Bath & Body

Body Oil or Body Lotion? Which is right for you?

filler olive oil 500x250What is the difference between Body Lotion and Body Oil? While lotion is popular in the United States, body oil is the more popular choice in Europe for keeping skin looking great. Body Oil is gaining popularity in the United States as more Americans discover this powerful all natural and versatile bath and body product.

How do you know which is best for you? What is the difference between Body Lotion and Body Oil? There are several factors to consider when examining the difference between lotion and body oil.

Formulation and Ingredients:

Body lotion requires quite a bit of formulating knowledge because of the alchemy involved in making lotion. On one hand anybody can make a lotion as long as they can read a recipe, on the other hand not everyone can make an effective lotion. Fine lotion making is an art. It’s alchemy at its best – a fine lotion maker understands what element each ingredient brings to the user and how to deftly bind ingredients together.

There are many differences between lotion and oil. When opting for lotion, toxins are a big factor to consider. Some manufacturers have to add all sorts of fillers and emulsifiers to create a creamy lotion, while plant-based oils can be super-effective at keeping us hydrated and radiant without needing added binding and preserving ingredients. Even all natural lotions require wax to bind the lotion and preservative to keep it from going bad. While all natural preservatives and emulsifiers should always be the first choice, even the all natural options do not bring any true meaning to the skin.

Process of making perfumesLotion is primarily water and oil with a binding agent and any added skin conditioners the manufacturer chooses to use in the lotion. There is no shortage of lotion on the market ranging from poorly made to beautifully formulated. Many handmade soapmakers eventually make lotion – it’s fun to make and something customers can relate to. It adds some prestige to a soap line and makes for add-on sales.

We recently visited the Mall of America and stopped in at the biggest beauty counters to see what they carried for lotion. We were very surprised to find that lotion was actually hard to find in these shops and at the big beauty counters. The closest thing we found to lotion and body butter was a product they called “lotion” but was actually closer to an infused water. I encourage you to take a few minutes to ask at the high-end beauty counters what they are selling for lotion to see if you have a similar experience.

A beginner or very basic lotion recipe looks something like this: 77% Water, 4% glycerin (helps bind water to the skin), 7% Stearic Acid and Emulsifying Wax (this is what binds the oil and water to keep the lotion from separating), 10% combination of Oils and/or Butters and/or Added Ingredients/Skin Conditioners, 1.5% Preservative, 1% Essential Oil or Fragrance Oil.

Some companies add dehydrated Aloe Vera to the Water to beef up the water phase and that’s a good add-in. This will typically appear in the lotion ingredient list as something like “Aqua (and) Aloe Vera” or “Aloe Vera Water”. This addition looks great on a label and it does bring a small benefit to the skin, however the basis is water – regardless of how dressed up the wording.

emulsifying wax
Emulsifying Wax Flakes

The necessity of using emulsifying wax in lotion to bind the water and oil used in lotion formulas creates an “occlusive” layer on the skin. The wax locks in moisture, creating the “moisturizing” benefit of lotion. While this sounds great for hydrating skin, wax can potentially build up on the skin, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. This is true for facial moisturizer and body lotion. Since oil is a more active ingredient, and wax is more or less a “filler” ingredient, this waxy build up may prevent the amazing nutrients from the small amount of oil present in lotion from actually penetrating into the skin. The wax can cause the oils to just lay on top of the skin (think about the greasiest lotion you’ve ever used – it feels like that). Also, research is beginning to emerge that points to emulsifying wax ingredients as being damaging to skin’s natural protective mantle when used over time.

Another downfall of lotion is that the presence of water in any formula requires the use of a preservative to keep mold and bacteria from growing inside the product. Unfortunately, most preservatives on the market today are toxic and not skin-friendly. Truly “natural” preservatives are rare, and that is always what Brown Barn has used in its own water based formulas. But again, preservative is an ingredient that brings little to no value to your skin. There has been quite a bit of new research pointing to preservatives as endocrine disruptors and as contributing to issues such as “leaky gut” as preservatives kill bacteria. This means it kills good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. When applying a product made with preservative to your skin, you are transferring the preservative necessary to keep the lotion clean to your body. Our bodies need to maintain a careful balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. Preservatives have no way of discerning between the two.

AdobeStock_72165360 (1).jpegIn contrast, Body Oil is basically 99% Oil and approximately 1% (or more depending on what is used) Essential Oil or Fragrance Oil. Brown Barn body oils are infused with a list of hand harvested and organic cultivated botanicals. This is what makes our body oil stand out against other body oils or just plain oil. We are one of the only companies in the United States that grows its own botanicals and infuses its oils using solar heat from its own glass greenhouse and then goes on to produce its own products. (In other words we take our products from seed to finished product.)

Oils have extremely high nutrient and antioxidant levels. They are the heart of any all natural skincare and bath/body program (which is what Brown Barn specializes in!) They are 100% active with no fillers and are readily absorbed by the skin. The oil (sebum) that our skin produces starts to deplete as we age. Replenishing skin’s lipid barrier by applying oils is a necessity to keeping skin healthy and looking young. Fine lines and wrinkles are an unavoidable part of aging but they will show up sooner when skin is not effectively lubricated.

A common skin care myth is that oils will clog pores and lead to break outs, especially for acne-prone skin types. This is not true. Oils have the amazing ability to balance the skin by telegraphing to the skin when enough oil is present – using oil can tell your body that it’s okay to stop producing so much oil. All skin types can benefit tremendously from the natural gifts of oil.

