Both "body lotion" and "body cream" get millions of google hits.

What's the difference between the two terms? Do they have different meanings, or are they from difference dialects of English?

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Great question! Creams are an aqueous oil/fat emulsion. This gives them a creamy consistency and are often "cream-colored" while lotions might be any color and need not be an emulsion- think Aloe Vera lotion for example. So a cream might also be called a lotion, while only creamy lotions could be called creams.

cream A viscous aqueous oil/fat emulsion with a medicament added, used to apply that medicament to the skin. (compare with ointment) You look really sunburnt; you should apply some cream.

lotion A low- to medium-viscosity topical preparation intended for application to unbroken skin.

Note that Wiktionary uses viscosity as another distinguishing characteristic. I'm not so sure that it works in all case- I've seen some pretty runny creams, and some thick lotions.

  • Creams can be any color. They're often white, but you can find other colors. – snailboat Dec 24 '13 at 4:13
  • Hmm, ok, that does seems like an added tint to an otherwise cream-colored substance. I suppose you are right. But there are definitely lotions that are creamy and those that are not and only lotions that are creamy can be called creams. – Jim Dec 24 '13 at 4:30
  • 1
    Creams are white because of the suspension of fat particles in water, which scatters light. – Kaz Dec 24 '13 at 4:51
  • I like your last sentence best: I've seen some pretty runny creams, and some thick lotions. In general, creams are thicker (and creamier) than lotions, which tend to be thinner and runnier. But I don't think there's a clear dividing line. – J.R. Dec 24 '13 at 11:02

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