Skincare tips & advice
What’s the Difference Between Lotion, Cream, and Ointment?
Moisturizing products like lotions, creams, and ointments are key for hydrating your skin. However, these skincare essentials can vary greatly in their ingredients, textures, and intended uses—making some a better fit for your skin’s needs than others. Learn the fundamental differences between lotions, creams, and ointments here, as well as how to effectively incorporate each type of moisturizer into your daily CeraVe regimen for healthy-looking skin.
Regardless of which skin type you have, moisturizing products are a valuable addition to any skincare routine. The amount of sebum (natural oils) secreted by your skin—along with your current routine, environment, and skin goals— are just some of the factors that can help dictate the best type of moisturizing product to support your skin’s hydration levels. Ahead, we’re breaking down some of the fundamental differences between lotions, creams, and ointments to help you soothe dry skin, balance oil production, and effectively hydrate your skin year-round without clogging pores or causing unwanted shine.
Quick Tips on Lotions, Creams, and Ointments
- All CeraVe moisturizing products are formulated with three essential ceramides to help restore and maintain your skin’s natural barrier.
- Applying moisturizer daily (after bathing or facial cleansing) can help support healthy hydration levels in all skin types, including oily skin.
- Lotions are usually formulated with more water content than creams and are considered lightweight and easily absorbed by your skin.
- Creams are generally thicker in consistency than lotions and make an ideal choice for people with dry skin on their face or body, or for use during the drier winter months.
- Ointments are the thickest moisturizer option. By acting as an occlusive, these products are generally reserved for use on very dry body skin.
Ointment vs Cream vs Lotion: Which One Should You Use?
Your skin requires moisture around the clock. CeraVe’s range of daytime and nighttime moisturizers help deliver soothing, skin-smoothing benefits for various skin concerns, including options for dryness anti-aging and rough and bumpy skin. To gain a better understanding of how CeraVe’s products should fit into your daily skincare regimen, let’s dive deeper into the main distinctions between each of these options.
Keep reading to learn what sets lotions, creams, and ointments apart from one another, as well as which skin type is best-suited for each kind of moisturizer.
What Is Moisturizer in Skincare?
In the simplest terms, moisturizers are a category of skincare products designed to provide your skin with hydration. They cover a wide spectrum of product types—including lotions, creams, and ointments. You will often find your favorite moisturizer available in two common formulations: a rich-textured cream or a lightweight lotion to suit many different skin types.
To understand the role of moisturizer more deeply, it’s important to first note that most moisturizers contain what are known as sealing agents—such as petrolatum—which effectively helps prevent moisture loss and allows your skin to remain hydrated for longer.1 Also known as occlusives in skincare, these sealing agents work by imitating the skin’s natural barrier and creating a protective layer on the skin’s surface.
Although some ointments available as over-the-counter skin protectants feature higher concentrations of occlusive ingredients, these ingredients can also be found in lotions and creams.
What Is a Moisturizing Lotion?
Now that you have a better understanding of moisturizers, you may be wondering what other differences might come into play when comparing the skincare terms “moisturizer” vs “lotion.” Lotions are a specific type of skincare product that fall under the moisturizer category. This means that they are also primarily aimed at supporting skin hydration.
However, when it comes to lotions, there are a few subtle distinctions to keep in mind. Firstly, lotions (especially facial lotions) are generally lighter in texture than creams. They are also usually formulated with higher water content than creams, which help them to be more easily absorbed by your skin.
Typically seen as non-greasy, they make the perfect option for normal to oily skin, as well as for the summer months when temperatures (and humidity) rise. Moisturizing lotions also make popular choices for anyone with acne-prone skin in need of a lightweight daytime and nighttime moisturizing option.
What Is a Moisturizing Cream?
Similar to lotions, creams are also moisturizing skincare products. The main difference between these two types of moisturizers is that, whereas lotions typically have more water content (therefore making them a bit lighter in texture), creams are generally thicker in consistency. This, in turn, may create an even stronger barrier to help seal in moisture when compared to lotions.
Creams make an ideal choice for use during the cold, dry winter season and for people with dry skin on their face or body. When using facial creams, it’s important to look for non-comedogenic options that won’t clog pores or cause acne flare-ups, such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.
Along the same lines, since the natural moisture in your skin decreases with age, creams are also popular options for anti-aging or nighttime moisturizers. For this purpose, we recommend CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Night Cream.
What Is a Moisturizing Ointment?
For skin that is extremely dry, there is another effective moisturizing option available. Ointments are skincare formulas created to temporarily protect, soothe, and hydrate skin. This type of moisturizer is generally the thickest of all the options and features the highest oil content. The primary function of ointments is to act as an occlusive, which means that, rather than being immediately absorbed, the active ingredients remain on the skin’s surface longer to act as a protective barrier.
This type of moisturizer is generally reserved for use on very dry body skin and can also be found in products aimed at preventing and treating diaper rash. Ointments may be very beneficial during the dry winter months when applied on affected dry areas. If your skin is extremely dry, cracked, or chafed, seek the advice of a dermatologist for an individualized assessment of your symptoms.
Which Moisturizer Is Right for Me?
The type of moisturizer you choose to include in your skincare routine will depend on a variety of factors, from your environment to your skin type, main skin concerns, and more. First and foremost, you’ll want to identify your skin type in order to start narrowing down the ideal moisturizing products for you. For help understanding your skin type, read this helpful guide on the characteristics of each skin type.
CeraVe moisturizers are all formulated with three essential ceramides to help restore and maintain the skin barrier. They are also fragrance-free, non-irritating, and expertly developed with dermatologists. Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind when incorporating lotions, creams, and ointments into your CeraVe routine.
Restoring moisture to dry skin begins with the right type of moisturizing products. For dry skin, CeraVe recommends using heavier moisturizing formulas, such as facial creams, instead of lotions.2 For very dry skin on the body, look for intensely hydrating products that are free of fragrances, dyes, and lanolin (to minimize the risk of any potential irritation)—such as CeraVe Healing Ointment.
Since this skin type over-produces sebum (often resulting in excess shininess), a lightweight moisturizing lotion is usually ideal for oily facial skin. Opt for lotions that are labeled “non-comedogenic,” meaning they are specially formulated not to clog your pores. CeraVe recommends an ultra-lightweight moisturizing lotion with SPF in the morning, followed by an oil-free nighttime moisturizer before bed. Remember: Oily skin also requires sufficient moisture to appear healthy and vibrant, especially after cleansing.
Normal or Combination Skin
Normal and combination skin types may benefit from a mix of well-balanced moisturizers in both the lotion and cream categories. Since normal skin is neither too dry nor too oily, CeraVe recommends a moisturizer that focuses on maintaining moisture balance. This may mean intuitively switching between lighter lotions in the morning and heavier night creams, with targeted ointment application (if needed) to specific parts of the body.
If you’re still unsure about which moisturizing product is right for your skin’s needs, try CeraVe’s Skincare Solution Finder for personalized recommendations to help you begin your skincare journey.
- Fenneld. “How to Choose the Best Moisturizer for Your Dry Skin.” Cleveland Clinic, 9 Nov. 2020.
- “Moisturizers: Options for Softer Skin.” Mayo Clinic, 18 Oct. 2019.
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