What’s the Difference Between Moisturizer and Cream?

They’re both luscious treats for your skin, but one might be better for you than the other.
BY Sarah Lim
| April, 2022
What’s the Difference Between Moisturizer and Cream

Dull, dehydrated, dry, chapped skin is essentially the polar opposite of baby skin, so babies aren’t obsessed with slathering on lotions (and instead take for granted their perfectly plump complexions and overall cuteness). On the other hand, adults can’t live without some form of moisturizing treatment. But have you ever wondered what the real difference between moisturizer and cream is? In fact, you might even be surprised that there are distinguishing characteristics between the two.

While both moisturizer and cream can help you hydrate skin and get that healthy glow you’ve been missing, you might fare better with one or the other depending on your skin type, unique issues, and climate. 

When it comes to moisturizer vs. cream, here’s what you need to know for restoring thirsty or tired skin.

The Lowdown on Hydrating vs. Moisturizing

The Lowdown on Hydrating vs. Moisturizing

Although they sound like the same thing, hydrating and moisturizing are slightly different when it comes to skincare.

Hydration has to do with drinking water—think how much moisture you have in your body. When you’re dehydrated, your skin can reflect that, looking dry, rough, or dull. Without getting enough water through the foods and drinks you’re consuming, skincare products will only go so far in helping your skin.

Moisture has to do with your skin barrier and how well your skin is holding the water that’s already there. Skin that lacks moisture may feel tight or irritated and can be more prone to wrinkles and sagging than moisturized skin.

That’s where moisturizers and creams come in. Technically, the cream is a type of moisturizer, so they are both moisturizers. Moisturizer alone helps prevent the water on top of the skin from evaporating, which helps maintain the skin barrier and skin integrity, reducing wrinkles, irritation, and even inflammation. 

Before considering the difference between moisturizer and cream, know that moisturizer (and cream) won’t help improve skin hydration—maintain it. So take care to drink water all the time to keep your skin hydrated. Then you can look for a moisturizer or cream to keep the moisture in your skin.

So, hydration: internal. Moisturizing: external.

Moisturizer vs. Cream

Now that you know the distinction between skin hydration and skin moisture, it’s time to dig a little deeper into moisturizer vs. cream.

Moisturizer: Protect Against Water Loss

Moisturizer Protect Against Water Loss

Moisturizer, which includes products advertised as “cream”, helps protect skin against water loss. It tends to be more of a defensive product than a restorative one, although it can help decrease wrinkles and keep skin looking younger and softer when used regularly. 

Products labeled as a moisturizer also tend to have a higher water content with some oil and other ingredients, such as waxes, that can prevent water from leaving the skin. Although moisturizer helps prevent water from evaporating from the skin, it doesn’t quite lock in moisture the way creams do.

Moisturizers also absorb more quickly than creams, leaving skin with a smooth feel rather than a greasy residue. It’s generally best to use moisturizer immediately after showering or cleansing your face for optimum absorption. Moisturizer may also be referred to as lotion.

Cream: Restore Ultra-Dry or Mature Skin

Cream Restore Ultra-Dry or Mature Skin

The cream is a type of moisturizer but tends to be richer and have more beneficial ingredients and restorative properties than a traditional moisturizer. Creams are mixtures of both oil and water, about a 50/50 composition of each. 

Thanks to their higher oil content, creams tend to be more protective and hydrating for the skin, making them ideal for dry or sensitive skin types. Creams usually have lipids (fats) and vitamins in the formula and potentially an active ingredient such as retinol or acids

You can identify a cream by looking at the product’s ingredients—creams tend to have more ingredients since they typically pack more vitamins and skincare actives. You can also identify creams by their thickness. Some creams can leave a more shiny or greasy feel on the skin, which isn’t ideal for oily skin types

Another way to tell the difference between moisturizer and cream is that creams tend to come in jars instead of tubes, making it easier to dispense them due to their thickness.

When to Use Cream or Moisturizer

When to Use Cream or Moisturizer

While you can use either or both moisturizer and cream, it depends on your skin type. Cream tends to be more beneficial for dry or mature skin, while moisturizer may be more appropriate for normal, oily, or acne-prone and congested skin.

The cream can also be helpful for those with more sensitive, reactive skin types that may not have as strong of a skin barrier or for those who have conditions such as dermatitis or eczema. Some people who have dry or sensitive skin can use both moisturizing cream and cream on their skin. If you choose to use both at the same time, a cream should always come after your moisturizing cream.

Other helpful tips when choosing between moisturizer vs. cream:

Other helpful tips when choosing between moisturizer vs. cream
  • Use moisturizer in warmer temps or when working out and cream in drier, colder weather.
  • Creams are best used at night, while you can use moisturizers day or night. Depending on your skin type, you can use a moisturizer during the day and cream at night.
  • You should use both creams and moisturizers after cleansing, toning, and serums, but before sunscreen or skincare oils.
  • Look for helpful ingredients such as plant-based oils, hyaluronic acid, and cocoa butter or shea butter in both products.
  • If you have acne-prone skin, use a non-comedogenic moisturizer or cream that will not suffocate your skin by clogging pores.

Remember, you can use moisturizer and cream for both your face and body if you like. Many skincare companies offer body creams as opposed to body lotions to deliver thicker, richer protection for the skin.

Humectants, emollients, and occlusives can all be used to keep skin moisturized in creams and moisturizers. In fact, humectants can both hydrate and moisturize skin, so soak up the hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and honey! 

Do You Use a Cream or a Moisturizer?

Did you know the difference between moisturizer and cream? Which product do you use and enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments below!

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