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The Difference Between Lotions Creams and Ointments – Which Skin Care Products Should You Use on Your Baby?

iStock_000046439528_SmallWhen it comes to baby skin care, we all look for natural, safe products. We know they need to be gentle so they won’t irritate that delicate baby skin and won’t cause allergic reactions.   We want them to create that amazing baby smell, but we know that fragrance is a big cause of allergies, so we look for natural options. But with all that in mind, do we choose a lotion that goes on easily? A cream that’s thick, but not too greasy? Or do we call in the big guns and use a super-hydrating ointment? Here’s a primer on the difference between lotions creams and ointments. We’ll help you figure out the answer to which skin care products you should use on your baby.

To figure out the answers, you need to understand the make-up of each of these products. Lotions, creams and ointments are all emulsions, or a mixture of oil and water.   As you know, oil and water don’t mix well, so ingredients called emulsifiers are added to keep them “mixed up.”   The difference between the three types of products is the composition of the oil and water mixture. Ointments are made of 70% or more oil and lotions are made of 70% or more of water. Creams are in between the two.

One of the most important functions of our skin is protection and that includes protecting us from water loss.   One of the ways skin loses water is by extended exposure to more water. Contrary to what you might think, extended exposure to water like sitting in a bath actually pulls the moisture out of skin and dehydrates it. A baby’s skin is thinner, more sensitive, more prone to irritation, and more prone to losing water than an adult’s skin.   That makes it even more important to moisturize babies.

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Simply speaking, since lotions are mostly water they can potentially dehydrate a baby’s delicate skin. For this reason, creams and ointments are the best skincare products for babies rather than lotions.   If your baby has normal skin, a cream is a good everyday choice.   Creams might also be called baby butter or baby balm. Rub your baby down with a cream right after bath to lock in any moisture left on his skin and you should be good to go. If your baby is prone to sensitive skin or eczema, ointments are a better choice. They simply have more oil and can pack a heftier moisturizing punch. But be forewarned, ointments are going to feel greasy so you might want to apply them before bedtime. A trick to help ointments feel less greasy is to apply them on skin that is damp and has some water droplets left on it. Regardless of which one you choose, all babies need some sort of lotion, cream or ointment to help keep their skin moisturized each day. (And so do you!)

As a last thought on products, we recommend that you avoid certain ingredients in all skincare products. They include parabens, phthalates, sulfates, formaldehyde-releasers, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), dyes, GMOs and bisphenol-A. These ingredients are not necessary for healthy skin and have had some controversy around them. Finally, always avoid fragrance in products you use on babies since fragrance is one of the most common causes of contact allergies. For a list of safe, non-irritating moisturizers, check out the National Eczema Association’s website.

Now you know the difference between lotions, creams and ointments. Enjoy a nice, moisturizing baby massage with your little one, and keep that delicious skin moisturized.


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