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 understand that there are two types of factors that affect the skin: internal and external factors. Internal factors relate to your own body and health, while external factors relate to your environment and lifestyle.

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:

In addition to internal factors such as the individual skin condition, external factors also play an important role in the choice of skin care products. Harsh weather conditions, air conditioning or heating that lower the humidity, frequent showering and soap use are just a few examples of environmental factors that can disrupt the skin’s natural moisture balance and cause dry skin. It is therefore important to choose products that protect and moisturize the skin, and to reduce or avoid the use of products that can dry out the skin.

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.

Base of a product

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.

An important characteristic of lotions is their water-oil ratio. This refers to the ratio of the amount of water to the amount of oil present in the lotion. The ratio of these ingredients affects the consistency and texture of the lotion and also determines how effective the product is at moisturizing the skin. For example, a lotion with a higher water concentration is lighter in texture.

While lotions excel at their lubricating feel on the skin due to their light texture, using them on dry skin can have an adverse effect. This is because it contains a lot of water and this water evaporates on the skin. Unfortunately, this evaporation leads to an increase in the amount of moisture extracted from the skin, which in turn can lead to skin dehydration.

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

The differences between these three basic products:


  • Base: Fats and oily liquids, such as waxes and kerosenes.
  • Purpose: Keeps skin oily to prevent moisture loss. Ideal for dry skin.


  • Purpose: Recommended for moist skin areas, such as armpits, groin or inflamed eczema. Penetrates well into the skin, especially when damp.
  • Base: A balance of water and oil.


  • Purpose: Light in texture, suitable for normal to oily skin types and warm conditions. But beware, lotions can cause dehydration on dry skin because of evaporation.
  • Base: Water-oil ratio with more water.
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.

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

The Natural Moisturizer Body is designed to keep your skin hydrated no matter the season. Formulated with natural ingredients, this body cream has a triple action to improve the condition of your skin. What exactly can you expect from this moisturizing product?

1. Occlusive Action: Our body cream creates a protective barrier on your skin, trapping moisture. This is especially useful in cold climates, where dry air can challenge your skin.

2. Humectant Properties: We have added ingredients that attract moisture like a magnet and retain it in your skin. This means ultimate hydration and suppleness.

3. Emollient Care: Features emollients, which make your skin soft and smooth. Say goodbye to dry, flaky skin.

Whether it’s winter or summer, this natural body cream is ready to nourish and protect your skin. Feel good in your skin all year round.

While you are here

A serum is an extra step in your skincare routine to keep your skin in top condition. It can be added to the basic steps of cleansing, moisturizing and protecting. It is a gel-like liquid that feels lighter and thinner than a cream or ointment. Usually it consists of a liquid base of hyaluronic acid, sometimes mixed with oil, and is combined with highly 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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Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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