How to use a body lotion like a dermatologist

How to use a body lotion like a dermatologist

Moisturizing is one of those skin care steps that is both super basic and yet super important. Simply applying a cream or lotion, even one that doesn't contain all sorts of active ingredients, can go a long way in keeping your skin extremely healthy. (And yes, it looks good too.)

However, if you're like us, even if you're diligent about moisturizing your face, the skin under your chin can often fall by the wayside. But here's the thing: choosing...and using...a body lotion really doesn't have to be that hard. Ahead, board-certified dermatologists Shereene Idriss, MD, and Nava Greenfield, MD, explain why body lotion should be part of your daily routine, as well as simple ways to maximize its moisturizing effects.

Meet the expert

  • Shereene IdrissMD, is a board-certified dermatologist, the founder of Idriss Dermatology in New York City and the creator of the #Pillowtalkderm series on Instagram.
  • Nava GreenfieldMD, is a board-certified dermatologist with the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.

What are the benefits of body lotion?

"The main benefit of body lotion is to moisturize the top of the skin, creating a layer that locks in water and nutrients, prevents dryness and promotes overall skin health," Greenfield explains. This really boils down to the simplest and most basic purpose of body lotion, though these days there are many formulas that go above and beyond their duty. In general, the body care category has grown in terms of innovation and use of active ingredients that can target specific problems such as fine lines and wrinkles, body acne and even conditions such as eczema and keratosis pilaris, Idriss adds.

How to choose a body lotion?

According to Greenfield, the best place to start is to consider your skin type, which is exactly how much moisture your skin needs. Specifically, if you have very dry skin, look for thicker oil-based formulas with higher concentrations of emollients and occlusive ingredients. (More on what those are in a moment.) One of our must-haves? La Roche Posay Cicaplast B5 Balm Soothing Multi-Function Cream (16 $).

Got balanced to dry skin? You can probably get by with lighter, water-based options, says Greenfield. (We love Dove Beauty Body Love Intense Care Body Lotion7 $). A few simple ways to distinguish the two: anything thicker or richer is more likely to be called a cream or balm, while lighter formulas are labeled as lotions. Also, "the generally thinner water-based lotions come in bottles with pumps, while thicker formulas are more often housed in jars or pots that need to be scooped or squeezed," Greenfield notes.

A word about ingredients. The three most common categories found in moisturizers, of all kinds, are humectants, emollients and occlusives, each of which works in a slightly different way.

  • Humectants are ingredients that attract water and retain it in the skin, hyaluronic acid and glycerin being among the most common. These tend to be the stars of the lighter lotions because they don't necessarily feel heavy or greasy on the skin.
  • Emollients are ingredients that soften the feel and smooth the appearance of the skin, giving you that instant moisturizing feeling you think of when you think of a lotion, says Idriss. Ingredients such as jojoba oil and squalane are common examples, she adds.
  • Occlusive? petrolatum, butters, waxes and even silicones ? are ingredients that work by creating a layer on top of the skin that actually seals in and retains moisture, minimizing what's called trans-epidermal water loss, notes Idriss.

Ideally, you want a combination of all three in a good moisturizing formula, but again, the exact amount of each depends on how dry your skin is.

It's also a good idea to consider the area of your body you're moisturizing. While you can get away with using the same formula for your limbs and torso, Greenfield stresses the importance of choosing a very thick, highly occlusive formula for your hands and feet. "The skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet is the thickest skin on the body and is also subject to harsh environmental conditions," she explains. "Thicker, more occlusive formulations are tolerated by the skin in these areas and help retain moisture for the many cell layers." Try Aquaphor Healing ointment (10 $).

Finally, according to Idriss' previous point about treating specific skin conditions, you can also consider this. For example, she says that formulas that contain soothing colloidal oatmeal, like Aveeno's Restorative Oat Therapy Skin Therapy Moisturizer (13 $), are an especially good choice for those struggling with itching, irritation or even eczema. "I also recommend niacinamide-based lotions for those with back acne, as it not only helps maintain the skin's lipid barrier but is also an anti-inflammatory," she adds. She likes Body Milk (25 $) per Necessary.

When and how to use a body lotion?

Both experts we spoke with say that body lotion should be used at least once a day, ideally after showering. "It's especially important to apply body lotion after showering," says Idriss. "Hot water and steam can really dry out your skin, especially in the winter, and moisturizing right after a shower also helps lock in the moisture already on your skin, keeping it soft and hydrated." In short, not only is moisturizing after a shower an easy way to remember to make it part of your routine, but it will also help maximize the effects of said moisturizer.

Lightly dry your skin with a towel-it should still be a little damp-then apply a generous amount of lotion all over and rub it in with your hands until it's completely absorbed, Greenfield suggests. She adds that you can also use a tool, such as a spatula, to help you reach difficult areas like your back.

The last takeaway

A small bottle of body lotion can do big things for your skin. Choose a formula based on your skin's dryness, then apply it daily after showering to skin that is still damp to maximize the benefits. As Ina Garten would say, is it easy?

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