Beauty Basics: Everything YOU need to know about Body Moisturers

When we’re younger, unless we have very dry skin, most of us use body moisturisers as a luxury treat.  As we age though, they become more essential.

Our skin thins and becomes less adept at holding hydration, increasing in sensitivity. Hormonal changes as we approach menopause can affect our skin’s appearance and feel from top to toe and as collagen decreases we lose elasticity, developing lines.

Areas such as our knees, elbows, heels and hands can particularly show the signs of dehydration and ageing and need careful attention most days.

But with a huge array of moisturisers on the market, which is right for you?  Lotions, creams, balms or butter? ‘Sciency’ ingredients or organic?

Why do we need body moisturisers?

This is the science bit! You probably know that our skin is organised in layers.  The top layer is primarily made up of dead skin cells (corneocytes) and fats between them to hold them together (these are called lipids, and are like the skin’s concrete).

Whilst the skin cells don’t have a living nucleus, they do have a purpose – holding water and nutrients to keep the skin nourished.

Areas such as our knees, elbows, heels and hands can particularly show the signs of dehydration and ageing and need careful attention most days.

Our skin feels most hydrated and looks it’s best when we hold around 10 – 30% water, but as we age or if we are exposed to challenging environments (wind, sun, central heating) our ability to do this naturally decreases.

Without enough water our skin can’t turnover it’s cells effectively enough, instead, becoming flaky, cracked or peeling.

How do Body Moisturisers work?

When we look for body moisturisers we often see oil as an ingredient and assume that our skin needs oily textures to feel hydrated, but this isn’t true.  Small children, for instance, don’t produce oil until their teens, but unless they suffer from eczema, they tend to have beautifully plump and smooth skin.

This is because our skin’s surface is affected by how much water it holds, not oil.  So, moisturisers look to support this in one of three ways:



These hold water into the skin (this is most of your oils and balms)


humectantsThese draw water into the skin, either from the environment or lower dermal layers (ingredients like glycerin, honey, panthenol)


Images from Harvard Health

These fill in the gaps in the skin creating an artificial feeling of smoothness but have no impact on the skin’s actual hydration (often found in skin ointments like dimethicone)

Which Body Moisturiser does what?

Body Lotions and Gels:

This is the lightest type of moisturiser and is usually best for normal skins and younger people.  This is usually a simple oil and water mix, which creates both a barrier to moisture loss and also adds a limited amount of additional hydration.

Ideal for: Legs, arms, daily use

We love:  EMBRYOLISSE LABORATORIES Lait-Creme Fluide, £28

Body Butter/Cream:

This is usually a much richer alternative to lighter lotions and as a result, often far more hydrating.  They are only second to ointments in how much oil they contain. Butters usually include ingredients like Shea Butter, or Coconut Oil, which adds both a nourishing and soothing element but also protect the skin from further moisture loss.

Ideal for: All-over use, drier skins, mature skins, after bath and shower

tropic body loveWe love: Tropic Skincare Body Love, £20

Body Balm:

This is the most intense form of moisturiser and is best for use on areas of cracking and dryness.  You can use simple ingredients like coconut oil for this but if you’re looking for breaking down heavy areas of dry skin – for example on the feet, you need an ingredient like lactic acid to help shift the dead skin cells.  Ingredients like Calendula can also be very nourishing.

Ideal for:  Cracked heels, scaly areas, flaking patches, chilblains

We love: Odylique Calendula Balm, £14

Body Oil (and Dry Oil):

These work mainly by locking in (not adding) moisture and by filling in the skins gaps.  They work most effectively when mixed with some moisture – so applying after your shower or bath whilst still damp will see much greater results.

Ideal for: All skins as a treat, massage, limbs, dryness

We love: ESPA Nourishing Body Oil, £24


Ointments tend to be for areas of concern so will include ingredients like Urea (which helps reduce itching, although it does sting) or dimethicone.  If you have extremely dry skin, eczema or allergies you will often look for these, as they also contain the most oil so provide the strongest barrier for your skin.

We love: Plain old ‘Aqueous Cream’, from £8.99

Top Body Moisture Tips:

  • Remember the three-minute rule – whichever moisturiser you use needs to be applied within three minutes of a bath or shower to be most effective
  • To be utilised by the skin most effectively, apply in downward strokes and not in circles or upwards
  • Try not to spend too long soaking in hot baths – the heat strips the skin of moisture and will leave you drier in the long run
  • Try to get into the habit of moisturising your entire body before bed – you’ll really see the difference in the morning (we LOVE ‘Sleepy’ from Lush, which also has soothing ingredients and a wonderful smell to help you drift off)
  • Pay extra attention to areas like the top of your feet, décolletage and around the eyes/between toes and fingers. These areas of the skin are all much thinner so need a lot more love and attention then we often give them.

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