Can lotions make your skin drier?

We recently read an interesting article about skin moisturizing on the DermBytes blog. The author, Dr. Huang, points out that you can use creams, ointments or lotions to moisturize your skin and that creams are thick and white, ointments which are greasy and lotions tend to be watery and can “actually lead to more drying of the skin.”

We found that last statement puzzling. How could a lotion, no matter how “watery,” make your skin drier?

What makes a lotion “watery?”

First of all, what “watery” even mean? We suppose it could be a way of describing the viscosity, or the thickness/thinness of the lotion. But low viscosity does not automatically equal less moisturizing. For example a lotion could be based on mineral oil which is fairly runny yet is a very effective moisturizer.

If “watery” is meant to imply that the product is watered down, that it literally consists of mostly water and is lacking in oils that could seal in moisture, then it’s true that the product will be less effective. But that would be because of lack of oils not because of low viscosity. And, just because the viscosity is high (meaning the product is thick) doesn’t mean that it will work better. For example you could thicken water with a gum to the point of making it almost jelly-like and yet without oils it would not do a good job of moisturizing skin.

So that’s why we’re confused by Dr. Huang’s statement: there is no direct correlation between the viscosity of a skin moisturizer and its effectiveness. We left a comment on her post and she was kind enough to explain that water content increases as one goes from ointment to cream to lotion. While we don’t necessarily disagree with this statement we’re still confused why a lotion would make skin drier. We believe that the moisturizing efficacy of a given product is more related to the ingredients it contains rather than its viscosity. A thin lotion based on dimethicone will moisturize skin better than a thick cream based on shea butter.

Have you ever encountered a lotion that you think left your skin drier than it was before? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.