Lotion, cream and ointment what are the differences?

Skin repairing lotion, moisturizing cream, anti-wrinkle masks, … the shops and the internet are full of products and brands that make all kinds of promises. But what does a skin specialist look for? And what basic information is important to make the right choice?

First of all, it is important to know that there are two kinds of factors. The internal factors have to do with yourself; the external factors have to do with your environment.

Internal factors:

When shopping for products, it is important to know what condition your skin is in. Do you have normal skin? Is your skin rather dry? Do you struggle with skin problems such as eczema? Or do you use medicines that make the skin drier, such as isotretinoin ointment or a course for the treatment of acne? Take a good look at the condition of your skin, because this strongly influences the choice of the right products.
In addition, age also plays a role. As we age, the skin becomes drier due to reduction of your sebaceous glands.

In eczema skin, there is a disturbed structure of the skin. For one thing, your skin makes less fat. The less fat is present in the skin, the more moisture loss occurs through the skin and the drier the skin eventually becomes. With dry skin you quickly suffer from itching and that must be prevented. One stage further, it can become eczema, which in dermatology is called asteatotic eczema.

External factors:

Environment also plays an important role in your choice. Bad weather conditions, low humidity due to air conditioning or heating, frequent showering and soap use, … are all things that make ‘normal’ skin drier.

Different base for skin care

These products increase the fat content in the skin, which reduces itching and irritation and restores your skin to its normal state.


It is very important for the treatment of eczema to lubricate the skin with an agent that moisturizes the skin. This can be in the form of ointment, lotion or cream. These products care for the skin and do not contain any other drugs.

When choosing a good product, there are two things to consider:

  1. The base in which the product is made. Is it a lotion, grease cream, plain cream or ointment?
  2. Ingredient function.

These are the basic ingredients of ointment, cream and lotion

  • Fats and oily liquids (waxes and paraffins) have the property of keeping the skin oily, so that the moisture in the skin evaporates less quickly.
  • Fluids (water, ethanol, glycerine) are mainly used when a skin condition is wet. This base is intended to dry the skin condition.
  • Zinc oxide has a cooling and astringent effect on the skin.
  • Talc this is cooling and moisture absorbing.

A base product is a combination of the above ingredients. The proportions of these ingredients determine the purpose of the treatment.
The more fats and oils the greasier the end result, so then you get ointment, suitable for dry skin. Unlike an ointment, a lotion contains more water. Lotions are used for people with normal to oily skin and are also suitable when it is sweltering hot.
A cream is in between a lotion and an ointment. Dermatologists recommend applying cream to wet and moist skin areas (armpits, groin or inflamed eczema), but an ointment for dry skin areas. This is because an ointment penetrates the skin better as skin is slightly oily. Conversely, a cream with relatively more water has a better effect on damp skin than an ointment.

To illustrate: a lotion on dry skin can make the skin drier, because a lotion contains more water and it evaporates on the skin. Evaporation drains more moisture from the skin leading to drier skin.

‘Lotion on dry skin, causes more dryness of skin’

Eczema, What Is Lotion Cream Ointment Emollentia

Function of ingredients by product.

Barrier or closure of the skin.
This puts a protective layer on the skin that takes over the function of the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin.
Examples are: vaseline, lanolin, silicone and paraffin.

Moisture attracting (called ‘humectans’).
This compensates for moisture loss through the skin by attracting extra water.
Examples include: glycerin, urea, hyaluronic acid and honey.

Restoration of original skin structure (called ’emollients’).
These substances are also naturally present in our skin and are replenished by lubrication.
Examples include: ceramide, squalene, olive, palm and coconut oils.

Iconic Elements Natural Moisturizer Cream has all 3 moisturizers

An ideal basic eczema product contains ingredients from 2 or 3 of the above groups. This supports your skin in various ways to keep it in good condition.

Iconic Elements Natural Moisturizer Cream has all 3 moisturizers

While you are here

What is a serum? If your skin care consists of cleansing, moisturizing and protecting, a serum can be an extra step to keep your skin in condition. A serum is a gel-like liquid that feels thinner and lighter than a cream or ointment. Often this fluid base consists of hyaluronic acid, sometimes oil. This base is combined with concentrated active ingredients such as vitamin C, vitamin B3, Bakuchiol or peptides.

Read more about what is a serum and how does it fit into my skin routine?

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