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Smoothing Out the Process of Selecting a Skin Lotion

March 13, 1997|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thanks to technological improvements and massive marketing efforts, picking a skin lotion--whether for your face, body or hands--is no simple task. In fact, it's beginning to make pantyhose selection (regular? control top? industrial-strength control top?) look like a walk in the park.

When you're eyeball-to-skin-lotion-labels, it can get confusing.

Do you need the fingers-only formula? A special lotion for legs and feet? The advanced formula or the extra relief lotion?

Then there is the ingredients list, full of tongue-twisting words like "hyaluronic acid" (more on that later).

Americans spend $1.2 billion a year on hand and body lotions and $2.1 billion more on facial lotions, according to Kline & Co., a Fairfield, N.J., consulting firm. Here, a primer meant to make lotion-buying go more smoothly.

Hand Versus Face Versus Body Lotions: So what's the difference? They might be very similar, depending on brand, says Michael Caswell, a biochemist and director of research and development for Body Drench, an Alexandria, Tenn.-based skin care products company.

But in general, you'll find different concentrations and types of ingredients, he says. "Face lotions are loaded with moisturizers, which frequently makes them more expensive," Caswell says. (Two commonly found moisturizers are sodium PCA and glycerin.)

Hand lotions might have high concentrations of stearic acids, a fatty acid that softens skin but can leave a greasy feel, Caswell says.

Body lotions tend to have less expensive ingredients, simply because you use more to cover the 1.8 square meters of skin found on the average body, he adds.

At the Lab: When chemists create skin lotion formulas, they tend to think of what the face needs versus what the body or the hands need, says Diana Howard, a biochemist and director of international education for Dermalogica, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of skin care products.

"Facial skin is more sensitive [than skin on other parts of the body] and thinner," she says. "It is always exposed to ultraviolet light, which is responsible for 99% of premature aging." Ingredients must be milder, for instance, than in body lotions.

The hands become drier than other body parts, so emollients--substances that soften and soothe the skin--are vital.

Combating Crocodile Skin: The list of ingredients on lotion packages can seem as long as your arm. But the ideal lotion--no matter what part of your body is targeted--should accomplish four actions, says Dr. Howard Murad, an El Segundo pharmacist-turned-dermatologist who manufactures a line of skin care products. It should prevent water loss (look for ceramides or petrolatum), absorb water (hyaluronic acid), remove dead cells (alphahydroxy acids) and reduce inflammation (panthenol, licorice extract).

Who Needs What? If you have no time to read entire labels, take some shortcuts.

"If you have very dry skin, look for stearic acid," Caswell says. But "in high concentrations, stearic acid can produce acne," Murad warns.

If you have dry but acne-prone facial skin, look for oil-free formulas, Howard advises, and sensitive-skin types should avoid lotions with artificial colors, fragrances and formaldehyde.

Want a less greasy feel? Look for lotions with silicones, such as cyclomethicone or dimethicone.

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