June 1, 2018 1:09 pm
Updated: June 1, 2018 3:54 pm

Which is best for dry skin: lotions, creams or ointments?

WATCH: Here’s the difference between lotions, creams and ointments

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Fighting dry skin can seem like a losing battle, especially when you’ve tried every body moisturizer on the store shelf to no avail.

But are lotions truly the way to go if you want to effectively moisturize your skin? Or should you think about using a cream or ointment?

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And yes, there is a difference – in both how they work and their effectiveness.

“Think of your skin like a brick wall – the cells are the bricks and the mortar is your skin oils – and with dry skin the mortar is dysfunctional or has been removed, and water and soap, low humidity and wind can do that,” Dr. Sandy Skotnicki of the Bay Dermatology Centre, explains. “So if you have a dysfunctional barrier – or that mortar (or natural oil) is missing, you’ll have dry skin.”

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), ointments and creams are better for treating dry skin than lotions. They are both more effective and less irritating on the skin.

This is because they contain higher concentrations of oil than lotions.

Ointment, Skotnicki explains, has the highest oil concentration, followed by creams. Lotions, though, usually contain more water within its mixture.

Cream, for example, is mainly a mixture of water and oil, as well as an emulsifier (which helps the water and oil mix). But the more water you add, the more that cream becomes a lotion.

Ointment, on the other hand, has no water in its mixture and is just oil-based.

When it comes to treating dry skin, though, it’s important that whatever moisturizer you’re using meets certain criteria.

First, your moisturizer should include oils and lipids (like ceramide). Next, Skotnicki says, whatever you’re using should also have something within its ingredients that occludes the oils and lipids – something like Vaseline or shea butter. And lastly, you’ll need something that draws the water in like humectants such as glycerin.

“If you just put some gunk on that is just basically an inclusion, you’re not repairing that brick wall,” she says. “As soon as it’s rubbed off you’re going to get dry skin again.”

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As for lotions, it all comes down to marketing for most of them, Skotnicki says.

“A lot of them have so much other stuff in there that is not necessary, like fragrances and organics that aren’t doing anything and might irritate the skin,” Skotnicki points out.

Examples of products that meet the criteria of an effective moisturizer according to Skotnicki include Cerave, Cetaphil, Curel, La Roch Posey, or Bioderma’s Atoderm.

Skotnicki says there is also a lot of evidence that natural oils like virgin coconut oil and sunflower seed oil are good for managing dry skin. The effects of natural oils for the skin were studied at California State University and it was concluded that both types of oils were beneficial for several skin conditions, including dry skin.

There are other ways you can ensure you keep dry skin at bay. Here are several of them according to the AAD.

  • Limit your shower time to five to 10 minutes
  • Use warm water rather than hot
  • Wash with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser
  • Blot your skin gently dry with a towel
  • Slather on your moisturizer right after you’ve dried your skin from the shower
  • Choose non-irritating clothes and laundry detergent
  • Add moisture to the air with a humidifier

For additional tips, visit the AAD’s website here.

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