Moisturizer Cream vs Lotion: What’s the Difference?

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When shopping for moisturizers, there are different major types of products to choose from. Whether it is for your body or your face, you should carefully select the product to use. 

When your skin needs added moisture, which one do you prefer to use? In the battle between moisturizer cream vs lotion, who wins? Is there really a clear winner for everyone?

I’ve asked the experts, and the answer is (as always) the right choice depends on the ingredients, your skin, and on the environment. 

In this article, I’ll go over what lotion and cream moisturizers are, and explain how to know what to use on your skin or face for hydration. 


Moisturizer Cream Vs Lotion: What’s the Difference?

Creams and lotions can have different functions for your skin. Some can be moisturizing, anti-aging, brightening, exfoliating, and many other functions. 

Both products can have the same ingredients, too. In fact, some brands may produce both cream and lotion formulations in the same line of products. 

If they are created as moisturizers, both types of products can certainly help hydrate the skin. They can both effectively be used to fight against skin dryness. 

The right choice for your skin depends on several factors. As Dr. Nadir Qazi states, “different moisturizers will work better for different types of skin. For example, a person with dryer skin may benefit from a heavier moisturizer, and someone with oily skin may have better results with a lightweight oil or a lotion.”

A person with dryer skin may benefit from a heavier moisturizer, and someone with oily skin may have better results with a lightweight oil or a lotion.

Dr. Nadir Qazi

Moisturizing Cream and Lotion Defined

Both moisturizing creams and lotions contain a combination of water and oil. The main difference between creams and lotions lies in the ratio of water and oil in the mixture. 

As Taylor Hughes from Revolve Aesthetics states, “typically, lotion is a lighter formula which provides less moisture than a cream. It is recommended for people with normal-oily skin. They are usually water based, which is absorbed into the skin fairly quickly.”

For lotions, you may observe that they are a bit runnier and thinner in consistency compared to creams. That’s because they have a higher level of water content than oils. 

This formulation makes them easily absorbed by the skin. Additionally, they feel much lighter on the skin too. 

On the other hand, creams are usually formulated with 50% water and 50% oil. That creates an oilier, thicker and greasier formulation.

These are usually packed in tubes instead of pump bottles because of their thick consistency. However, they still work great because they are able to penetrate more deeply when applied to rough skin. 

Does It Matter?

Cosmetologist Ghanima Abdullah points out that the choice of oil or lotion format may not matter as much — certainly not as much as the choice of ingredients in the formula.

As she explains, “The format of cream or lotion doesn’t matter in the least. In fact, there are many creams on the market that use certain fillers to appear creamy, and it’s not at all because of the ingredients. The ingredients are what matter.”

Michael Morris from the Rough and Tumble Gentleman agrees. He points out: “Does the format of your moisturizer matter? No, as long as you don’t experience allergic reactions such as rashes, breakouts, dryness, and oiliness.”

The ingredients are what matter.

Cosmetologist Ghanima Abdullah

Face Lotion and Body Lotion

Another variable to consider is whether you want to use your lotion or cream on your face or body. Often the facial skin is very different from the skin on the rest of the body — it’s exposed to the most sunlight, makeup, and environmental pollutants.

Do you need to choose a different lotion for your face and your body? Possibly, but not always. It all depends on the ingredients.

As Ghanima Abdulla states, “I use a lotion on my face. It contains no fragrance, so it isn’t irritating. What it has up front on the top of the list is aloe vera, which is extremely hydrating. It also contains plant stem cells to rejuvenate my face and rose extracts and shea butter for moisture. So just looking at the ingredients, I could tell that this would be good for my face as well as my body. And it is.”

If you can find the right formula that fits your skin all around, it can be used all over the body. In fact, many moisturizers are marketed as face and body moisturizers, such as this one from Bio-Oil Skincare.


Determine Your Skin Type

To properly select which of the two to use, you should first take a closer look at your skin. Determining your skin type will help you select which product is best for you. 

Some people have sensitive skin, which is why they should be very careful with what products to use. Those that have normal skin may have an easier time trying out the different moisturizers because their skin wouldn’t react too violently toward them. 

