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Lotion vs Cream in Skincare: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a lotion vs cream in your skincare routine?

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30 and Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb on blue background

Lotions are lighter than creams, but they’re often not as rich and moisturizing. They’re great for people with oily skin or who live in humid climates because they don’t weigh the skin down as heavier creams can.

Creams are thicker than lotions, so they usually provide more moisture to dry skin types.  This makes them better at hydrating dry skin or helping with certain types of conditions like eczema or psoriasis. However, it also means they take longer to absorb into your skin and may feel heavy on your skin.

This guide on lotion vs cream will help you choose the best moisturizer for your skin type, whether it is lotion, cream, or another type of skincare product!

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Lotions in Skincare

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word lotion as “a liquid preparation for cosmetic or external medicinal use”. The word lotion comes from Middle English “locion“, from Old French “lotion“, and from Latin “lotio”, the act of washing.

For our purposes, we’ll use the word lotion to mean a liquid preparation that soothes, moisturizes, and protects the skin. Whether for the face or body, lotions are applied to the skin surface and work by forming a thin layer over the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis) to prevent loss of moisture.

The word liquid in the definition is a descriptive term that separates lotions from creams, as lotions are lighter, more spreadable, and usually thinner in texture.

Lotions are made from a mixture of water and oil, which is also known as an emulsion. Water and oil won’t mix well on their own, so emulsifiers like cetearyl alcohol or polysorbate 20 are often used to create the emulsion and keep them together.

Lotions contain a higher amount of water than creams do, which makes them much thinner than creams, which tend to have a higher concentration of oils. This helps make lotions more lightweight, but can also make them less moisturizing than creams.

Many different oils are used in lotions (and creams) from solid oils like coconut, palm, or palm kernel oils to liquid oils like olive oil, sunflower oil, or avocado oil. Lotions often contain humectants like glycerin, preservatives, fragrance, and/or colorants.

Lotions may also contain actives that target a specific skin concern or issues like acne, aging skin, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots, or concerns related to dry skin or sensitive skin.

Because lotions tend to have a thinner consistency and absorb into the skin faster than creams, they are especially good for people with combination or oily skin because they won’t feel as heavy as thicker creams can. Lotions are perfect for those who live in warmer climates where humidity levels are high during certain seasons of the year.

Creams in Skincare

Merriam-Webster provides a few definitions of the word cream. For our purposes, we’ll define it as “a usually emulsified medicinal or cosmetic preparation” and “something having the consistency of cream“, since cream is the butterfat portion of milk.

The word cream is derived from Old French cresme, creme,  Late Latin chrisma “ointment” and Late Latin cramum.

Just like cream from milk has a thicker consistency, cream in skincare products is thicker and usually more moisturizing than lotions.

Creams are formulated with a mixture of oils and water, but unlike lotions, they usually contain a higher percentage of oils. Like lotions, emulsifiers bind oils and water together in creams to create a blend that works to protect your skin.

Creams work by forming a protective barrier against environmental factors like wind, cold, and dry air which can cause skin issues like dryness and irritation. They restore the skin’s natural protective moisture barrier as well as lock in moisture to prevent further drying and dehydration of the skin.

Creams may contain emollients like shea butter, beeswax, or cocoa butter which make their formulas rich and nourishing. Creams can vary greatly in their thickness, but they tend to be thicker than lotions because they’re specifically formulated for dry skin that needs intensive care.

Like lotions, creams address a variety of skin concerns especially those relating to dry, parched skin.

Creams tend to absorb more slowly into the skin than lotions do. They can feel heavier or greasier on the skin for those with combination or oily skin, so depending on the exact formula, a cream may be better suited to those with normal, dry, or extra dry skin.

Creams For The Body

Creams make good body moisturizers because they are thicker, more concentrated, and provide longer-lasting moisture than most lotions do. They can also be used to treat dry skin patches like elbows or knees by applying them directly to the problem areas.

Lotion vs Cream: Which is Better?

Lotions are not better than creams and creams are not better than lotions, but depending on the formula, one may be better than the other for your skin type.

Since we each have a unique complexion and skin on our bodies, your best bet is to choose a lotion or a cream based on your skin type, skin condition, and skin concerns.

Lotions are ideal if you have normal to oily skin, as the lower oil content is less likely to clog pores (always look for a non-comedogenic lotion). Lotions are also good for those who spend time in hot/humid climates because they won’t leave your skin feeling greasy.

Creams are ideal if you have normal to dry skin, as creams, depending on the formula, may provide better moisturizing capabilities and a protective barrier to prevent moisture loss. If you have very dry skin or live in a cold, dry climate, a cream is your best bet for combating these conditions.

