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How it works:

  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Lotion vs. body butter: Which is better for your skin?

Learn more about the major differences between the two and the pros and cons of each.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Feb 28, 2022 · 8 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > Lotion vs. body butter: Which is better for your skin?

Buttering up your body can be a delicious way to help pack in deep hydration, especially if your skin is particularly thirsty. Plant-based butters and oils have been used in both cooking and cosmetics since ancient times. But whether this rich, dense body moisturizer is better for your skin compared to body lotion comes down to its formula—and your skin’s unique needs. 

So, what exactly is body butter?

Body butter derived from fruits, nuts, and seeds has been used to moisturize skin for millennia. Evidence suggests the use of raw shea butter¹ in Africa as early as 100 A.D. Today, body butters are often fragranced with scrumptious-smelling natural flavors like vanilla, mango, coconut, and more. As mouthwatering as they sound, they're best suited to help soften and rehydrate dry and chapped skin on your hands, legs, and feet.

That’s not to say these heavy butters are for everyone’s skin. Coconut oil, cocoa butter,² and other body lubricants can potentially clog pores. If you have acne-prone skin, it’s probably best to avoid applying body butters with these ingredients to areas that are prone to breakouts, such as your chest and back. 

What are the benefits of body butter?

From hydration to prevention, body butters offer five potential benefits:

  1. Hydration. Body butters are thick and luxurious and aim to penetrate your skin barrier to provide the most hydration. If the typical lotions aren’t cutting it for your brittle winter skin, body butter may help your skin stay feeling nourished and quenched.

  2. Plenty of vitamins. Quality body butters contain vitamins like E³ and C⁴ that can help rejuvenate and replenish your skin while they simultaneously hydrate.

  3. Long-lasting. Because body butter is so thick, it’s meant to sit and soak in to help your skin feel soft and supple which means there’s less need to reapply throughout the day (especially compared to lotions). 

  4. Preventative skincare. Body butter may help keep your skin deeply hydrated, which in turn keeps it looking and feeling healthy in the long run. And, as you probably know, preventive care is key to having beautiful skin in the future!

  5. It smooths rough patches. When you hydrate your skin with body butter, you help soften any dry, rough patches, especially in places like your elbows that can be prone to extra-dryness.

What should I look for in a body butter?

If you’re looking for a moisturizer that’s richer and thicker than a lotion, body butters may be just what you need. In addition to other hydrating ingredients, body butters often contain natural oils. Body lotions and butters generally contain many different ingredients in their formulas, but there are a few ingredients in particular that that particularly may help nourish and hydrate your skin. 

6 ingredients for all-over body hydration

1. Argan oil. Argan oil has been shown to improve skin hydration by restoring the skin’s barrier and its ability to lock in moisture. Rich in carotenes, squalene, and antioxidants like vitamin E, argan oil is a popular choice for hydrating and nourishing skin and hair.⁵ 

2. Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that can help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals.⁶ 

3. Aloe. Some body butters also contain ingredients with known healing properties like aloe vera. Aloe vera has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, which can help soothe dryness and irritation.⁷

4. Hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid has a high water retention rate, so it helps your skin maximize its water absorption.⁸ While its moisturizing benefits help all skin types, it’s especially popular for helping skin look bright, plump, and dewy.

5. Glycerin and ceramides. Glycerin works similarly to hyaluronic acid, as it helps to lock in your skin’s moisture, effectively slowing down the water from leaving your skin,⁹ while ceramides can help improve moisture by strengthening the skin's protective barrier.¹⁰ 

6. Shea butter. Shea butter is packed with triterpenes, tocopherol, phenols, and sterols, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.¹¹

What is body lotion?

Body lotions generally have a higher water content than butters or creams, so they’re typically lighter and absorb into your skin fairly quickly. Many are designed to lock in your skin’s moisture to keep dryness away through a blend of nutrients and other ingredients. Some body lotions also come with SPF so you can hydrate your skin and protect it from the sun’s rays at the same time.

What are the benefits of body lotion?

From absorption to giving off a dewy glow, body lotions offer three potential benefits: 

  1. It’s fast-absorbing. If you like to keep your skincare routine quick and easy and don’t want to wait for thick creams to soak into your skin, a body lotion can help moisturize in no time.

