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    Science of Skin Care: Cream vs. Lotion Formulas

    Choosing the right skin care products is a challenge with all the ingredients and skin care technologies on the market. What makes matters worse is that consumers often do not even have a firm grasp on some of the basics—like the difference between a cream and a lotion.

    The Common Denominator

    The difference between creams and lotions may be easy to miss because what they do is so similar. Both products are formulated to moisturize. Both creams and lotions may do that by locking moisture in the skin (i.e. creating a barrier against transepidermal water loss [TEWL]) or by drawing moisture up to the skin’s surface from deeper layers (i.e. acting as a humectant).

    But that’s where the similarities end.

    The Difference is in the…

    The basic difference between creams and lotions is in their formulations, which, in turn, results in very different consistencies.

    Creams are close to 50/50 emulsions of water and oil. Because of their high oil content, they are very viscous—thick, sometimes stiff—and they may leave a greasy feel once rubbed in.

    Lotions are emulsions with significantly less oil. In fact, some formulations may be completely oil-free. Lotions often use alcohols to keep the oil and water components from separating, and that helps create a silky feel once rubbed in. Lotions are less viscous—easy to pour or pump.

    Which Should I Choose?

    There main factors to consider when deciding between cream or lotion are:

    Your Skin Type

    In general, creams are better for people with dry skin while lotions are better for those with oily skin. The thicker formulas lock in moisture and/or provide a protective layer to better keep skin hydrated and supple. Thinner formulas help prevent clogged pores and acne breakouts.

    Lotions are also recommended for people with sensitive skin. Men with facial hair may prefer lotions as well because they will not leave an oily residue on mustache or beard.


    Colder weather brings drier air, and that increases the evaporation happening at your skin’s surface. Creams provide more protection for skin against dry climate-controlled air and harsh winds. Conversely, switch to lotions during summer months for products that allow more breathability.

    To determine what type of products are best suited for your skin health, take our Personal Skin Assessment. Our customer service representatives can also provide you with more information about our products to find the cream or lotion formulas that are right for you.

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