Dry Skin Basics: Which is better? Lotions, Creams, or Salves

The high season for dry skin is in full swing and many of us are reaching for our tried and true skin soothing remedies. But which formula is best for your unique needs? Read on to discover whether you need a lotion, salve, or cream to deal with your dry winter skin woes.


Lotions are an emulsion of water and oil which usually contain an emulsifier such as cetearyl alcohol in order to keep them smooth and prevent separation, as well as stabilizers to prolong shelf life. Lotions are lightweight, which means they can be easily spread across large areas of the body and absorb quickly. However, they don’t always provide enough protection for more serious dry skin because they have a lower oil content and can be washed off easily. Additives such as emulsifiers and stabilizers, and the mysterious non-specific ingredient “fragrance,” can also irritate skin. Alcohol and mineral oils can be drying to the skin, meaning you’ll need to reapply more frequently. If you are looking for a lightweight moisturizer make sure your lotion of choice contains only natural ingredients, and avoid chemical fragrances and long lists of additives that can be irritating to already dry skin.


Creams are the next step up in the moisturizing game, providing a higher concentration of oil to water and a longer lasting layer of moisture to protect your skin. They can still be applied to large areas and are a lifesaver for more severely dry skin. Creams can protect skin from the elements while providing moisture during this time of year when it is often cold and dry. Creams can also offer protection for skin which is repeatedly exposed to water due to necessary daily activities like frequent hand washing or washing dishes. Again, look for a product with only plant based oils and natural essential oil based fragrances, as opposed to petroleum based ingredients like mineral oil.


A salve is a semi-solid substance used to heal the skin. It is thicker than a cream and usually contains medicinal ingredients to promote healing. A salve can be applied to smaller areas of very dry skin such as dry hands, cracked heels, calloused elbows and knees, and even chapped lips. It can also be used for cuts, scrapes, burns, or other areas in need of concentrated topical protection. If space is at a premium, keeping a salve on hand is the best option because it can be used for so many different skin issues. An all natural salve can even be spread very thinly across any dry skin area to offer healing protection. An herb infused plant based salve like Ora’s All Purpose Salve is an excellent addition to every medicine cabinet, purse, and first aid kit. It is great to have on hand for dry hands and many other daily uses, and makes a wonderful gift, because everyone’s skin needs a little extra healing attention!

Further Reading:
Doyle, Kathryn (2013-12-12). “Some skin creams bad news for eczema”. Reuters.

Remington, Joseph Price (2006), Beringer, Paul (ed.), Remington: The Science And Practice Of Pharmacy (21st ed.), Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, p. 772, ISBN 978-0781746731.

“Moisturizing 101: Cream vs Lotion”