  2. It’s comforting. If your skin becomes excessively parched, it could start to crack (ouch!). Keeping it hydrated with body lotion can help prevent painful dry spots.

  3. It helps your skin glow. When you take care of your skin, it shows! Body lotion helps your skin both look and feel its best.

What to look for in a body lotion

Depending on your skin type, certain body lotions may work better than others. But how do you find the right lotion for your unique skin? Here are some things to look for in body lotions to fit your specific needs.

For dry skin

If you’re particularly concerned about dry, irritated, or flaky skin, certain lotions—especially those approved by the National Eczema Association—are specifically formulated to help soothe and heal your skin. 

The Curology rich moisturizer

  • Thick and luxurious texture

  • Made with hyaluronic acid and glycerin

  • Formulated to soothe dry skin

​​Dove Body Love Cream Oil Intensive Body Lotion

  • Thick, creamy lotion

  • Good for extremely dry skin

  • Contains synthetic fragrance 

For sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, it may be best to look for fragrance-free and alcohol-free lotions. When it comes to lotion, think of added fragrances as a bonus. They smell nice but don’t contribute to the lotion’s effectiveness, and they may even cause irritation. 

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Body Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin

For oily skin

If you’re prone to breakouts or have oily skin, you can still find lotion that will help hydrate and nourish. Look for lotions that are specifically oil-free. Some lotions may advertise natural ingredients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those ingredients are better for your skin. For example, coconut oil can clog pores, so skip this ingredient if you’re prone to body breakouts.

Jurlique Softening Rose Body Cream

  • Body butter with non-greasy formula

  • Contains shea butter, beeswax, lavender, and synthetic fragrance

For sun protection

Many body lotions come with SPF to help you protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Just be sure to look for a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to shield you from the sun sufficiently, re-apply it once for every two hours of sun exposure, and practice sun safety.  

Jose Maran Whipped Argan Oil Mineral SPF 45 Body Butter

  • Protects against the sun’s UV rays

  • Contains argan oil, aloe vera, and shea butter

Lotions for those who don’t like the feel of lotion

If you don’t like how some lotions feel sticky on your skin, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Thankfully, some lotions are specifically designed to be put on damp skin, perfect for right after you get out of the shower. Wet-skin lotions absorb quickly into your skin, giving you all the hydration without the greasy feel.

Curel Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer

  • Fragrance-free and approved by the National Eczema Association  

  • Made with glycerin and shea butter

  • Contains potentially pore-clogging ingredients, so be careful if you’re prone to breakouts

Body lotions vs. body butters and creams

The main difference between a body “cream” and a body “lotion” is the thickness. Remember, the creamier the consistency, the thicker the product—and body butters are often the creamiest, thickest, and richest of them all. If your skin tends to be on the drier side, a decedent body cream may be just what it needs.

Lotions, however, have a higher water content than body butters, which means they’re easier for the skin to absorb, which feels lighter on oilier skin. That makes them perfect to carry around and quickly reapply whenever you need to. Butters, however, take longer to seep in and tend to “sit” atop the skin, making them a good option for dry skin that needs extra hydration locked in.

FAQs

What exactly is body butter?

Body butter derived from fruits, nuts, and seeds has been used to moisturize skin for millennia. Evidence suggests the use of raw shea butter in Africa as early as 100 A.D. Today, body butters are often fragranced with scrumptious-smelling natural flavors like vanilla, mango, coconut, and more.

What are the benefits of body butter?

From hydration to prevention, body butters offer five potential benefits: 

  1. Hydration.

    Body butters are thick and luxurious and aim to penetrate your skin barrier to provide the most hydration.

  2. Plenty of vitamins.

    Quality body butters contain vitamins like E and C that can help rejuvenate your skin.

  3. Long-lasting.

    Because body butter is so thick, it’s meant to sit and soak in to help your skin feel soft.

  4. Preventative skincare.

    Body butter may help keep your skin deeply hydrated, which in turn keeps it looking and feeling healthy in the long run.

  5. It smooths rough patches.

    Help soften any dry, rough patches, especially in places like your elbows.

What is body lotion?