The best way to know which works for your skin is through experimentation. You have to try the products and see what works well. Apart from that, here’s a general guide to choosing which of the two to use depending on your skin type. 

1. Acne-Prone Skin

People with acne-prone skin may be better off with lotions. That’s because the CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 | Oil-Free Face Moisturizer with Sunscreen | Non-Comedogenic | 3 Ounce  contains less oil as compared to the creams. They are absorbed much more quickly by the skin. 

Creams contain more oil and that could add to the oils that you already naturally produce in excess. In such cases, they can cause the oils to be trapped in the pores. 

Apart from the consistency of the moisturizer, the ingredient list should be checked. Alcohols are drying chemicals and could make your acne worse, so it is best to avoid them. 

The reason why alcohols are added is to make the lotions feel lighter so that they can be absorbed easily. However, alcohol could degrade the skin barrier. 

2. Oily Skin

Even if you already have oily skin, it is still best to use a moisturizer. Some may think that using alcohol or astringent on the face helps dry out the oiliness. However, that does something worse. 

Drying out the skin using such products will just lead the skin to react by producing more oil. That’s because it feels that the skin is too dried up due to the alcohol products used. 

If you have oily skin, it would still be best to moisturize your skin from time to time. Lotions are great because they can help with moisture without being too oily. 

3. Dry Skin and Dehydrated Skin

As Taylor Hughes from Revolve Aesthetics explains, “if you have dry skin, I would recommend using a moisturizing cream

with a thicker consistency. Personally, I use a moisturizing cream on my face to keep it hydrated, and a lighter formula lotion on the rest of my body.”

Those with dry skin can use either the lotion or the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream | Body and Face Moisturizer for Dry Skin | Body Cream with Hyaluronic Acid and Ceramides | Normal | Fragrance Free | 19 Oz | Packages May Vary .

However, if you have very dry skin that is already cracking, then it is best to go with the creams.

The creams can feel oilier or greasier but they create a much better protective barrier to help prevent the evaporation of moisture from your skin. 

Taylor adds that “A rich cream can also be used to treat eczema and other dry skin conditions, whereas a lotion may only temporarily relieve symptoms (such as itching).”

Observe The Season

Apart from your skin type, you should consider the current season when selecting a moisturizer for your skin.

As Dr. Qazi explains, “Lotions tend to be lighter weight and contain a higher volume of water making lotions more easily absorbed by the skin. This makes them ideal for use in the summer months and by people with more oily skin. On the other hand, moisturizers are often heavier and full of lipids and fatty alcohols that nourish the skin. However, some moisturizers may be too heavy for some skin types and lead to acne or milia.”

During summertime, it is best to use lotions. They are lightweight and will feel more comfortable because they are less greasy. 

Skin usually needs less moisturizing products in the summer due to the higher air humidity. That’s why you don’t need thicker products that create barriers over your skin. That could just feel uncomfortable. 

However, if you stay under the sun for a long time, you can still get sunburned, which starts with dry skin. In such cases, a moisturizing lotion with SPF protection is best. 

Creams are best used for dry winter months. They are thicker, oilier, and greasier but they are capable of efficiently moisturizing parched skin. They create a barrier over the skin to make sure that moisture is trapped. 

For the skin of the hands and the foot,L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream, Shea Classic, 1 Ounce  are best used rather than lotions. That’s because these areas have thicker layers of skin. Creams are better at penetrating the deeper layers of the skin. 

As for the face, creams would be great but make sure that they are noncomedogenic so that they don’t result in the clogging of your pores. There are thick creams but there are lighter ones that you can use. 

How Do You Know Which One To Use for Your Skin Conditions?

Dr. Qazi suggests that we “look for ingredients compatible with your skin type and specific skin conditions. For example, hyaluronic acid is generally a nourishing ingredient compatible with most skin types. It will hydrate the skin and increase collagen production. Jojoba and argan oils are two facial oils and moisturizer ingredients that are lightweight.”

Final Thoughts

It’s more important to focus on the ingredients in your moisturizer rather than the format. Many moisturizers are built with the same ingredients and are sold in ointment, moisturizer, and lotion formats.

Instead of worrying so much about the format, zoom in on the ingredients, and find one that works in harmony with your skin.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).