I don’t believe that we need to slather ourselves head-to-toe in body lotion after every shower, but there are few things more satisfying than rubbing hand cream into parched palms. And in the winter, my legs and arms become dry as well, and I like to have something on hand to moisturize. Of course, most conventional lotions (and even many “natural” ones) are full of the usual chemicals, so you’ll have to do some digging to find a truly clean one.
What’s Wrong with Conventional Body Lotion?
Our baby lotion safety review outlines what’s bad about most moisturizers (namely, toxic parabens used as preservatives). Lotions for adults tend to include additional chemicals, mostly related to the fragrance. When you are reading labels, keep your eyes open for the following:
- Fragrance or “parfum” (generally, this means the presence of hormone-disrupting phthalates)
- Benzyl alcohol (likely carcinogenic)
- PEG-100 stearate (sometimes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which has high rates of carcinogenesis)
(Read about these ingredients and more by checking out our glossary.)
“Natural” and “Dermatologist-Recommended” Ingredients Do NOT Guarantee Safe Products
Unfortunately, many companies use these terms to mask sneaky ingredients in products; in fact, the more verbose the label, the sneakier the product tends to be.
- Read ingredients lists; don’t be persuaded by cooing advertising and buzz words on labels, which are all but meaningless.
- Companies are not legally required to disclose the inclusion of phthalates in fragrances. Even if the product is phthalate-free, the presence of an undisclosed fragrance means the ingredients probably contain a mixture of other unknown chemicals.
- “Naturally-derived” does not mean an ingredient is natural or safe. This tells us that the ingredient has undergone a chemical process.
If you want to combat dry skin without buying a pre-made lotion, check out our DIY skincare ideas or whip up a batch of homemade lotion (recipe below). I like to buy premixed lotions myself, and all of the brands recommended below should be safe and gentle enough for babies, although you should always perform a patch test to make sure there are no sensitivities.
The Good Stuff
Acure’s body lotions are super silky, not at all greasy, and still free of all the gross stuff. I also like that Acure products contain Fair Trade Certified and organic ingredients, and Acure’s offices and manufacturing plants are 100% solar/wind powered. Portions of Acure’s sales are donated to various nonprofits that work to fight breast cancer, plant trees, and provide clean water to developing nations. We now sell Acure lotions in our online store, where you’ll pay only $10 for a 7-ounce bottle.
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Sierra Sage is one of the oldest herbal salve companies in the U.S., and this moisturizing salve contains organic ingredients produced at their own herb farm. The Good Stuff Store sells this balm for $14 for a 2-ounce tub. We recommend this in particular for the hands and extra dry areas–it’s a bit of a challenge to smear it head-to-toe!
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These small-batch lotions are 100% natural with no preservatives, but still have a shelf life of a year (more if you refrigerate). They are not greasy or balm-like, but nice and creamy, while still being light. The Citrus Garden is my favorite scent. You can now buy this lotion in our store, where it’s $16 for a 8-ounce bottle.
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Tandi’s Ultra Rich Body Butter, made by hand in Lancaster, PA, is formulated with local ingredients like beeswax and a variety of plant oils, and is free of all preservatives. This lotion feels slightly greasy at first, but if you give it a minute it actually sinks in perfectly and leaves no sheen. We sell a 1.5-ounce tub in our online store for $12.
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This is what we now use in our home–my husband Daylon is picky about the consistency of his lotions; those that are super thick and balm-like weren’t going to fly. This one is nice and silky and I love that it comes in glass instead of plastic. We sell this lotion in our store, where it’s $34 for the 8-ounce glass jar.
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Kabana is among the most transparent companies out there, and its website outlines the very strict standards for its products’ ingredients. Kabana’s Pure Shea moisturizer is sort of like a deodorant stick that you paint on your body, so it’s a departure from a more traditional lotion or cream, and a little bit greasier. I love that it’s just 100% organic unrefined shea butter–produced in Ghana by a woman-owned, fair-trade collective to boot! Two ounces cost around $6.95. Kabana also makes a more traditional cream–Kabana Créme--but this one contains lanolin, which I try to avoid when possible (although Kabana does use the highest grade available–USP superfine). You can have an essential oil of your choice added to your cream (their oils are steam distilled, cold pressed, or supercritical carbon dioxide extracted). Daylon doesn’t like this cream because it’s SUPER thick and somewhat hard to rub in (better for small areas and Daylon likes to rub lotion over his entire chest). You’ll pay $15 for a 6-ounce tub of Kabana Creme. All Kabana products are produced in their facility outside of Boulder, CO, while some ingredients come from overseas (but nothing is sourced from or purchased in China). You can find Kabana products in Whole Foods, as well as the Kabana website. We sell Kabana’s amazing sunscreen in our online store.
