Moisturizer & Lotion: What Is The Difference?

Moisturizer & Lotion: What Is The Difference?


We are asked daily exactly what the difference is between a moisturizer and a lotion. While a moisturizer can be considered a lotion, not all lotions can be a moisturizer. Confusing? We know that it can be. By definition, a lotion is, “a liquid preparation for cosmetic or external medicinal use.” In contrast, a moisturizer is defined as “to add moisture to (something, such as a person's skin).” We like the sound of the latter definition best.

Thinking back to the basics of anatomy, our skin is a lipid bi-layer consisting of 3 main layers and numerous layers in between. We know that adequate moisture is necessary for healing, repairing and forming healthy new skin cells. Naturally, we produce many substances that help our skin to retain this moisture, but harsh cleansers, lifestyle choices & environmental factors all work against this delicate cycle. When this balance is disrupted, your skin has a very hard time holding on to this critical component and it must be replaced somehow. This brings us back to the difference between a lotion and a moisturizer.

While a lotion is something that you apply to skin, it typically does not provide the skin’s surface with any moisture or healing properties. Many times it is used to transport pharmaceuticals (topical antibiotics, acne medications, pain relief, etc.), prevent skin damage (sunscreen) or provide the skin with a topical medicated ointment including vitamin E.

On the other hand, a moisturizer will supply the skin with just that, essential moisture. They are formulated in a way to carry oils, vitamins and hydration back to the many skin layers allowing for healthy cell regeneration and moisture retention. The most basic components of a moisturizer include oil, water and an emulsifier. The oils provide your skin with vitamins & minerals as well as many types of essential fatty acids. The water allows the product to have texture. The emulsifier binds the water to the oil and helps to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL). From there, the formulation can include humectants to help draw in and retain additional moisture as well as additional vitamins and essential oils for a scent. As always, a way to preserve against pathogens and mold is an essential component.

When choosing between a lotion and a moisturizer, you have to decide on the type of affect you want it to have on skin. Would you like it to be a carrier for another ingredient or to add moisture & vitamins while soothing dry skin?

Be sure to check out our next article “To The Depths: Petroleum in Skincare” to dive into the reason behind petroleum as a component in many skincare products.

Shop our skin-nourishing moisturizer line here