Differences Between Lotion, Cream & Body Butter

Lotions, creams and body butters hydrate dry skin.

Photo: Pinnacle Pictures/Photodisc/Getty Images

Savvy girls know that even with the perfect outfit, makeup and hair, dull and dry-as-the-Sahara skin will tank your look. Fortunately, there's a moisturizer for every skin type and skin problem, from oily skin that needs just a bit to cracked elbows and knees screaming for some serious hydration. Understanding the difference between the various types of moisturizers available can help you pick the one right for you. One of the most important distinctions is between lotions, creams and body butters.

Ingredients

Lotions, creams and body butters have the same job -- softening up your skin -- but contain different ingredients that make them appropriate for different levels of skin dryness. Lotions and creams are prepared from three base ingredients: water, a moisturizing agent and an emulsifier. Lotions differ from creams in that they contain more water. Creams typically contain 60 to 75 percent water combined with 20 to 30 percent of a moisturizing agent. Common moisturizing agents include glycerin or dimethicone. Emulsifiers, compounds that allow the oily moisturizing agent and water to mix smoothly, may be stearic acid, glycol stearate or cetyl alcohol. Lotions and creams also contain preservatives to prevent bacteria growth, coloring agents, thickeners and a fragrance. By contrast, body butters contain a much smaller percentage of water. Body butters still contain emulsifiers, fragrance and preservatives, but they contain solid oil compounds like shea butter, cocoa butter, beeswax or Brazil nut oil as their main moisturizing component. These ingredients make body butter much thicker and heavier than either lotions or creams.

Recommended Use

When should you use a lotion, a cream or a body butter? Use lotions for routine daily moisturizing, especially after coming out of the shower. Use creams on any part of your body that has dry skin, from your knees to your hands to your feet. Reserve body butters for your desperately dry skin areas -- the bits that are flaky, dull, cracked and painful. For most women, this is your feet -- particularly your heels -- or your hands if they are routinely exposed to water or temperature extremes. To make the most of any moisturizer, apply as soon as possible after your skin gets wet.

Effectiveness

Creams, lotions and body butters are effective ways to hydrate and soften your skin. MayoClinic.com warns, however, that you should be careful to use uber-moisturizing products only if you really need them. People with normal, oily or sensitive skin may not benefit from relatively heavy concoctions like creams and body butters. Consider using a lotion if you have mildly dry skin or are older and need more hydration. Remember that because of lotion's thinnesss and its ability to absorb into the skin quickly, you may need to reapply it throughout the day. Creams are best used several times a day to treat dry skin. Body butters are most effective when used sparingly. Apply body butter to excessively dry skin areas and leave in place overnight for the best results.

Expert Insight

Whether you use body butter, a lotion or a cream, remember that soft, touch-me skin requires more than slathering on a concoction. "Ladies' Home Journal" advises that you should not only apply moisturizer every time your skin gets wet -- which includes after every shower or bath -- but you should wash only in lukewarm water and use mild cleansers to avoid drying out your skin. Drinking plenty of water -- six to eight glasses daily -- can also help keep your skin supple and hydrated.

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