The Difference Between Body Butters, Lotions, and Creams


Despite having been adulting for many years, some of us didn't know the difference between body butters, creams, and lotions when trying to decide which products to include in our subscription boxes.  So we did some research and thought we would share our findings.

Body Butter

The thickest of the three is body butter, which has a consistency similar to the butter we eat. It has the strongest scent and lasts longer than both lotion and creme. Body butter products are typically manufactured using a combination of carrier oils and essential butters and do not typically contain water. Carrier oils are the substances that are used to hold and deliver the essential ingredients into the skin. Butters are the essential fats and minerals that are extracted from natural ingredients (palm, shea, cocoa, mango etc.) Each butter will vary in its unique texture, rigidity, and absorbency. These ingredients (carrier oil and butter) are combined, sometimes with additional specialized ingredients, (the secret formulas of every brand!) to formulate a body butter product.

Body butters are applied to retain moisture, lubricate and nourish the skin. Some spas and dermatologists suggest that people use body butter on their lips, hands, elbows, legs and feet. Some absorb into the skin quickly while others may leave a slight oily barrier depending on skin type and formulation.

Skin Cream

Cream products are thinner than body butters and are typically whipped. Creams usually contain the same basic ingredients as butters, plus water based ingredients, perhaps including aloe, hydrosol or a herbal infusion. Sometimes manufacturers add a wax such as beeswax as well as some type of mild thickener like xanthan gum or an emulsifier like borax. A cream may have butters or solid fats in it, but not necessarily.

Body Lotion

Lotions are similar to creams but are even lighter (because they contain more water) and provide the thinnest type of application. Usually manufactured with a water based formula skin lotion is very lightweight. It will not necessarily moisturize as much or stay on as long as a butter or cream might. Usually lotions are applied to the arms, stomach and thighs.

What’s Best For Your Skin?

The answer to this question depends on your skin concern. Given that creams and lotions contain more water, if your skin is especially dehydrated, they may work better. As a rule of thumb, lotions usually work well on oily skin and creams on drier skin.

Body butters are thicker and so they may stay on top of your skin longer which can help reduce loss of moisture, but won’t directly moisturize. In this case it’s best to apply the body butter to pre-dampened skin.

What really moisturizes skin is water or substances that contain a lot of water such as herbal infusions, hydrosols or aloe.

The Bottom Line

If your skin is extremely dry, apply the product to damp skin, or alternatively, select a product with high water content such as a lotion or a cream to moisturize.

Oils and butters will lubricate and soften the skin, helping to prevent further loss of moisture by creating a barrier.