Gels, Lotions, Creams, Emollients, Ointments, Oils: Everything You Need To Know

Have you ever spent far too long in Boots or Superdrug, eyeing up the various lotions and potions on display, only to leave empty-handed? There’s just too much choice! They all promise to combat dry skin and provide long lasting relief, so how do you differentiate?

Back in the day, you had a choice of a simple bottle of Nivea or a boring old tube of E45. There was always Cold Cream as well. Now, the possibilities and solutions are endless. A search on the Boots website for ‘body moisturisers’ brings up 293 results. Scary.

When I was first diagnosed with psoriasis, I had no idea what I was in for. It took me some time to work out the differences between lotions, creams and ointments and what was best for my skin at different times. I learnt how my skin changed through the year and how different areas of skin reacted in different ways to products.  A friend with psoriasis, tried using a gel to treat a psoriasis patch on her leg, but it made no difference. However, using the same gel on her scalp helped clear it! Aren’t our bodies amazing? (And crazy!)

Read on to find out the benefits of each of the skin moisturising solutions you might come across. I’ve included my favourite brands and some tips I’ve learned along the way too. If you’ve got some of your own, please share them in the comments section.

Needless to say, this article is based on my own research, opinions and experiences. Please seek professional medical advice to assist you when choosing the right skincare solution. There’s lots of products on the market, so keep persisting.

Psoriasis with cream on

Happy, hydrated psoriasis

Gel

What is it?: Gel is water-based and normally oil-free. A thickening agent, such as polymer or polysaccharide, is used to create the gel formula.

Benefits: Gel absorbs into the skin quickly and is thinner consistency than ointment. If you have scalp psoriasis, using gel is a good idea as it’s quick and easy to rub in. (Coconut oil, mentioned later on, is also a good option for scalp psoriasis.)

Drawbacks: As gel is oil-free, it might dry out your psoriasis (as it did with mine). It’s really a bit of trial and error with gels.

Summary: If you have oily skin, then gel is your friend. The lack of oil means your skin will benefit from hydration without becoming too greasy.

Favourite Brand: I don’t use any gels myself, but I have heard good things about Dovobet gel for the scalp.

Lotion

What is it?: Aside from gels, lotion is the most ‘watery’ of the skincare solutions we’ll look at today. Essentially, it’s water mixed with droplets of oil.

Benefits: Lotions sink in quickly and you can cover a large area of skin without using loads of product. It’s non-greasy and lightweight, so won’t stain your clothes or turn you into a slip n’ slide.

Drawbacks: Longevity of lotions isn’t as good as creams or ointments. The water in the lotion evaporates, so some more watery lotions might end up drying your skin out further. If it’s winter, or you’re having a bad flare up, lotion simply isn’t going to cut the mustard. You’ll need to bring out the big guns instead.

Summary: Lotion is convenient and ideal for days when your skin isn’t super dry or for use during the summer months. Really, it’s a daytime dry skin solution. I like to keep a small bottle of lotion in my bag during the week, whilst I’m at work, or if I’m travelling.

Favourite brand: There are so many lotions on the market, most are affordable too. My favourite lotion is Neutrogena Deep Moisture Body Lotion (about £5 from Boots). For a lotion, it has a high oil content whilst remaining fairly easy to spread. Your skin won’t dry out.

Cream

What is it?: Creams are much thicker than lotions and are basically oil mixed with droplets of water. If you turned a pot of cream upside down, it wouldn’t budge, whereas you’ll be cussing under your breath dealing with spoilt your carpet or trainers if you tried to do this with lotion (which would be kind of silly).

Benefits: Creams offer much more hydration than lotions by creating a barrier, allowing your skin to be protected from the weather, central heating and retaining moisture under your epidermis. Thick creams can feel very luxiourous on your skin, so are ideal for using just after a bath. If your psoriasis is particularly dry or painful, creams can offer fast relief thanks to the high oil percentage.

Drawbacks: As they are much thicker, creams take longer to soak into your skin. For this reason, they’re not recommended as part of your Monday – Friday routine, unless you have 45 minutes to spare to let the cream soak in and work its magic.

Summary: Worth investing in, but maybe save cream for the winter months, bad flare ups or evenings when you have a little more time to look after your skin rather than running around after everyone else.

Favourite brand: Aveeno Cream (the one with colloidal oatmeal) is available on prescription and unlike a lot of creams, is sold in a handy pump-action bottle. Top Tip: Keep cream in the fridge for a cool skin treat after a summer’s afternoon in the garden.

