There’s something to be said for a simple, efficient skin-care routine. In theory, it’s a nice idea to use three different face creams every night à la Demi Moore or to consistently employ a multistep process to ensure you’re factoring in every tool, serum, and lotion necessary to make you look your glowing best, it can nevertheless get quite costly to your wallet and to the environment.
Understandably, you may be looking for ways to consolidate and cut back wherever possible, starting with one of the most seemingly simple products: moisturizer.
On the surface, face and body moisturizers may look like the same thing, and it’s often tricky to distinguish the two once they’re out of their pots, tubes, or bottles. But while it may seem that these product genres are nearly identical, save for marketing and costs (the former is typically priced a lot higher than the latter), there’s a reason you shouldn’t use a “body” lotion from head to toe.
To learn the logic behind the two-product moisturizing system, I asked dermatologists and cosmetic chemists for their input.
What’s the difference between the skin on your body and the skin on your face?
The primary distinction between your face’s skin and the skin everywhere else is its thickness. (And even among body parts, there’s variation.) Board-certified New York City dermatologist Shari Lipner tells Allure that the skin on your face is thinner than the rest of your body, with the periorbital skin around your eyes being among the thinnest.
According to Healthline, your face contains the highest concentration of sebaceous glands. Those glands are responsible for producing oil, the amount of which can be dependent on hormone changes and environmental conditions. Essentially, your thin, gland-abundant facial skin is far more sensitive and fickle than your body. Plus, it tends to be more frequently exposed to the elements — particularly the sun and its harmful UV rays — adding yet another variable to consider.
How are face and body moisturizers different?
Because of the individual traits of your facial and body skin, the moisturizers that target each are formulated to serve vastly different purposes beyond simple hydration and softening. For example, body lotion tends to address concerns like firming, cellulite, or spider veins, according to cosmetic chemist Ginger King. Face lotions, she says, are typically focused more on pores, dark spots, oiliness, and wrinkles and fine lines.
In shot, it’s not just product names and marketing: Face lotion and body lotion are actually two separate types of products. Of course, the specifics vary among the many, many offerings in the skin-care aisle, but the general distinctions come down to the consistency and the ingredients.
King says body formulas are usually heavier than face moisturizers, with thicker emollients to “protect and hydrate” the skin. They “tend to contain a lot of butter, oil, and film formers [which are chemicals that seal in the moisture,” she says, adding that those ingredients are often too heavy for the face. And, Lipner notes, some body lotions also contain fragrances, which can irritate facial skin — particularly if you’re on the sensitive side.
Facial creams, on the other hand, usually contain more specialized — and expensive — active ingredients that cater to your delicate facial skin. “In skin care, there are things like licorice extract that can cost $19,000 per kilogram,” King says. (It is used in very low concentrations.) She notes that it is a similar case for ingredients like sea asparagus (which aids in hydration and can cost close to $1,000 per kilogram) or peptides (which help with collagen production).
King explains that the high price tags are due in part to the thorough testing these ingredients undergo — they’re screened not only for sensitivity issues but also to prove they actually do what they say they will (like reduce pore appearance or minimize dark circles). But while it may make sense to pay more for a product that you’ll apply to more sensitive skin and in smaller amounts, King notes that “people will not do that for body care.”
Be honest: Will using body moisturizer on my face cause problems?
If you’re in a pinch and you don’t have a better option, you certainly can use body lotion on your face — but neither King nor Lipner recommends it, especially if you have oily skin or are prone to acne.
As Lipner explains, the thick body formulas — which she notes don’t “absorb well into thinner facial skin” can irritate your skin and clog your pores, leading to breakouts. Plus, she adds, “most body products do not have sun protection,” which is crucial for any skin that’s exposed to the sun as much as your face is. The downsides are even greater for the especially thin and sensitive skin around your eyes; King says using pore-clogging lotion can lead to milia, which are small, white cysts commonly found around the eyes.
If you have an inflammatory skin condition, like eczema or psoriasis, Lipner says it’s especially important to avoid slathering body moisturizer on your face. “These patients often have a skin barrier that is less robust, and small cracks in the skin may allow microorganisms to invade,” she says. “Thick moisturizers can irritate the skin and exacerbate the disease.”
And before you reach for your hand cream instead, keep in mind that most of those options will be just as bad — if not worse — for your face. “Hand creams, in general, are thicker than body moisturizer because it’s specific to the hands and not supposed to glide off,” King says. “Body moisturizer needs to spread to cover the full body. With a concentrated product like hand cream, it may cause even worse breakouts on the skin.”
The bottom line? Using body lotion on your face every so often won’t kill you. However, you may not want to make it a habit. “When it comes to skin care or makeup, please follow directions just as you would with any prescriptions,” King says. “Have respect for your product and your skin.” And if you have questions about the best options for your skin, a dermatologist can help you figure out a personalized routine.
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Originally Appeared on Allure