At the start and end of a day—and maybe even when you click Add to cart—the weight of our skin-care routines can occasionally weigh us down. It’s natural, in those moments, to want to take a shortcut or two, beginning with one of the simplest products: moisturizers.
Face and body moisturizers can look virtually identical to the naked eye, yet the former is typically priced a lot higher than the latter. So why not use a body lotion from head to toe? Because they’re not interchangeable, regardless of how similar they seem.
Why the type of moisturizer matters
There’s lots of variation in the thickness of your skin, particularly between the skin on your face and everywhere else. The skin on your face is thinner than it is on the on the rest of your body, with the skin around your eyes among the thinnest.
Your face also contains the highest concentration of sebaceous glands, which are responsible for producing oil. The combination of the thin skin and the abundance of glands makes your face a lot more sensitive and fickler than your body. Compound that with the reality that it’s also more frequently exposed to the elements, particularly harmful UV rays.
Because of that very distinct set of traits, face moisturizers are formulated to serve very different purposes than body lotions. It’s not just marketing; face and body moisturizers are two separate types of products. There’s lots of variation among the countless products, but the main differences generally come down to the consistency and ingredients.
Body lotions are usually thicker than face moisturizers, with thicker emollients aimed at protecting the skin and sealing in moisture. Those ingredients are usually too heavy for the face. Face creams typically contain more specialized (and expensive) active ingredients that are focused more on minimizing pores, dark spots, oiliness, wrinkles, and fine lines.
“But it’s only a once-in-a-while thing”
In a pinch—say you’re traveling and you’ve forgotten your face moisturizer—it’s fine to use body lotion on your face. Just don’t make a habit out of it. Though, it really should be avoided if you have oily skin or you’re prone to acne. The thick body moisturizers aren’t absorbed well by the thinner facial skin, so they can irritate and clog your pores and lead to breakouts.
It’s even more important to try to avoid covering your face in a body moisturizer if you have an inflammatory skin condition, like eczema or psoriasis. Thick moisturizers can irritate and exacerbate the disease.
Using a hand cream as your backup option will be just as bad, if not worse, for your face. In general, they’re even thicker than body moisturizer, which needs to spread to cover the full body. Hand cream, by contrast, is formulated specifically for the hands, and it’s not supposed to rub off easily.
As you would with any prescription, follow directions for skin-care products and makeup. And if there’s any question about what’s right for your skin type, a board-certified dermatologist can help you personalize your routine.