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

Discover the differences between these moisturizers and choose the right one for you.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
Skincare cream
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 11 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
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.

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. 

Here, Curology’s team of licensed dermatologists unpack how to choose between body lotion and body butter. We’ll also look at some of the top moisturizing ingredients in both butters and lotions, including one of our favorites—shea butter. So let’s jump in!

So, what exactly is body butter? 

Various oils and creams have been used to moisturize skin for millennia.¹ Evidence suggests the use of raw shea butter² in Africa as early as 100 A.D. With the advancements in skincare technology, today, moisturizers come in a variety forms, including body butters. Body butters are often fragranced with scrumptious-smelling natural flavors like vanilla, mango, coconut, and more. Generally speaking, body butter is best suited to help soften and rehydrate dry and chapped skin on the hands, legs, and feet.

That’s not to say these heavy butters are for everyone’s skin. Coconut oil, cocoa butter,³ 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 key potential benefits: 

  1. Hydration: Body butters are thick and luxurious and aim to penetrate your skin barrier to provide the most hydration. If 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 E⁴ and C⁵ 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. 

  5. Smooth 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 are the benefits of body lotion?

Body lotions generally have a higher water content than butters or creams, so they’re typically lighter and absorb into the skin fairly quickly. Many are designed to lock in the 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.

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.

Body lotions vs. body butters 

The main difference between a body “butter” and a body “lotion” is 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 butter 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” on top of the skin, making them a good option for dry skin that needs extra hydration locked in.

6 ingredients for all-over body hydration

Body lotions and butters generally contain many different ingredients in their formulas, but there are a few ingredients—six in particular—that may specifically help nourish and hydrate your skin.

  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 polyphenols, squalene, and antioxidants like vitamin E, argan oil is a popular choice for hydrating and nourishing skin and hair.⁶

  2. Vitamin EVitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that can help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals.⁷

  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.⁸

  4. Hyaluronic acidHyaluronic acid has a high water retention rate, so it helps your skin maximize its water absorption.⁹ 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 skin’s moisture, effectively slowing down the water from leaving the skin,¹⁰ while ceramides can help improve moisture by strengthening the skin's protective barrier.¹¹

  6. Shea butter: Shea butter is packed with triterpenes, tocopherol, phenols, and sterols, and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.¹²

Shea butter for moisturizing your skin

Speaking of shea butter, this extract is one of the most cherished botanicals in cosmetics, and for good reason. Its extraordinary benefits for skin have earned it a prime place in both body butters and lotions. Here at Curology, we love it so much we included it in our Rich Moisturizer and Lip Balm.

One of shea butter's primary benefits is its superb moisturizing qualities. Thanks to its rich concentration of fatty acids, shea butter helps seal in moisture to provide deep and long-lasting hydration to the skin.¹³ This makes it an ideal ingredient to combat dryness and keep skin feeling soft, smooth, and nourished.

In addition to moisture retention, shea butter also aids in boosting collagen production, a key factor in maintaining skin's elasticity and youthfulness. It's even been found to absorb UV-B rays, offering added protection against the sun's damaging effects.¹⁴

Shea butter also carries strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This means it not only soothes irritated skin, but also protects against free radicals that can cause premature aging.¹⁵ All these qualities combined make shea butter an invaluable component in a skincare routine, promising healthier and more resilient skin!

Shea butter for scars

If you're battling scars, shea butter could be your skin's new best friend. Hailing from the Shea tree in Africa, shea butter is a natural remedy long touted for its ability to manage and soften scar tissue.¹⁶

Shea butter's magic lies in its rich store of triterpenes, a group of compounds known for promoting skin tissue repair.¹⁷ Triterpenes work to rejuvenate your skin from the inside, helping to reduce the appearance of scars over time. This makes shea butter a superb ingredient to include in your skincare regimen if you're hoping to minimize the look of scars.

Research suggests that shea butter may inhibit the growth of normal and keloid fibroblasts—the cells responsible for creating scar tissue. While the mechanism isn’t completely understood, it is believed that the abundant omega-3 fatty acids in shea butter play a role in this process.¹⁸

Besides its scar management properties, shea butter also aids in keeping the skin moisturized and protected from the sun, both of which are crucial for proper scar care.¹⁹ In essence, shea butter offers a multifaceted approach to scar treatment, helping to soften, heal, and reduce the appearance of scars.

