Creams, Lotions, Oils. Are They All the Same?
Your skin is dry and begging for relief, so do you grab for a cream, lotion or oil? No, they are not all the same. Your ideal choice depends on a number of factors, the first of which is understanding the biggest difference among the three types of skin-soothing products.
What’s the Difference?
The biggest difference among creams, lotions and oils is their oil to water ratio.
Creams are a blend of oil and water, with a larger percentage of oil than water. This makes them thick and rich yet often tough to spread on dry skin. Creams are best applied right after a shower, when skin is still moist. Creams can then help lock in your skin’s moisture, ensuring the moisturizing properties last longer than lotions.
Lotions are a blend of water and oil, with a larger percentage of water than oil. This makes them thinner and easy to spread than creams, but not necessarily better. While lotions may appear to be quickly absorbed into dry skin, the water in the lotion does not absorb – it evaporates. This can actually dry out your skin instead of moisturizing it.
Oils contain no water or other liquid additives – just straight-up oil. Some oils may take quite some time to absorb into the skin and leave you with a greasy feel. Others, however, are absorbed rather quickly and leave the skin soft.
What to Use
Creams, lotions and oils can all work to soothe and moisturize skin, with the top choice dependent on the type of soothing your skin needs and when your skin needs it.
Skin that’s dry all the time: Oils are a wise choice for skin that’s constantly on the dry side. Apply oils while skin is still moist, or right before bedtime so they can be slowly absorbed into the skin throughout the night. Oils provide the longest-lasting moisturizing power for the most intense results.
Skin that’s dry during certain times of the year: Creams work well for skin that tends to try out during certain seasons. Winter can be particularly harsh with consistent exposure to the drying effects of indoor heating systems. Since creams absorb best on moist skin, they’re best to apply right after a shower or bath.
Skin that’s never really dried-out but likes a daily boost: Lotions are a top choice for a quick bit of moisture throughout the day, and they are preferable to creams in the summer humidity. While their moisturizing properties don’t last as long as creams or oils, they do absorb quickly and can be used any time of the day without leaving your skin greasy or oily.
What to Avoid
One ingredient you want to avoid in any skin-soothing product is mineral oil. Baby oil is a prime example of a mineral oil product, albeit one with fragrance added. Mineral oil is actually a byproduct produced when petroleum is distilled to make gasoline. Yes, yuck.
Mineral oil is actually a byproduct produced when petroleum is distilled to make gasoline. Yes, yuck.
Petroleum jelly is another product you typically want to avoid on your skin. Both mineral oil and petroleum jelly create a barrier over the skin, rather than absorbing into it.
If you’re still not sure if a cream, lotion or oil is the best bet for your skin, there is absolutely no harm in having all three on hand. Use lotion as your daily go-to in the morning or throughout the day, creams during winter’s harshness, and oils when needed in key areas that could use an extra dose of moisture after a shower or before bed. They’re not all the same but all three can contribute to smooth, soft, beautiful skin.
Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist and performer whose journalism career began in 1991. Armed with a BFA in creative writing, an MA in English literature and a thesis in NYC subway folklore, she has written thousands of articles for newspapers and the online crowd. Credits also include writing and poetry awards, three illustrated humor books and an art shop. Her passion for the creepy is balanced out by her passion for all things natural, holistic, organic and/or involving singing bowls.