Body lotions generally have a higher water content than butters or creams, so they’re typically lighter and absorb into your skin fairly quickly. Some body lotions also come with SPF so you can hydrate your skin and protect it from the sun’s rays at the same time.

What are the benefits of body lotion?

From absorption to giving off a dewy glow, body lotions offer three potential benefits: 

  1. It’s fast-absorbing.

    If you like to keep your skincare routine quick and easy, a body lotion can help moisturize in no time.

  2. It’s comforting.

    If your skin becomes excessively parched, it could start to crack (ouch!). Keeping it hydrated with body lotion can help prevent painful dry spots.

  3. It helps your skin glow.

    When you take care of your skin, it shows! Body lotion helps your skin both look and feel its best.

Healthy skin isn’t just for your face. When creating your body care routine, it’s important to find what’s right for you, whether it’s a thick cream, a light lotion, or even body oil.

Curology Skincare Products Custom Formula Cleanser Moisturizer

When it comes to skin care for your face and neck, nothing beats a dermatologist-backed routine that’s designed specifically for you. Enter Curology. We were founded by dermatologists to make effective skincare simple and accessible. 

Sign up for Curology to get matched with one of our in-house dermatology providers. They’ll prescribe your Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your specific skin goals (subject to consultation, of course—it is a prescription, after all).

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
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Your first month of Curology includes your Custom Formula plus any of our recommended products at no extra cost. You’ll just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling. 

Sound good? Let’s go! Start your Curology free trial now.* 

FAQs

What exactly is body butter?

Body butter derived from fruits, nuts, and seeds has been used to moisturize skin for millennia. Evidence suggests the use of raw shea butter in Africa as early as 100 A.D. Today, body butters are often fragranced with scrumptious-smelling natural flavors like vanilla, mango, coconut, and more.

What are the benefits of body butter?

From hydration to prevention, body butters offer five potential benefits: 

  1. Hydration.

    Body butters are thick and luxurious and aim to penetrate your skin barrier to provide the most hydration.

  2. Plenty of vitamins.

    Quality body butters contain vitamins like E and C that can help rejuvenate your skin.

  3. Long-lasting.

    Because body butter is so thick, it’s meant to sit and soak in to help your skin feel soft.

  4. Preventative skincare.

    Body butter may help keep your skin deeply hydrated, which in turn keeps it looking and feeling healthy in the long run.

  5. It smooths rough patches.

    Help soften any dry, rough patches, especially in places like your elbows.

What is body lotion?

Body lotions generally have a higher water content than butters or creams, so they’re typically lighter and absorb into your skin fairly quickly. Some body lotions also come with SPF so you can hydrate your skin and protect it from the sun’s rays at the same time.

What are the benefits of body lotion?

From absorption to giving off a dewy glow, body lotions offer three potential benefits: 

  1. It’s fast-absorbing.

    If you like to keep your skincare routine quick and easy, a body lotion can help moisturize in no time.

  2. It’s comforting.

    If your skin becomes excessively parched, it could start to crack (ouch!). Keeping it hydrated with body lotion can help prevent painful dry spots.

  3. It helps your skin glow.

    When you take care of your skin, it shows! Body lotion helps your skin both look and feel its best.

• • •

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. University of Oregon Anthropology. ​​Use of Shea Butter Pushed Back 1,000 Years. ( 2016, March 23). 

  2. Fulton, J. E., et al., Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, (January 1984)

  3. Nachbar, F., & Korting, H. C., The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. Journal of molecular medicine. (January 1995).

  4.  Pullar, J. M., The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, (August 2017). 

  5.  Keen, M. A., & Hassan, I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, (2016). 

  6. Hekmatpou, D., et al. The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review. Iranian journal of medical sciences. ( January 2019). 

  7. Papakonstantinou, et al., Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology. (July 2012).

  8. Ventura, S. A. & Kasting, G. B., Dynamics of glycerine and water transport across human skin from binary mixtures. International journal of cosmetic science.( April 2017).

  9.  Spada, F., et al. Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin's own natural moisturizing systems. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. (2018).

  10.  Lin, T. K., et al.  Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International journal of molecular sciences. (2017).

This article was originally published on November 24, 2020, and updated on February 28, 2022.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Trial is 30 days + $4.95 shipping and handling. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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