Emollient

Creams demonstrated on hand

From the top: Aveeno cream, Diprobase ointment, Neutrogena lotion, Caudalie oil (dripping down my hand!)

What is it?: The word ’emollient’ comes from the Mid 17th Century Latin verb ’emollire’, which means ‘making soft’. Emollients are what’s known as ‘occluders’, which means a protective layer of oil is put on your skin to prevent moisture loss. An emollient is a single ingredient that is used in ointments, lotions or creams.

Benefits: The occlusive barrier smooths psoriasis, so flakes of skin become less visible. Using products with emollinets in will help soothe cracked skin and psoriasis. Emollients can help reduce itching too. If you find your skin is sensitive to soap, using an emollient soap substitute is an effective alternative.

Drawbacks: Be very careful around naked flames whist using emollients. They are made up of liquid paraffin and white soft paraffin and there have been cases in the news of fire-related accidents, whilst people have been wearing clothes or using bedding that have been allowed to have emollients soaked into them. Products with emollient as an ingredient can also be very sticky.

Summary: A handy addition to any psoriatic’s skincare collection, although some products with emollients in are more greasy than others, so you might have to shop around. Top Tip: Use in the shower as a creamy alternative to drying shower gels.

Favourite Brand: An emollient is a single ingredient that is used in ointments or creams, so you would buy creams with emollient in it. I like Diprobase Ointment Emollient.

Ointment

Dovobet for psoriasis

The usual suspect: Dovobet

What is it?: Other than oil itself, ointment has the highest concentration of oil than any of the other formulas. It’s essentially oil with a few droplets of water mixed in. Personally, I have a love/hate relationships with ointments. Yes, ointments are effective, but they also test patience to the maximum.

Benefits: Ointments lock in moisture much more effectively than lotions or creams. Ointments contain less synthetic chemicals and preservatives than other products, so can be helpful for sensitive skin.

Drawbacks: Ointments should come with a warning: May incite fury. They are sticky and greasy and take longer to absorb, so not ideal for the mornings. That is unless you’re home alone and happy to not touch anything for the next 12 hours. If you don’t plan on opening any bottles or jars and don’t care for stained clothes, bedding, walls, etc you’ll be fine. They also retain sweat as well, so not useful for under the arms.

Summary: Good for hardcore moisturising, but probably best reserved for bedtime as it’s too messy to use during the day. Top Tip: At bedtime, apply ointment and wrap affected area with cling film. (Unless, of course, there’s a better bedtime plan on the cards.) Bonus Top Tip: Ointments can harden up, especially in the winter time, making them hard to apply. Warm up your tube of ointment by placing it in a sink or bowl of warm water. The product will be easier to apply and you won’t need to use as much.

Favourite Brand: Dovobet is a famed effective ointment for psoriasis. But as is the nature of ointments, it’s incredibly messy.

Oil

What is it?: Oils can be made up of different formulas. You might have heard people recommend olive oil or coconut oil for psoriasis, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. My personal favourite is argan oil. It’s effective, smells lovely (which is rare for many lotions and creams) and contains skin-friendly vitamin E.

Benefits: Argan oil is hydrating and anti-inflammaroty. It will reduce redness and can help relieve itching. Argan oil can be used to treat scalp psoriasis. A little bit rubbed onto psoriasis patches won’t make your hair greasy, which of course is very welcome.

Drawbacks: Argan oil is not an essential oil, but essential oils like tea tree oil and lavendar oil are very potent, so do use with caution. Pregnant women should also exercise caution with essential oils. If you want to use oils, do a patch test first, as you might have an allergic reaction.

Summary: A treatment with a feel of luxury is a rarity when it comes to dealing with psoriasis. Pop a small vial of your chosen oil in your bag and use throughout the day.

Favourite brand: Caudalie Divine Oil is amazing. It’s expensive at £18 for 50ml, but hear me out; this oil is multi-purpose, so you can use it on your skin, hair and nails. If you’re feeling particular generous, you can use it as a massage oil too. It’s suitable for the bath as well, although as it’s an oil, it won’t provide the big, fat bubbles we never grow out of loving.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the vast array of creams, lotions and potions on offer. It’s really not as daunting as you might think. First, identify what you want to use the solution for. Is it for the morning, before you start you day and you need something fast acting? Is it to use just before bedtime? Or, are you having a bad flare up? Your needs will narrow down your choice and make the task of selecting the right moisturiser all the more enjoyable.

What are you favourite potions? Have you got any application tips? Let me know in the comments below!