How to Use Body Lotion Like a Dermatologist

A dollop of shea butter

Tawni Bannister / Byrdie

Moisturizing is one of those skincare steps that's equal parts super basic, yet super important. The simple act of applying a cream or lotion—even one that isn't loaded with all kinds of active ingredients—can go a long way toward keeping your skin extremely healthy. (And yes, looking good, too.)

Though if you're anything like us, even if you're diligent about moisturizing your face, the skin below your chin may often fall by the wayside. But here's the thing: Choosing—and using—a body lotion really doesn't have to be that difficult. Ahead, board-certified dermatologists Shereene Idriss, MD, and Nava Greenfield, MD, weigh in on why body lotion should be a part of your daily routine, plus easy ways to maximize its moisturizing effects.

Meet the Expert

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

What Are the Benefits of Body Lotion?

"The main benefit of body lotion is to provide moisture to the top of the skin, creating a layer which traps water and nutrients, preventing dryness and promoting overall skin health," explains Greenfield. That's really boiling it down to body lotion's most straightforward and fundamental purpose, although these days, there are plenty of formulas that go above and beyond their intended call of duty. In general, the body care category has grown in terms of innovation and the use of active ingredients that can target specific concerns such as fine lines and wrinkles, body acne, and even conditions such as eczema and keratosis pilaris, adds Idriss.

How Should You Pick a Body Lotion?

According to Greenfield, the best place to start is by considering your skin type—namely exactly how much moisture your skin needs. More specifically, if you have very dry skin, seek out thicker, oil-based formulas with higher concentrations of emollients and occlusive ingredients. (More on exactly what those are in a moment.) One of our go-to's? La Roche-Posay's Cicaplast Baume B5 Soothing Multi-Purpose Cream ($16).

Have balanced to dry skin? You can likely get away with lighter, water-based options, Greenfield says. (We like Dove Beauty's Body Love Intense Care Body Lotion, $7). A few easy ways to distinguish the two: Anything thicker or rich is more likely to be called a cream or balm, whereas lighter formulas are labeled as lotions. Also, "typically thinner, water-based lotions come in bottles with pumps whereas thicker formulas are more often housed in jars or tubs that have to be scooped or squeezed out," Greenfield points out.

A word on ingredients. The three most common categories found in moisturizers, of any kind, are humectants, emollients, and occlusives, each of which functions in a slightly different way.

  • Humectants are ingredients that attract water to and trap it in the skin, hyaluronic acid and glycerin being among the most common. These tend to be the stars of more lightweight lotions because they don't necessarily feel heavy or greasy on the skin.
  • Emollients are ingredients that soften the feel and smooth out the look of the skin, giving you that instant moisturizing feel you think of when you think of lotion, says Idriss. Ingredients such as jojoba oil and squalane are common examples, she adds.
  • Occlusives—petrolatum, butters, waxes, and even silicones—are ingredients that work by creating a layer on top of the skin that really seals and locks in moisture, minimizing what's known as transepidermal water loss, Idriss notes.

Ideally, you do want a combination of all three in a good moisturizer formulation, though again, exactly how much of each depends on exactly how dry your skin is.

It's also a good idea to consider the area of your body you're moisturizing. Whereas you can get away with using the same formula for your limbs and torso, Greenfield underscores the importance of choosing a very thick, very occlusive formula for 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 lock in moisture for the many cell layers." Try Aquaphor's Healing Ointment ($10).

Finally, per Idriss's earlier point about addressing specific skin conditions, you can also take those into account. For example, she says formulas that contain soothing colloidal oatmeal, like Aveeno's Restorative Oat Therapy Skin Therapy Moisturizing Cream ($13), are an especially good choice for those battling itchiness, irritation, or even eczema. "I also recommend lotions with niacinamide for those who have back acne, since it not only helps maintain the lipid barrier of the skin but is also anti-inflammatory," she adds. She likes The Body Lotion ($25) by Nécessaire.

When and How Should You Use a Body Lotion?

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

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

The Final Takeaway

One little bottle of body lotion can do great things for your skin. Choose a formula based on just how dry your skin is, then apply it daily post-shower on still-damp skin to maximize the benefits. As Ina Garten would say, how easy is that?

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Harwood A, Nassereddin A, Krishnamurthy K. Moisturizers. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

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