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CeraVe Skin Smarts Skincare Tips Advice The Difference Between Lotion Cream And Ointment


Identifying which moisturizer is best for your skin can be a challenge, especially when you consider the overwhelming array of products to choose from. One helpful way to narrow down your options is by identifying which type of moisturizer may be best suited for your skin type and skin concerns. CeraVe moisturizers come in a variety of textures to suit the needs of all skin types, including gels, lotions, creams, and ointments. In this guide, we’ll explain what makes each of these textures different and who may benefit from each type. We’ll also fill you in on what to look for when choosing a moisturizer for your skin type and share some of our favorite products to help you effectively hydrate your skin year-round.

Facts About Lotion vs. Cream, Gel, and Ointment

  • Moisturizers are available in a range of different textures—like gels, lotions, creams, and ointments—that are ideal for different skin types, uses, and skin concerns. 
  • Lotions and gels are usually formulated with more water content than creams. These lightweight options tend to have a thinner consistency and may be ideal for those with normal to oily skin.
  • Creams are generally thicker in consistency than lotions and gels. They are often preferred by people with dry skin and can be helpful for all skin types during the drier winter months.
  • Ointments are the thickest moisturizer option. These formulas contain occlusives (like petrolatum) and are often used to help relieve cracked, chafed, or chapped skin.

Why Is It Important to Moisturize?

Moisturizing every day is an essential step if you want to achieve and maintain smooth, hydrated, and healthy-looking skin. Your skin requires plenty of moisture around the clock to look and feel its best. Moisturizers help provide your skin with this much-needed hydration. Plus, they can also help reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and support comfortable-feeling skin.

CeraVe’s moisturizers with three essential ceramides are formulated to help maintain and restore your skin’s protective barrier, which is a crucial component of healthy-looking skin. Our range of moisturizers includes targeted options to help address various skin concerns, including dry, flaky skin and visible signs of aging

Learn more about the importance of moisturizing from board-certified dermatologists on CeraVe’s advisory board here: Moisturizing 101.

Understanding Gels, Lotions, Creams, and Ointments

As mentioned above, moisturizer textures are not all the same. Gels, lotions, creams, and ointments can differ in their consistency, appearance, absorption, and optimal use. To help you gain a better understanding of your options, we’re diving deeper into each type of moisturizer ahead. 


Gel moisturizers, as the same implies, have a gel-like, watery consistency. These moisturizer formulas are typically considered the most lightweight option and contain the most water. They’re often clear in color and absorb quickly when applied. Many moisturizing gels (like CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Gel) have a refreshing, weightless feel on skin that won’t leave it feeling greasy after application.

Ideal for: Normal Skin, Oily Skin, and Blemish-Prone Skin


Lotions are generally lighter in texture than creams, but richer than gels. Lotions are also designed to be easily absorbed by your skin, but they often have a creamier consistency and contain more skin-softening emollient ingredients than gels. Lotion formulas (such as CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 and PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion) can provide a rich yet non-greasy option that’s perfect for year-round use.

Ideal for: Normal to Dry Skin and Combination Skin


Whereas lotions tend to have more water content (therefore making them a bit lighter in texture), creams are usually thicker in consistency and more viscous than lotions. They often contain nourishing ingredients and can be highly effective at preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Cream formulas (like CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream) can offer an intensely moisturizing option that delivers long-lasting hydration.

Ideal for: Normal Skin, Dry Skin, and Mature Skin


Ointments are generally the thickest type of moisturizer. They often contain occlusive ingredients like petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly) as their main ingredient, which gives them a thick, semi-solid consistency. Rather than being immediately absorbed, occlusives remain on the skin’s surface to act as a physical barrier that helps seal in moisture.  Topical ointments can be especially beneficial during the cold, dry winter months when applied on affected dry areas. Our Healing Ointment is formulated to temporarily protect and help relieve chafed, chapped, or cracked skin. It also temporarily protects minor cuts, scrapes, and burns.


Ideal for: Dry Skin and Very Dry, Cracked, Chapped, or Chafed Skin

What’s the Difference Between Lotion and Cream?

Now that you have a better understanding of each texture, you may be wondering what other differences can come into play when comparing lotion vs. cream moisturizers. Generally speaking, the composition of ingredients in creams and lotions will affect how each texture feels on your skin. Those who prefer a more lightweight feel may want to opt for a lotion, whereas those who like a richer, more nourishing feel may enjoy a cream. Because they have a lighter texture, lotions may be preferable for anyone who lives in a warm, humid climate or has skin that’s on the oilier side


However, the bottom line when it comes to moisturizing cream vs. lotion is that every formulation can differ. So, while the above information can serve as a helpful starting point, it’s important to read each product label carefully when choosing a cream or lotion. Both of these options will help moisturize your skin at the end of the day, but the label should tell you which skin types and/or skin concerns a product is best suited for.