Avoid Clogged Pores

Whether you use a lotion or a cream, an important quality is the level of comedogenicity, or how likely it is to clog your pores. The comedogenic rating of a product ranges from 0-5 (0 meaning it doesn’t clog pores and 5 meaning it is very likely to be comedogenic

To avoid clogged pores, which can lead to acne and breakouts, choose a non-comedogenic lotion or cream and look for products that contain non- or low-comedogenic oils like argan oil, grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, or rosehip oil.

How to Use Lotions and Creams

For The Face: Apply your lotion or cream after cleansing, toning, skincare serums, and treatments. Follow with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher in your AM skincare routine.

For The Body: Apply on clean skin in circular motions. Concentrate on dry areas like elbows and knees. Allow it to absorb before getting dressed.

Cream vs Gel-Cream

The difference between creams and gel-creams comes down to ingredients and consistency. A cream is usually thicker and heavier than a gel-cream, which generally has a much lighter feel on the skin because it contains more water and less oil to provide deep hydration without leaving behind any residue or heaviness.

Gel-creams are better for those with combination or oily skin. If you have dry or very dry skin, you may find that gel-creams may not be moisturizing enough depending on the formula. Stick with creams to keep your skin hydrated and soft while combating any flakes or peeling.

Cream vs Body Butter

A body butter is usually thicker than a cream and contains butters like cocoa butter, shea butter, or mango butter which provide extra-emollient benefits to soften and soothe dry and itchy skin.

Body butters often come in a tub as they might be too thick to pump in a bottle, whereas creams tend to have a lighter texture than body butters. Body butters are a great choice for those with very dry skin.

Cream vs Ointment

Creams are lighter in consistency, while ointments are heavier and stickier due to their high oil or petrolatum (petroleum jelly) content, which can lead to clogged pores/breakouts in those with acne-prone skin. Creams usually have a lower oil content than ointments.

If your skin is very dry or you live in a cold, windy climate, try using an ointment for extra relief. Otherwise, save ointments for spot treatments.

Facial Lotions to Try

CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion

If you are looking for a multi-tasking noncomedogenic facial lotion for normal to dry skin, look no further than CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion. It is enriched with CeraVe’s three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid for hydration and can also be used on your body.

This moisturizing lotion is designed to work throughout the day and night to provide 24-hour hydration for dry skin. The formula includes a patented MVE Delivery Technology that releases ceramides over an extended period of time so your skin can stay well hydrated all day long.

It has a lightweight texture that doesn’t leave your skin greasy or sticky. It’s also accepted by the National Eczema Association. Like all CeraVe products, it is fragrance-free.

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30

For combination and oily skin, CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 is a non-comedogenic facial lotion with broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen protection (Homosalate (10%), Meradimate (5%), Octinoxate (5%), Octocrylene (2%), Zinc Oxide (6.3%). It contains skin-plumping hyaluronic acid, oil-balancing niacinamide which also calms the skin, plus CeraVe’s three essential ceramides to moisturize the skin.

This oil-free moisturizing lotion provides a lightweight feel while protecting your skin from UVA/UVB rays. Pair it with CeraVe’s ultra-lightweight PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion at night.

Facial Creams to Try

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream is a best-selling 2-in-1 face and body moisturizer that contains CeraVe’s three essential ceramides to restore your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) helps the skin retain water.

This nourishing moisturizer uses CeraVe’s MVE Technology that releases moisturizing ingredients throughout the day for 24-hour hydration.

Ideal for normal to dry and very dry skin, this non-comedogenic facial and body moisturizer is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin prone to redness or irritation. Although richer in texture than CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion, the formula leaves your skin feeling smooth and soft without feeling greasy or heavy.

Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Acid Cloud Cream

For normal to combination and oily skin, Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Acid Cloud Cream is a lightweight and fluffy moisturizer that delivers intense hydration and lightweight coverage. It’s formulated with three types of hyaluronic acid in a 30% Hyaluronic Acid Complex to provide hydration and multiple levels in the skin.

It also contains Pentavitin, an active that is supposed to provide up to 72-hours of hydration even after cleansing. Hydrolyzed silk leaves skin soft and smooth while vitamin E offers antioxidant protection.

ProHyal+ contains yeast oligosaccharides from blue agave leaves for hydration. Per the manufacturer, ProHyal+ is supposed to decrease the look of crow’s feet wrinkles around the eyes.

This fragrance-free gel-cream face moisturizer targets the look of wrinkles and fine lines and is designed to feel weightless on the skin.

Gel-Creams To Try

Belif the True Cream Aqua Bomb

For normal to combination skin types, Belif the True Cream Aqua Bomb is a gel cream, which is designed to provide deep hydration without leaving behind any residue. It floods the skin with hydration while instantly cooling it. It’s great for those with normal, combination, oily, or acne-prone skin as it is water-based and has a very lightweight texture.

