My university roommate and I stood worlds apart. She'd slap some body lotion on her face, as in lotion left over from her arms and legs, straight from the pump bottle. Meanwhile, I moisturised with special facial moisturisers. I thought she was doing more harm than good, but her method wasn't as harmful as I thought. Illustration by Sam Woolley.
You couldn't blame me. Walk through a store's beauty aisle and you'll find moisturisers with clear disclaimers about where and how they should be used: Some say you should only apply them to your body, face, hands and even your feet. But skin is skin, right? Well no, the skin on your hands is very different from the skin on your face.
The Skin on Your Face Isn't the Same As Skin On Your Body
The skin on different parts of your body varies wildly. Your face tends to have thinner skin, more oil glands and more hair follicles than the skin on other parts of your body, like the thicker skin on your feet, for example. Even different areas on your face, like around your eyes, are thinner than others. This all just means your facial skin can be more sensitive, and for some people, look shinier and be more prone to breakouts.
Most companies would have you believe that body lotion should never be used on your face, but it's really not the end of the world. Dr Cynthia Bailey, a board-certified dermatologist from California, told me:
[Lotion] is fine. The difference is marketing, so long as it as a bland moisturiser. If it has irritating ingredients, then it may be too strong for facial skin which has less barrier than body skin.
The key here is the ingredients matter more than the so-called "type" of lotion.
Body Lotion Is Fine, As Long As It Doesn't Irritate Your Face
Many body lotions have strong fragrances and contain a wide variety of irritating ingredients like isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl myristate, cocoa butter, pigments and dyes. These ingredients can cause problems for acne-prone skin. A "bland" moisturiser, like CeraVe or Cetaphil typically doesn't have added perfumes and minimises irritants. If you deal with breakouts on a regular basis, body lotions might be too much and you should try something gentler instead.
The viscosity of your moisturiser also matters. There are creams, lotions, gels and oils, all of which feel very different when you apply them. What you use depends on your skin type, how dry your skin is and the climate or season you're in. Creams run thickest because they contain a lot of oil. They're great for dry skin because the heavy consistency helps seal in moisture, especially in the winter or in dry climates. However, if you have oily and acne-prone skin, you're better off with a light, oil-free moisturiser. Lotions and gels, on the other hand, are lighter, less oily and better for summer. Gels, in particular, feel refreshing and don't leave behind that greasy residue.
People with normal (not too oily, not too dry) skin can get away with body lotions to moisturise body and face as long as it doesn't irritate their face and it properly traps moisture in their skin. Ultimately, it comes down to your skin type. Check out our full guide on which moisturisers are best for which skin types for more.
It turns out that my roommate was on to something. She used body lotion because it worked well for her, and that's what's important. If you use body lotion for your face, it's not madness as long as your skin looks and (more importantly) feels great.