What’s the Difference Between Ointment and Cream?

When it comes to ointment vs. cream, there are also a few additional factors to consider. Similar to creams vs. lotions, these two textures will feel different on your skin upon application. Research shows that ointments contain significant concentrations of occlusive ingredients and/or oils, so they will feel heavier and thicker than a cream (or any other moisturizer texture, for that matter).1 The typical use of creams and ointment can also differ, depending on the specific product.

Ointments are also often used for targeted relief of dry, rough patches of skin—especially on cracked heels, chapped lips, and flaky elbows or knees. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ointments with at least 30% petrolatum can be used to help prevent and temporarily protect chafed, chapped, or cracked skin. (If your skin is extremely dry, cracked, or chafed, or interferes with your daily activities, consult a board-certified dermatologist for an individualized assessment of your skin.) 

Who Should Use a Gel Moisturizer?

We learned above that gel moisturizers offer the lightest moisturizer texture, but who should use this type of moisturizer? For starters, you may enjoy a gel moisturizer if you dislike the sticky, heavy feeling of some skincare products. Because they typically contain the most water, these moisturizers often have a thin consistency that can feel extra-light and refreshing on your skin.

Gels may be ideal during the hot, humid summer months or for anyone prone to clogged pores or acne breakouts, since gels tend to be lightweight and non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog your pores). Our gel moisturizer, CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Gel, has a refreshing, weightless feel on skin and is great for layering underneath makeup or sunscreen

How To Choose the Right Moisturizer Texture for Your Skin

The type of moisturizer you choose for your daily skincare routine will depend on a variety of factors, including your skin type, skin concerns, and personal preferences. However, finding the right moisturizer texture for your skin shouldn’t be complicated. Read on to discover the basic steps you can take to identify an appropriate moisturizer for your routine.

Step 1: Decide on your preferred texture

It may seem obvious, but the first step when choosing a moisturizer is to understand the different textures and decide on your personal preference. CeraVe’s range of moisturizers includes gel, cream, lotion, and ointment options for all skin types so that you won’t need to sacrifice your preferences when building a moisturizing routine.

Step 2: Identify your skin type

Once you’ve decided on your preferred texture, it can be helpful to consider which type of moisturizer is generally recommended for your skin type. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the five main skin types are: dry, oily, normal, combination, and sensitive.3 For help identifying your skin type, check out our skin type guide.

Dry skin

Restoring moisture to dry skin begins with the right type of moisturizing products. For dry skin, the Mayo Clinic recommends considering richer creams or ointments over lotions or gels.4 When choosing a moisturizing cream for dry skin, we suggest looking for non-comedogenic, fragrance-free options with beneficial ingredients for dry skin (such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides). One option to consider is CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, our barrier-restoring cream that’s suitable for use on the face and body. 

Oily skin

Oily skin also requires sufficient moisture to appear healthy and dewy, especially after cleansing. Since this skin type overproduces sebum (often resulting in excess shininess), a lightweight moisturizing lotion or gel is usually ideal. Look for moisturizers that are labeled “non-comedogenic” (like CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Gel). 

Normal or combination skin

Normal and combination skin types may benefit from a mix of moisturizers, depending on your skin’s needs. This may mean intuitively switching between lighter-textured lotions or gels in the morning and richer night creams, with targeted ointment application (if needed) to specific dry spots. Normal and combination skin types may also want to change moisturizers based on the season. For instance, you can try a lightweight gel or lotion during the summer months when temperatures (and humidity) rise, and a cream during the drier winter months.

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin that’s on the drier side, try opting for a cream or ointment that’s formulated for sensitive skin. Or, for sensitive skin that tends to be oilier, you can try a gel or lotion—just make sure that the formula is suitable for sensitive skin. All CeraVe gels, lotions, creams, and ointments are developed with dermatologists and formulated to be gentle on skin, fragrance-free, and allergy-tested. If you have any questions about whether a gel, lotion, cream, or ointment is right for your skin, seek the advice of a board-certified dermatologist.

Step 3: Consider your primary skin concerns and goals

Your skin’s ability to retain moisture naturally decreases with age, which can leave mature skin prone to dryness. So, if age-related dryness or visible signs of aging are among your skin concerns, it may be beneficial to choose a rich-textured cream over a gel or lotion. CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream with peptides is one great option that can help reduce the look of tired skin overnight. And, as mentioned above, if your skin concerns include excess shine or blackheads, a lightweight, non-comedogenic lotion or gel moisturizer may be your ideal pick.

For help choosing the right products for your specific skin type and skin concerns, use our Find My Skincare Solution tool.

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