It contains apothecary herbs like anti-inflammatory Plaintain leaf extract and soothing Oat kernel extract. Marigold extract and Lady’s Mantle contain antioxidants that help neutralize skin-damaging free radicals from UV exposure, while improving skin elasticity for firmer skin, and minimizing the look of pores.

For more details on this moisturizer, please see my belif skincare review.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream with Hyaluronic Acid for Extra-Dry Skin

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream with Hyaluronic Acid for Extra-Dry Skin is a water gel cream that sinks into the skin quickly like a gel but deeply moisturizes like a cream for extended hydration. It contains sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) to attract and lock in moisture and support a healthy skin barrier.

It’s fragrance-free, dye-free, oil-free, and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores. Ideal for extra dry skin, it locks in hydration for up to 48 hours.

Body Lotions to Try

Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion

Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion is an ultra-hydrating body moisturizer that has a light yet creamy feel that absorbs into the skin easily. The formula is free from fragrance and won’t clog pores or leave behind a greasy residue.

It contains colloidal oatmeal and emollients like glycerin to moisturize and protect the skin for up to 24 hours. Colloidal oatmeal is also calming and soothing on the skin, which is especially helpful for those with sensitive skin. The formula is free from fragrance and won’t clog pores or leave behind a greasy residue.

Nivea Breathable Nourishing Body Lotion

Nivea Breathable Nourishing Body Lotion is a lightweight daily body lotion that provides up to 48 hours of moisture for dry skin. It is enriched with vitamins C and E and leaves your skin soft and smooth, never sticky.

Nivea’s Breathable Skin Technology uses microgel and polar oils to improve spreadability, so no more waiting for a body lotion to dry before getting dressed.

The formula locks in moisture and forms a breathable protective layer against dryness to keep your skin soothed and hydrated throughout the day. This moisturizer is excellent for the warmer summer months when you want a very lightweight body moisturizer.

Nivea Men Breathable Body Lotion

For men, Nivea Men Breathable Body Lotion is formulated to provide long-lasting moisture for up to 48 hours and is supposed to evaporate sweat 3x faster. It is enriched with nourishing shea butter and Vitamins E and C.

Microgel is used in place of the usual emulsifiers to reduce lotion thickness. The lotion has a masculine fragrance and sinks in quickly with zero stickiness.

Body Creams To Try

Nivea Cocoa Butter Body Cream

Nivea Cocoa Butter Body Cream with Deep Nourishing Serum is a rich and creamy body cream that provides 48 hours of moisture. It contains cocoa butter, rich in moisturizing fatty acids and antioxidant vitamin E that is ideal for dry to very dry skin.

The cream locks in moisture and improves skin radiance. It can also be used as hand cream or a foot cream for dry skin on the hands and feet.

Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

For a splurge that can double as a perfume, Sol De Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream contains bupuaçu butter, açaí oil, coconut oil, sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid), and squalane along with antioxidant guarana extract to deeply moisturize, smooth, and tighten the skin. The cream has an addictive scent of pistachio, salted caramel, and vanilla.

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+ Intense Repair Moisturizing Cream

For sensitive skin, La Roche-Posay Lipikar Balm AP+ Intense Repair Moisturizing Cream for dry to extra dry skin on your body and face helps to reduce dry, rough skin and provides up to 48-hour hydration.

This intense moisturizing cream features La Roche-Posay Prebiotic Thermal Water which contains minerals, trace elements, and a high concentration of antioxidant selenium to nourish the skin and support a healthy skin microbiome (the microorganism population on the skin surface). Very dry skin may have an unbalanced microbiome, and the prebiotics in the thermal water help to restore balance.

The cream also contains nourishing shea butter, barrier-strengthening niacinamide (vitamin B3), and vitreoscilla filiformis (found in La Roche-Posay Prebiotic Thermal Water), a patented ingredient that has been shown to stimulate an antioxidant and antimicrobial response in the skin.

Suitable for the whole family including babies two weeks and up, this cream is accepted by the National Eczema Association. This non-comedogenic and fragrance-free cream is ideal for sensitive skin.

Final Thoughts on Lotion vs Cream in Skincare

While lotions and creams have different textures, consistencies, and ingredient concentrations, there are both formulated to moisturize your skin and protect your skin barrier.

You can even mix lotions and cream together if neither one seems right for you. Just keep in mind that doing so will change their consistency slightly but shouldn’t affect how well they work overall assuming they don’t contain potent actives that shouldn’t be mixed.

Whether you have normal, dry, oily, or combination skin, it’s important to purchase moisturizers based on these variables rather than simply choosing a lotion or cream for its packaging or scent. Your skin will certainly thank you!

Thanks for reading, and until next time, here’s to your good skin health!