The Difference Between Lotions, Creams & Oils

The Difference Between Lotions, Creams & Oils | Growing Up Herbal | Are you wondering what the difference between lotions, creams, and oils is, and when you should use which? Today I'm sharing all about this very thing.

You’re standing in line at your local health food store to buy some lotion for your little ones skin. You’re seeing many different brands promising all sorts of great benefits, but you’re also seeing other products that promise to soften and hydrate your kiddos skin too. Things like creams and oils.

You’re overwhelmed! Which do you pick? Do you need a lotion, a cream, or an oil? What’s the difference, and which is the right one for your little one?

The Main Difference in Lotions, Creams & Oils

Lotions, creams, and oils are all very similar. They’re all meant to moisturize and soften the skin, and they can be very nourishing and soothing as well.

The main difference (aside from additives) is their oil to liquid ratio.

Oils are just as they sound. Straight up oil with no water or liquid additives. Many can be greasy and take a while to absorb into the skin while others can absorb in a matter of minutes without leaving a greasy feel.

Creams are a blend of oil and liquid with the higher percentage being oils. They’re thicker… like soft butter. They absorb quicker than oils, but their moisturizing properties tend to last longer than lotions.

Lotions are also a blend of oil and liquid, but they are the thinnest of all with the liquid being the highest percentage. They absorb into the skin quickly.

When To Use Which

When you’re needing something to moisturize your or your child’s skin, there are a couple things to consider. Lotions, creams & oils will all do the trick, but it will depend on what you need and when you use it.

First look at your child’s skin. How dry is it? Is it always dry or only during certain times of the year? 

If the skin is very dry or stays dry a lot of the time, then I’d suggest using oils for a while since they absorb more slowly and the moisturizing benefits stay in the skin longer. If the skin is only dry during certain times of the day or year, you could opt for a cream that rubs in and is absorbed quickly and easily. It will moisturize the skin for a good amount of time, but not as long as an oil will. If your child doesn’t have really dry skin, but you want to keep her skin healthy and soft, lotions are a great option. You may need to use them more frequently, but they absorb quickly and do have a moisturizing properties.

Natural Tip: Check your labels! Do not use oils, lotions, or creams with mineral oil. Mineral oil is not good for your child’s body and actually doesn’t moisturize the skin, but instead acts as a wax on the surface and tends to dry the skin out. CLICK HERE to read more about why I don’t use this ingredient here.

Next, when do you plan on using it? In the morning, before bed, after baths, repeatedly throughout the day?

The time you plan on using a moisturizing product will play a part in determining which type you choose.

Like I said earlier, oils don’t absorb as quickly, but they really moisturize and nourish the skin longer. Oils are great after baths when the skin cells are soft and fat… it’s like they’re open to receive all the goodness your oil can provide… ready to soak it up! This is my favorite time to use oils on myself and my kids. I find that the skin absorbs them quicker and we don’t stay as oily as we would if we used it on dry skin. Before bed is also the perfect time to use a body oil since you’re going to bed and you don’t need to worry about having an oily face or oil on your hands.

In the morning is a great time for creams. If I take a bath in the morning, I always use a cream afterwards. It soaks into my skin, and I can immediately put on my clothes and not feel like I’m getting oils all over them. I also use creams in the winter if my kids have chapped lips or skin from the wind. I do use it repeatedly throughout the day here because I really want it to nourish and sooth their irritated skin.

Lotions are my favorite if I need to reapply during the day like after I was my hands or if I’m using a moisturizer on my face. This is really the only time I can think of that I use lotions… when I need some nice, light moisture. It’s great to get the job done quickly!

So Which Do You Need?

I personally use them all.

My oldest son has really dry skin. Always has since he was a baby. I try to get him to eat more healthy oils in his diet, and I use oil on him more than my other boys. That, I’ve found, has worked well for him.

For me, the older I get, the more I use oils and creams. I find that my skin is aging, and I want to do all I can to keep it as nourished and healthy as possible. I’ve changed up my facial care routine and switched from soap based cleansers to oil based cleansers at night. In the morning I’ll use water moisturizers or lotion moisturizers, and I tend to use creams on my body most.

So there you have it.

Take a peak at the skin and assess it’s needs, then decide what time of day and how often you’ll be using a moisturizing product. That should guide you pretty well in choosing the right lotion, cream, or oil for your or your little’s skin.

Have any questions about lotions, creams & oils or moisturizing the skin? Ask away in the comment section below!
  1. Becca says:

    We use a lot of coconut oil for night time lathering 🙂 What oils do you like to use?

    • Meagan says:

      We use sweet almond a lot. That’s what I use in the oil in my shop and of course we use that mostly. For my oldest, who has drier skin, I’ll sometimes use jojoba, but I’ll have to try coconut on him sometime to see if that helps more. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. mary hughes says:

    which do you think is best before giving a massage? Thank you.

    • Meagan says:

      I’d definitely use the oil as my first choice Mary… after that it would be the cream. Hope that helps!