How Body Oil Works:

Now that we understand Body Lotion is mostly water the next item to consider is what Body Lotion and Body Oil do for your body. Body Lotion brings hydration to the skin in the form of water. The oil level is rather low. I personally believe that the oil found in lotion serves mostly as an “emollient” with a little bit of vitamins and skin boosters. An emollient is an ingredient that makes the lotion feel smooth when applied. The primary skin benefit of lotion is the hydration it brings to skin in the form of water.

Lavender oil on white planks closeupOil brings hydration to the skin in the form of oil. Oil can be applied to wet or dry skin. Its an ultra-natural way to moisturize your skin. It can be used with water to bring the water benefit of lotion to the skin without the use of chemicals, preservatives, binders, or emulsifiers.

If you want to add water all you need to do is take a shower or bath, exit the tub/shower wet. Slather oil on over your wet skin. At this point you can either hop back in the shower and give a quick rinse to tone down the amount oil left on the skin or you can air dry (you’ll dry fast once you’ve applied oil but if you get bored waiting just dance a bit and it’ll be more fun) or gently pat dry, being careful not to wipe off the valuable body oil. That’s it! As a bonus, when oil is used on wet skin it works to lock water hydration into skin without the risk of waxy build-up found with lotion.

I love that you can moderate the oil level on your skin so easily with this method, of course you can also apply oil directly to your skin if you want a super moisturizing experience. I use the direct application technique with my face oil and on my hands. I keep a bottle of oil right by my sink (where the hand lotion used to live). The primary skin benefit of body oil is the hydration and rich active benefits it brings to the skin in the form of oil.

Additives and the Infusion Process:

Some companies advertise the use of additives in their lotion. Alpha Hydroxy Acid, Ceramides, Glycerin, Fatty Acids, Hylauronic Acid, etc. In most cases, these ingredient properties are available in a basic natural form in body oil or thru the infusion of botanicals into body oil.

20621106_10155647894702372_3158040932505432325_nInfusing body oil is another one of those formulator skills that is often considered “easy” however a truly well made body oil infusion, such as what we do at the Brown Barn Botanical Farm, is an artisan process. Yes, anyone can purchase or harvest some plant material, cover it with oil and let it sit for a few weeks. You’ll get some type of infusion benefit. And this is exactly how many companies treat their oil infusion.

Unfortunately many companies use plant materials brought in from other countries and they do not have a close knowledge as to the harvesting methods, origin or exact species of the botanical, whether weeds or bug debris are present in the dried plant material, or how old this material is.

At Brown Barn Botanical Farm we cultivate our own botanicals. We take great care and consideration in every aspect of the growing process from what variety we use to fertilizer to the harvesting method and infusion process.

We use Wisconsin grown USDA Certified Organic Sunflower oil as our infusion base because we love what Sunflower oil brings to the skin. We know how rich and fertile the land is in Northern Wisconsin and what this brings to the oil. The Sunflower Oil Brown Barn uses is “cold pressed” oil – that means it was not exposed to heat or chemicals in the extraction process. It is extracted in small batches using a small hand-made extractor.

Brown Barn’s process for infusing botanicals into beautiful Sunflower oil involves infusions 1 (1 of 1)gentle heat by harvesting the power of the sun in our own vintage glass greenhouse located at the Brown Barn Botanical Farm. This light heat is necessary to encourage the botanicals to release their powerful attributes into the Sunflower oil base. This process allows us to monitor the oil every step of the way from seed right thru to infusion completion.

Once infused, the super-charged Sunflower Oil is transported to the Brown Barn Lab, where it is mixed with supporting oils that bring their own wealth of vitamin and minerals to the blend. Finally, Essential Oil blends are added to each product for aromatherapy benefit and also for the skin loving benefits each essential oil adds. Essential Oil is extremely concentrated, only a very small amount is safe for use in body oil but it packs a big punch and beautiful scent to our infused oil. We just love our body oils made with added Essential Oil.


Body Oil costs quite a bit more than lotion. But now we know that lotion is primarily water while body oil (and especially Brown Barn Botanical Body Oil) brings a more concentrated active oil experience to your skin. We also know much less body oil is needed as compared to lotion, making it more cost effective.

Brown Barn has a variety of pure infused body oils to choose from.

Body Oil is extremely versatile. It can be used in place of body lotion, hand lotion, foot cream, cuticle cream, hair conditioner, scalp treatments, salve, perfume, lip balm, eye cream, moisturizer, serum, make-up remover, bath bombs, and I’m sure there’s more.

Body Oil can act as body oil, bath oil, nail oil, hand oil, foot oil, foot soak, hair oil, beard oil, scalp oil, pre-shave skin conditioner (for women and men), perfume, massage oil, and more. Brown Barn Botanicals also carries gorgeous face oils formulated specifically to address aging and facial skin health – the same use principles and methods apply to the face as the body.

Just looking at the list of products one bottle of body oil can replace in your beauty cabinet makes it obvious what a great investment and how versatile body oil is.

I personally have been using mostly oil for my skin routine for years and now I am seeing the long term benefits of having done so. Brown Barn has seven Botanic Body Oils to choose from. You can find each of them at I hope you take a few minutes to check out Brown Barn Botanical’s beautiful artisan infused oils and to give body oil a try!

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