The Bad Stuff
Almost all the hand and body lotions you find at the drugstore are full of chemicals. Unfortunately, those sold at Sephora or in a department store aren’t any better.
Vaseline Intensive Care lotion garners a whopping 10 out of 10 on Skin Deep’s toxicity scale. Fragrance, DMDM hydantoin, retinyl palmitate, triethanolamine, parabens, and a handful of other chemicals are included in the various Vaseline formulas.
Philosophy lotions, despite the high price, are still full of questionable ingredients (and the lower case “p” in their name annoys me, too). The Amazing Grace Firming Body Emulsion contains nine ingredients that are scored as 3 or above by Skin Deep (including PEG-100 stearate and polysorbate 60). Fragrance is the second ingredient in this lotion, although a customer service rep told us that Philosophy products don’t contain phthalates. When we asked what chemicals were in the fragrance blend, she said: “I do not have that information, but the fragrance is used to blend the product together and maintain effectiveness.” Philosophy’s website states that only a “handful of our original products still contain paraben-based preservatives and their “promise” is “to bring its customers products that inspire them to live a better life by being better to themselves…Our products are based on a rich, scientific heritage.”
The Sneaky Stuff
Terralina’s Natural Body Lotion contains phenoxyethanol and fragrance. Terralina’s website states that the product is “99.95% natural” and “contains light, natural fragrance.” When we asked a customer service rep to explain the ingredients in the lotion’s fragrance, she wouldn’t provide us with any information. Similarly, she couldn’t tell us which ingredients were organic and which were not.
Belli Specialty Skin Care Solutions claims to be the #1 recommended pregnancy skin care brand by OB-GYNS. Some of their products are clean, and their All Day Moisture Body Lotion is rated only a 2 by Skin Deep. However, it contains several ingredients that concern me:
- Ceteareth-20 (Skin Deep score: 4-7, depending on usage.)
- PEG-100 stearate
- Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (Skin Deep score: 4-6, depending on usage.)
- Tocopheryl acetate
I also don’t like that Belli’s product ingredients aren’t posted on their website, and they were were exceptionally difficult to get ahold of. When asked if anything they used were organic, this was their response: “We are not fully organic, however we do use organic ingredients when possible. If an organic ingredient does not meet our safety standards and teratology screening, LACTMED screening, allergy testing ect [SIC]) we then substitute with a synthetic ingredient that does pass the screening.” This answer doesn’t make sense, since the opposite of organic is not synthetic, and nowhere on Belli’s website or on their labels does it mention ANY organic ingredients.
J.R. Watkins Naturals makes household cleaning products and specialty food items in addition to their popular skincare and haircare lines. Their lotions, sold in many healthfood stores, are free of some notorious bad stuff–namely, parabens and phthalates–but still contain unspecified (likely synthetic) fragrance and something called C18-22 hydroxyalkyl hydroxypropyl guar, about which there are no safety studies.
The every popular Skin Trip coconut moisturizer by Mountain Ocean contains synthetic fragrance and phenoxyethanol.
See our baby lotion review for other safe lotion options for the whole family.
Make Your Own Body Lotion!
Elizabeth Flynn is an organic chemist and essential oil expert based in Santa Cruz. She generously shared the following recipe for a nourishing homemade body lotion. This is a very thick cream, so using squeezable plastic containers is not advisable.
Ingredients & Supplies
- 3/4 cup organic coconut oil
- 1/2 cup organic aloe (the purest you can find; most “aloe” has aloe as the third ingredient or more)
- 3 tablespons organic jojoba oil (the best skin oil; closely resembles the skin’s sebum)
- 3 tablespoons distilled water
- 2 tablespoons organic beeswax
- 1 teaspoon of essential oils of your choice (lavender is an excellent choice; it’s calming, soothing, and has antibacterial properties)
- rubber spatula (optional)
- thermometer (optional)
1. Melt the coconut oil, beeswax, and jojoba oil together in a small pot on low heat, stirring just until they become homogeneous. Then turn off the heat so the oils don’t get too hot.
2. Heat the distilled water in another small pot on low heat, until it simmers. This will only take a minute or two. It is best to heat both the oils and water to the same temperature, but if you don’t have a thermometer, just heat them on the same burner level.
3. Pour the heated oils and water into the blender simultaneously and blend on low for two minutes.
4. Slowly add the aloe while blending on high for two minutes. You might have to use a rubber spatula to assist the blending process.
5. Add your essentials during those last two minutes of blending.
6. Voila! Your lotion will still be warm and you can pour into glass jars of a suitable size. Elizabeth recommends recycling old food jars! A rubber spatula works well here to get every last bit.