavier moisturizers are more effective at keeping water in your skin.

Listen to your body – if you’re still experiencing dry, flaky skin after you apply lotion, it might be time to upgrade to a heavier moisturizer or cream.

It’s usually not possible to have over-hydrated skin, but if your product feels too heavy, opting for a light lotion might do the trick.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, lotion is a moisturizer, but it’s used for different purposes and works differently than denser moisturizers. Light, water-based lotions are good for oilier skin and the body, providing gentle hydration and often treating specific issues.

Heavier moisturizers are needed for dry, aging, or sensitive skin types. Their oil-heavy but additive-light formulas bring plenty of hydration without irritating with fragrances and chemicals.

There’s a huge diversity of skin types, so it only makes sense that there are diverse products to hydrate those skin types. It may be tricky finding the right one for you, but once you settle on a good lotion or moisturizer, you’ll realize how important hydrated skin was all along.

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