Is There a Difference Between Lotion and Moisturizer?

Is There a Difference Between Lotion and Moisturizer? I Mirra Skincare

From harsh cleansers to exposure to the elements outside (like those pesky winter blues), our skin can easily dry out and have us reaching for a lotion and moisturizer. But which one should you reach for?


1. Defining the Difference Between Lotion and Moisturizer

2. How do Lotion and Moisturizer Work on the Skin?

3. What’s Suitable for Your Skin Goals?

Key Points

  • Lotion has a higher water content than moisturizer, and therefore does its work on top of the skin rather than penetrating it.
  • Moisturizer is a creamy formula that’s designed to bring moisture or vitamins or minerals into the skin to lock in moisture and help treat dry skin.
  • Avoid lotion and moisturizers with excess ingredients and fragrance to prevent irritation on the skin.

Some say that asking the difference between moisturizer and lotion is equivalent to asking the difference between white and ivory, a raven and a writing desk, or dry and dehydrated skin. They’re small differences, but the differences still make a big impact – especially when it comes to your skin.

When shopping for the latest lotion and moisturizer products in the cutest packaging, it’s important to go in and know what you’re looking for so you can meet your ideal skincare goals. To do so, it’s time to really get into the nitty gritty of the difference between lotion and moisturizer.

Defining the Difference Between Lotion and Moisturizer

When you think about it, if you have dry skin, it doesn’t make sense to just pat some water on your face and call it a day. This relates to the idea of lotion versus moisturizer.

For one, lotion has a higher water content than moisturizer, and therefore does its work on top of the skin rather than penetrating it. Lotions can help prevent sunburn and carry essential vitamins for the skin, but their use is usually topical to work on the surface of the skin.

Moisturizer, on the other hand, is a creamy formula that’s designed to bring moisture or vitamins or minerals into the layers of the skin, not just on the surface of the skin (1). This means that many moisturizers have sealing agents, like mineral oils or petroleum jelly, to help lock in moisture into the skin. Moisturizers are therefore thicker than lotions, and are more effective for treating dry skin—especially in the winter. 

On top of these definitions, it’s equally as important to keep in mind that the more water that a product has, the more likely it is to attract bacteria or to have extra added ingredients and fragrances. To prevent bacteria from getting into the formula, preservatives like parabens, benzyl alcohol, or salicylic acid are added. Then, fragrances are added to mask the smell of preservatives. Sure, that vanilla and pumpkin spice smells great when you’re browsing lotion and moisturizer bottles in the store, but keep in mind that they are definitely more prone to irritate your skin. 

How do Lotion and Moisturizer Work on the Skin?

Speaking of definitions, the Oxford online dictionary defines lotion as “a thick, smooth liquid preparation designed to be applied to the skin for medicinal or cosmetic purposes,” and defines moisturizer as “a lotion or cream used to prevent dryness in the skin.” As you can see, lotion and moisturizer aren’t totally different, but they do serve different roles when it comes to working with the skin for rejuvenation. For example, certain lotions can be used for medicinal purposes, such as calamine lotion, while others may be formulated to treat skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

When it comes to moisturizers, locking in moisturizers into the skin requires a combination of water and oils, otherwise known as an emulsion. Since water molecules can’t mix with oil molecules in the same bottle, a chemical called surfactant must be added to attract both the water and oils into a smooth, creamy blend (2).

What’s Suitable for Your Skin Goals?

If your skin goals involve soft and healthy skin, then you will likely need to use a combination of lotion and moisturizer for your face and body. Here are some tips you can reference as you try to find which lotion and moisturizer will work best on the skin and how to apply the products for the best results:

1. Cleansing, exfoliating, and a good moisturizer

Be sure to cleanse daily to remove dirt and oil from the day and exfoliate your skin once at least once a week to remove dead skin cells that can cause texture on the skin. You can cleanse with non-abrasive ingredients like oats or opt for chemical exfoliators so it’s easier for the moisturizer to penetrate the skin. A chemical peel uses ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as lactic or citric acid, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid, or enzymes, which are derived from fruits (2).  

2. Checking the ingredients

When shopping around for a new lotion and moisturizer, pay close attention to the ingredients. While you’re avoiding fragrances and harsh ingredients, you can look for beneficial additions for the skin like avocado oil, vitamin E oil, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera extract, or niacinamide. Ingredients like these are great for the skin and can stimulate collagen production to maintain skin elasticity, improve skin texture, and reduce the signs of aging amongst other benefits. Plus, getting a lotion and moisturizer with SPF is crucial for protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, sun damage, and premature signs of aging.

3. Hydration on-the-go

If you’re wanting to keep your skin hydrated and moisturized throughout the day while you’re on the go, you can opt for a moisturizing mist that you can carry around with you. Look for products that contain humectants that will draw in moisture to the top layer of skin, occlusives that prevent water loss, and emollients that soothe the skin (3).

4. Patch test

Whenever you’re trying out a new lotion and moisturizer, you should perform a quick and easy patch test on your skin to be sure the new product doesn’t irritate the area. In order to perform an effective patch test, apply the product to an area such as your forearm or inside of your elbow, cover it with a band aid, and leave it untouched for 24 hours. If you don’t notice irritation, your lotion should be good to apply on your body and your moisturizer to your face.

Is There a Difference Between Lotion and Moisturizer? I Mirra Skincare

Written by Selena Ponton


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  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/moisturizers-do-they-work
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5849435/
  3. https://vivianewoodard.com/what-is-the-difference-between-moisturizer-and-lotion/


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