Cream vs. Lotion vs. Ointment: Which one works best?


Ointments, lotions, and creams are the most common formulations of products that can be applied to the skin.  The differentiating factors will affect what will work best for you.

 

Ointments feel the thickest, heaviest, and are the most occlusive.  Think about Vaseline petroleum jelly as a classic example.  Because they create a water-resistant seal, they prevent water from evaporating through the skin and therefore have the greatest ability to hydrate.  Ointments are the best at moisturizing the skin and are suited for people with very dry and scaly skin types.  People with eczema, for example, would appreciate the added moisture ointments can provide, but be careful if you are prone to acne since ointment formulations can flare comedones (black and whiteheads). 

 

Lotions are the lightest of the formulations.  They generally feel thin and are easy to spread having consistencies closer to water.  They are suitable for people with oily skin types who prefer a drying effect when applying a product to their skin.  Lotions are also easier to apply in the hair or beard since they tend to evaporate quickly leaving little to no residue.  As a general tip, most products that come as pumps or in bottles are formulated as lotions and they can be easily poured if needed.  These products are often marked as appropriate for combination skin types.

 

Creams are situated between ointments and lotions.  Creams come in varying consistencies depending on the specific amount of oil, water, and powder bases mixed together. They have a viscosity in between a pure ointment or pure lotion.  Look for products in jars or tubs as these tend to be formulated as creams.  Creams have the ability to provide a good amount of moisture to the skin while not feeling too thick and greasy and are often preferred by people with normal to dry skin.  Dermatologists can properly assess your skin type and diagnose any underlying skin abnormalities, providing you with the information needed to choose what is best for your skin.