Lotion vs. Oil: Which Is Better for Your Body?

New moisturizers offer an oily alternative to slathering your skin with greasy lotion.

By Leah Zerbe

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OIl or Lotion: which is better for you skinFor many of us, winter's arid air means our skin starts looking like the desert, minus the tumbleweeds: dry, cracked, dehydrated. If you're one for piling on lotion but you don't seem to get the moisturizing results you'd like, it might be time to go European-style on your stubbornly parched skin. The trick is finding moisturizers that are truly nontoxic. "Moisturizers are great at keeping the skin hydrated and healthy looking, and reducing the signs of aging; however, compared to other beauty products, moisturizers often contain the most amount of synthetic chemicals and petroleum by-products, many of which are linked to serious health concerns," explains aesthetician Charmaine Leah, founder of Mint & Berry, an organic beauty products boutique, and Glamology, a popular blog about green cosmetics. "Seeing as moisturizers work by deeply penetrating skin, it's smart to consider using green products, which contain fewer synthetic chemicals that may enter your bloodstream."

THE DETAILS: We Americans are lotion lovers. But in Europe and other parts of the world, oil is actually the more popular option for hydrating dry skin. And there are differences between the two. Some manufacturers have to add all sorts of fillers and emulsifiers to create creamy lotion, while certain plant-based oils are super-effective at keeping us hydrated and radiant without needing the added ingredients. Still, not all lotions are eco-evil. And when looking for a winner in the oil-versus-lotion debate, Leah thinks there a place for both.

"I believe oils and lotions have varying benefits and drawbacks, but both can be incorporated into a healthy beauty routine," says Leah. "Oils protect the skin's lipid barrier and are great at preventing moisture from evaporating from the skin. Some people believe applying oil, especially to acne-prone skin, will clog pores, cause breakouts, or leave a greasy film. The truth is, most natural oils are easily absorbed, not greasy, and noncomedogenic; that is, they have a low potential to clog pores, which makes oils perfect for all skin types."

Body lotions, on the other hand, are designed to penetrate the skin, leaving it softer, hydrated, and younger looking, explains Leah. "Lotions have the benefit of containing a number of beneficial ingredients such as aloe vera, vitamin E, vitamin D, shea butter, and keratin," explains Leah, who uses moisturizing lotion in the morning and oils at night. "All of these ingredients replenish the skin of its lost moisture, repair damaged skin, and can alleviate various types of skin conditions."

WHAT IT MEANS: So, will lotions lose their luster? One company that thinks so is Badger, a pioneer in the certified-organic body-care sector, which hopes to turn Americans on to body oil as a moisturizer. This fall, the company is launching organic body oils featuring cold-pressed jojoba and olive oils. Rodale.com sampled the body oils at Natural Products Expo East in Boston, and found them to be quite refreshing to the skin, without a trace of the, well, oiliness that some people might expect. That's because jojoba oil, the main ingredient, shares a similar chemistry to our body's own skin oils, explains Sharyn Wynters, a naturopath and coauthor of the book Survive! A Family Guide to Thriving in a Toxic World (iUniverse, 2010).

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