Proven effective ingredients to hydrate your skin

When it comes to keeping your skin soft and hydrated, 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. Whether it’s shea butter, hyaluronic acid, or squalene, we’ve got the proven ingredients to keep your skin moisturized.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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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).

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.

FAQs

Is shea butter good for scars?

Shea butter has traditionally been used for its ability to soften scar tissue, which can lessen its appearance.²⁰ The key lies in its rich contents of triterpenes²¹ and omega-3 fatty acids,²² potent compounds known for their skin repair benefits. These components not only help in the healing process but also prevent the formation of keloid scars, which are raised, thickened areas of skin that develop after injury.

How long does it take for shea butter to fade scars?

While shea butter has a long-standing tradition of softening scar tissue,²³ there are no studies showing that it will work for everyone or a precise timeline. However, maintaining healthy skin habits, such as keeping the skin hydrated with moisturizers like shea butter, and avoiding direct sunlight, can enhance the overall healing process.²⁴ So, while shea butter can assist in scar management, patience and consistent skincare routines are also crucial.

Is shea butter good for face scars?

While shea butter has potential benefits for skin repair, its oils might clog pores, especially on the face, leading to acne. This could be counterproductive when treating facial scars. If you're considering shea butter for face scars, it might be safer to choose products labeled "non-comedogenic" or "won't clog pores."²⁵ These are specially formulated to reduce the likelihood of triggering breakouts. Because everyone’s skin is unique, it’s best to consult with a licensed dermatology provider for individualized recommendations.

• • •

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

  1. Mawazi, S., et al. A Review of Moisturizers; History, Preparation, Characterization and Applications. Cosmetics. (2022, June 9). 

  2. Archaeology. Use of Shea Butter Pushed Back 1,000 Years. Archaeological Institute of America. (2016, March 22). 

  3. Mills, O., et al. Enhancement of comedogenic substances by ultraviolet radiation. British Journal of Dermatology. (1978, February 1). 

  4. Nachbar, F. and Korting, H.C. The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin. Journal of Molecular Medicine. (January 1995).

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

  6. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. (2017, December 27).

  7. Keen, M.A. and Hassan, I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. (July-August 2016).

  8. 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).

  9. Papakonstantinou, E., et al., Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology. (2012, July 1).

  10. Ventura, S.A. and Kasting, G.B. Dynamics of glycerine and water transport across human skin from binary mixtures. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (April 2017).

  11. Spada, F., et al. Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin's own natural moisturizing systemsClinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. (2018, October 15).

  12. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. Ibid.

  13. Ferreira, M.S., et al. Trends in the Use of Botanicals in Anti-Aging Cosmetics. Molecules. (2021, June 11).

  14. Ferreira, M.S., et al. Trends in the Use of Botanicals in Anti-Aging Cosmetics. Molecules. Ibid.

  15. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Ibid.

  16. Olaitan, P.B., et al. Inhibitory Activities of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Traditional African Remedies on Keloid Fibroblasts. Wounds. (April 2011).

  17. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Ibid.

  18. Olaitan, P.B., et al. Inhibitory Activities of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Traditional African Remedies on Keloid Fibroblasts. Wounds. Ibid.

  19. Monstrey, S., et al. Updated scar management practical guidelines: non-invasive and invasive measures. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. (August 2014).

  20. Olaitan, P.B., et al. Inhibitory Activities of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Traditional African Remedies on Keloid Fibroblasts. Wounds. Ibid.

  21. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Ibid.

  22. Olaitan, P.B., et al. Inhibitory Activities of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Traditional African Remedies on Keloid Fibroblasts. Wounds. Ibid.

  23. Olaitan, P.B., et al. Inhibitory Activities of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Traditional African Remedies on Keloid Fibroblasts. Wounds. Ibid.

  24. Monstrey, S., et al. Updated scar management practical guidelines: non-invasive and invasive measures. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg. Ibid.

  25. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 10 tips for clearing acne in darker skin tones. (n.d.).

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

• • •
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.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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