Creams are semi-solid emulsions and are typically 50% oil and 50% water containing ingredients meant for dry, dehydrated, hyper-pigmented and sometimes even, rosacea related skin conditions. Creams are heavy and occlusive (do not let air penetrate) and are comprised of large molecules which makes absorption difficult. Generally they are found in tubs and containers that come with a spatula so that they can then be transferred to the skin by hand.
Lotions are thinner in texture than creams and, hence, not quite so heavy. One can define it as a gel based moisturizer. As for composition, they are similar to creams but the oil content is a great deal less than 50% and sometimes contain no oils at all. They absorb more readily than creams in part because of the smaller molecular structure. They generally come in a pump format and are ideal for people who tend to have oilier skins or have dehydration going on simultaneously with an acneic issue. (Dehydrated skin lacks moisture aka water).
Gels are emulsions that contain ‘oil in water’. This simply means that the product has a lot of water and a little oil has been added to it. Gels usually have an alcohol base but not always, necessarily. Most gels have a jelly like consistency and can be found in tubes or pumps. Products manufactured in this format are generally non-comodogenic (will not create comedones which are tiny whiteheads or blackheads) that may create an acne condition. Hence, oily, acned and sensitive skins can benefit from gels. A word of caution. Alcohol based gels are stronger than water based gels. So if you have rosacea or sensitive, reactive skin, I might suggest that you stick to water based gels. Alcohol based gels are very efficacious in dealing with extremely oily based skin types with a tendency to breakouts.
There is another category of moisturizers called ointments. They are generally comprised of 80% oil and only 20% water. They are very greasy (think vaseline) and are used to repair or protect the skin and mucous membranes. As an example, ointments are used for the eyes and other areas of the body. Ointments are generally used for purposes of healing extremely chapped, cracked areas of the skin and, hence, not a good idea for usage by someone with oily, moist and acned skin.
And, finally, we have serums. This is my favorite category because serums impart and create corrective benefits to the skin. Serums are generally water based, eliminating oils and contain concentrated and potent doses of ingredients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Peptides, Stem Cells, Growth Factors and a host of anti-oxidants for anti-aging purposes. Aging is a very broad umbrella term that covers skin problems such as lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, acne, rosacea, dry, dehydrated skin, sagging, skin tags and a host of skin problems. Aging skin is caused by oxidation which in laymen’s terms, means rusting. If you leave butter out of the fridge for several hours on a hot, summer day, it turns rancid (going bad). That is exactly what happens in the body when the above mentioned skin problems occur.
When you use a serum meant for a specific skin condition, it will correct that particular problem. Since they are water based, they are very light weight and can penetrate easily and leave no oily residue on the surface. This means that you need to use a moisturizer (cream, lotion or gel) on top of it to hydrate the skin topically because the corrective ingredients in the serum have already penetrated and been absorbed by the skin.
If you are confused, here is the order of application of skin care products on your face: a) cleanser b) toner (not always necessary) c) correction serum d) moisturizer (cream, lotion or gel) and in the mornings, use an SPF (sun protective factor) of at least 30. If you are a woman, your makeup will go over this.
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