  3. Sidalen says:

    1. Can I use body lotion after bathing and then use body cream again before going to bed?

    2. Body lotion and body cream, which one is good for using in the morning?

    Thank you

    • Meagan says:

      You can do it however you want Sidalen, but lotions aren’t usually needed after showers as you’ve already got moisture in your skin from the water. The best thing after a shower is to use an oil or cream to help “seal” that moisture in, and save the lotion for when you want to add moisture to your skin. As far as what to use in the morning… again that’s up to you, but I base it on whether I want moisture from the lotion deep in my skin or the slow absorption of the creams/oils. Hope that answers your questions!

  4. Brent says:

    Hi, what is the best for aroma and fragrant usage? Is it safe to apply massage oil all over your body daily? What fragrant is best for guys?

    • Meagan says:

      Any of these can be used with essential oils. An oil probably carries them best though. And yes, you can apply massage oils all over your body daily. Oils are very healthy for your skin. If you’re using an essential oil in your massage oil, just be sure to dilute it properly so you don’t get too much of the EO. As far as fragrances suited to guys, that’s subjective, but I bet you’d find a lot of great ideas if you search Google for it.

  5. Marianne says:

    Is it okay if I place lotion after shower when you have already placed shower cream during my bath?

  6. Bhanu says:

    Can a massage cream used as moisturiser?

    • Meagan says:

      I think it depending on the oils used in the massage cream. Usually moisturizers contain dry oils or oils that absorb quickly where massage oils tend to absorb slowly and are a bit greasier as that’s helpful with massages.

  7. lima says:

    I have dry skin by birth and its getting worse by age .so what can I do to nourish my skin?

    • Meagan says:

      From my understanding, Lima, the best things you can do is drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of healthy oils, protect your skin from the elements, don’t wash it too often with things that strip the natural oils, and nourish it with oils. Hope that helps!

  8. Baby Product Essentials for the Indian Parent - My Little Moppet says:

    […] silky as a baby’s skin, and you will need to make sure that their skin stays that way. Use oils, lotions and creams meant for babies; they help maintain the oil and moisture balance in your child’s skin. If you […]

  9. josh says:

    pls is it good to rub a kid oil or cream all over her body and her breast

    • Meagan says:

      You can definitely put oils and creams all over the body. Where, when, and how much you use will depend on why you’re using them and what botanicals are in them.

  10. Beth Bishop says:

    Body cream and body lotion are both used to prevent dry, cracked skin and keep it supple and moisturized. Lotions and creams contain both an oily agent, or phase, and a watery agent. Both help replenish oil in the skin and protect against loss of moisture.

  11. Anonymous says:


  12. Leah says:

    I’m pregnant and overwhelmed with things I’m told I need. Do babies need a oil or do I wait to see what their skin will be?

    • Meagan Visser says:

      Hey, Leah. I’ve found that oils, creams, and lotions are all great for babies skin. Lotions absorb in faster, but creams, body butters, and oils work really well too. The only time choosing between these options will matter is if your baby has dry skin and needs something put on them to increase moisture in the skin. That isn’t likely for a healthy newborn so you should be fine using any of these options. Hope that helps, and congratulations on your coming little one!

  13. Katherine Horton says:

    Hello! My youngest daughter has eczema. Because of the weather change it is worse. She is gluten free bc of it. What do you suggest for moisturizing and for helping keep off the inflammation? Thank you and Merry Christmas!

  14. Peyton says:

    Hi. Thanks for the great explanation! How come creams are white? What kinds of liquids can one add to turn an oil to produce a cream? Im trying to make a cream WITHOUT coconut oil or aloe to put on my face under pressed powder makeup so it doesnt look dull and dry. I like texture of creams better than lotions. A zillion hears ago i used to use noxema original formula…not exactly good for skin. Once upon a time i had oily skin but with age i no longer do. And also, any opinion on borage oil, safflower, cocoa butter? , (i do not like jojoba- gives acbe) Your inout on all this greatly appreciated.

    • Meagan Visser says:

      Hey Peyton. So I’ve never used borage oil, but I’ve heard great things about it. I love adding cocoa butter to creams as it’s really moisturizing the skin. It might be a bit too heavy for a face cream though. When choosing carrier oils for the face, I’d go with light oils that absorb quickly. I have a recipe for one such cream here that uses rosehip seed oil and is on the lighter side. As far as liquids go, any liquid will do. Water, hydrosol, tea, any of these will do. Just remember that creams or any skincare product that has water incorporated into it will grow bacteria, so you either need to make small batches that will be used within 3-4 weeks or add a preservative to it. Hope that helps!

  15. Peyton says:

    Thanks for the answer. That does help. I will look for a link to your rose hip formula and i guess sub out anything i cant have. Will skip the cocoa butter still dobt k ow why creams are white…still all seems like a mystery…will reread your post

    • Meagan Visser says:

      I’m so sorry! I totally forgot to link to the recipe in my first comment. You can find the rosehip seed cream here. And the reason why creams turn white is due to the reaction to the oil and liquids blending together.

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