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Body Lotion Buying Guide

By: Angela Stringfellow on January 22, 2018

What the best body lotion has

  • Humectants such as glycerin, panthenol and hyaluronic acid. These hydrating ingredients draw moisture to the skin's outer layer.
  • Occlusive ingredients such as petrolatum (the most effective occlusive), lanolin, mineral oil and waxes. These create a barrier over the skin to lock in moisture.
  • Emollients such as silicones (dimethicone and cyclomethicone), jojoba oil and glyceryl stearate. Emollients fill the gaps between cell clusters, making the skin feel soft, smooth and pliable.
  • Other skin-repairing ingredients such as ceramides and cholesterol -- components that healthy skin produces naturally -- can help restore the skin barrier without irritation.
  • No fragrances or dyes. These can irritate skin. So can some natural ingredients, such as plant oils. All of our Best Reviewed picks are fragrance- and dye-free.
  • An affordable price. Body lotion is meant to be applied all over the body, every day -- hard to manage if a tiny tube costs an arm and a leg. The best drugstore body lotions are so effective, experts say there's absolutely no reason to pay more.
  • A pleasant feel. The best all-over body lotions and creams feel light, silky and greaseless. More intense creams and ointments for severely dry skin (such as cracked heels) may feel greasier due to their higher petrolatum content, but are still easy to spread and shouldn't feel sticky.
  • Pump or tube packaging. This keeps air and bacteria from degrading the moisturizer, according to skincare experts at Beautypedia -- unlike jar packaging, which allows air and bacteria from your fingers into the moisturizer every time you use it.
  • The right pH balance. Body lotions with certain ingredients, such as alpha-hydroxy acid for exfoliation, require the right pH balance for maximum effectiveness. Plus, a body lotion that's too acidic or too alkaline can interrupt the skin's natural pH balance (ideally around 5.5), breaking down the skin's natural protective barrier and contributing to dry, flaky skin or visible signs of aging -- the very issues you're trying to avoid by using body lotion in the first place.

Know before you go

How dry is your skin? If your skin isn't very dry, all you need is a good everyday body lotion or cream (see our Body Lotion section for the top picks). If your skin is really parched, or for severe problem areas such as cracked heels, you'll need a more heavy-duty cream or ointment (see our section on Lotions for Very Dry Skin).

Does your skin become extra dry in the winter? Some users find that they need a richer, thicker body lotion to combat the dryness and chapping that often comes with cold temperatures. If your hands and other areas of skin tend to become chapped and cracked in the winter, you'll want an ointment or thick cream with occlusives to protect your skin and seal in moisture.

Is your skin flaky or bumpy? An exfoliating lotion can remove dead skin cells to smooth your skin, and attract moisture to keep it smooth. Exfoliating lotions are often recommended to treat keratosis pilaris, the bumpy "chicken skin" that often appears on the backs of the upper arms and thighs, although some users find that certain standard body lotions also work to alleviate this condition.

Babies don't necessarily need a "baby" lotion. Body lotion for babies and young children should be fragrance-free, dye-free and gentle, experts say -- just like the best lotions for adults. Reviewers report getting good results for infants and small children from several of our best-reviewed products, though they aren't specifically marketed toward babies or children.

You'll find the best body lotions at the drugstore. Every top-rated body lotion, cream and ointment in this report is widely available at drugstores -- and reasonably priced, too. No expensive boutique brands made the cut.

Apply body lotion immediately after showering, on skin that's still slightly damp. This provides water for the lotion's humectants to attract into your skin, and for its occlusives to seal in. Any moisturizer will always work better on slightly damp skin, experts say.

Do you have skin cracks or open wounds? Conditions like eczema can lead to cracked -- and even bleeding --skin. Some body lotions cause a temporary burning or stinging sensation when applied to damaged areas of skin, but that doesn't mean they don't work. It's a small tradeoff for a body lotion that offers relief from uncomfortable, itchy eczema and promotes healing, users say.

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