Anyone who's wandered the body lotion aisle of the local pharmacy knows that an overwhelming number of products are available, and all profess their ingredients are the best. Ultimately, experts say, choosing the right body lotion often comes down to an individual's personal preference and skin type. However, in general, thicker body treatments like creams and ointments (typically containing moisturizing and lubricating ingredients like shea butter and lanolin) should be reserved for those with very dry skin or for specific problem areas.
Conversely, experts say lighter-weight moisturizers (such as lotions, gels and milks, which contain ingredients like aloe and jojoba) generally fit the bill for those with normal skin. These products also have a thinner consistency than creams and ointments, so they absorb into the skin faster. Formula aside, reviewers also say price is no indicator of quality. In fact, in our investigation we found drugstore lotions are chosen more often in reviews than higher end formulas.
Body lotions created to treat conditions like stretch marks, cellulite and signs of aging have also filled up store shelves. While manufacturers often claim these skin-tightening creams (typically containing ingredients like caffeine and seaweed) will erase these flaws, experts say that these results are temporary at best. Like standard lotions, there's little evidence that high end, expensive products actually work any better for tightening and toning than drugstore products. As a rule of thumb, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
To find the best body lotions we sorted through a slew of reviews. Surprisingly, the editors at ConsumerReports.org have not yet reviewed these products. Skin care expert Paula Begoun, author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," an acclaimed book on skin care and cosmetics, does offer some insightful information on her site Beautypedia.com. The reviews and information she offers are thorough and solidly backed by reputable scientific research. However, there's no evidence on Beguon's site that she actually tests products first-hand. Instead, her reviews are based on scientific evidence on the products' ingredients -- still reputable, but this makes her conclusions slightly more disputable. To make the wealth of information easier to decipher, Beguon rates all products, with "Paula's Pick" being the highest rating; she also notes which products she considers overpriced.
Beauty and fashion magazines are another source for body lotion recommendations. Each year, editors of such magazines as Allure, Shape, Self, Marie Claire, Redbook and InStyle test hundreds of beauty products with the help of dermatologists, beauty experts and reader surveys. However, it's important to note that magazine reviews can vary in credibility. While some publications compile product lists from hands-on or more formal testing, other magazines don't provide any details on why specific products were selected -- leaving their results more open to question. User reviews on such sites as MakeupAlley.com and Drugstore.com also prove to be helpful for evaluating body lotions over the long term.
Additional sites, like GoodGuide.com and the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, were also considered. These sites provide information on potentially harmful ingredients and environmentally or socially irresponsible business practices. These databases do not evaluate the effectiveness of products, but they may prove very valuable to the health-conscious or environmentally savvy buyer.
Lastly, it's important to note that baby lotions, another product category we cover in this report, can be a hot-button issue. The reason: since the late 1990s reports have examined the potential dangers of cosmetics containing phthalates -- these are mainly used as plasticizers, which give plastic products more flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity, but more than a decade later, results are still heavily conflicting. Typically, the level of these substances that enters the body is measured through urine sampling of both infants and adults, and scientists agree that pthalates are present in most of the population's urine. What isn't known is how the pthalates are introduced to the body (however, women, who typically use more lotions, body washes and other personal care items, showed higher concentrations than men) or whether having this substance at any level in the body is dangerous.
Numerous U.S. agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency have released statements that low levels of pthalates in the body are not harmful or toxic. However, some animal testing shows that they may affect the development of reproductive organs, specifically in males. Despite government agencies' reassurances that the low levels of pthalates introduced by lotions are not dangerous, many parents avoid products with them -- especially for infants -- as testing continues.