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body oils vs water-based moisturizers

Have you ever been overwhelmed (or maybe even confused) while trying to choose between lotions and oils? Both are moisturizing, both help prevent and treat dry skin, and both claim to improve skin texture. So how does one choose? What is the actual difference?! Know you are not the first, nor will you be the last, to ask this question. I’m going to try to break it down as simply as possible.

The lotions and creams you most likely grew up using are defined primarily by the fact that they are water-based. Their consistency/creaminess is determined by their ratio of water to oil and the amount and type of humectant ingredients (ex. glycerin, amino acids, peptides, urea, and hyaluronic acid) they include. The main purpose of water-based moisturizers is to hydrate skin (the job of the humectants is to pull water into skin and keep it in place). Lotions and creams tend to spread easily and absorb quickly making them ideal to apply anywhere at any time. Water-based moisturizers work well to treat dehydrated skin.

Oils are more or less exactly as they sound: a blend of oils combined without the use of any water. Body oils are effective at reintroducing moisture to dry skin as they can penetrate deeper than their water-based counterparts. Oils have a more similar structure to the skin’s natural sebum meaning that they can help to balance your body’s natural oil production. Adding oil to your skincare routine helps prevent your body from overcompensating. Therefore, oils work best for those suffering from dry skin.

It is worth noting here that dehydrated and dry skin are two different things. Dehydrated skin lacks water, whereas dry skin lacks oil. You can be suffering from either or both and defining this will determine which products will work best.


/ Can be applied anywhere at any time
/ Help absorb water into the surface layer of your skin
/ Work to treat dehydrated skin, but may not be effective at treating dry skin


/ Work best when applied to damp skin
/ Penetrate skin making them deeply nourishing
/ Mimic skin’s natural sebum so can help to balance and/or regulate oil production
/ Made of natural ingredients packed with vitamins and nutrients (in other words: free from chemicals and synthetic preservatives)
/ A little goes a long way–one or two pumps can be enough to moisturize your entire body

Given the benefits of each, my suggestion would be to avoid choosing altogether and instead keep both on hand. I haven’t given up my moisturizing lotion, but oils have become an integral part of my skincare routine. I use a variety of oils on my face, but my latest obsession is the body oil we quietly launched earlier this summer. It is made up from a nourishing blend of carrier oils that absorb quickly without clogging your pores. Added to these is a mix of lavender, frankincense and bergamot essential oils which create the dreamiest aroma. All ingredients were chosen for their skin benefitting properties, but of special note are camellia seed oil (known for being rich in antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin B) and marula oil (another great source of antioxidants, as well as both amino and fatty acids).

Oil works best on damp skin so I apply it immediately after showering (before even towelling off). A little goes a long way, so start with less and add more wherever your skin needs it. I use it daily, so for days where I don’t hop into the shower, I like to add a few drops to my moisturizing lotion to give it an extra boost.