By Kathryn Walsh

There's no "wrong" way to drink coffee – but the cream that's perfect for one person's palette isn't a good choice for someone who's lactose intolerant. The same principle is true when choosing and applying body lotion. Slapping it on is easy. Figuring out the type that's most effective for your skin, however? That's a little stickier.

Woman taking care of her body after bath
credit: jacoblund/iStock/GettyImages
How to Apply Body Lotion

Deciphering Body Lotion Types

Not all body lotions are created equal. In fact, some of the products shelved in the moisturizer aisle aren't technically considered lotions. Generally, lotions are the thinnest and most watery type of body moisturizers. Products marketed as body milk tend to have a similar formulation and consistency to body lotions. Body creams are thicker and richer and contain less water than lotions. Body butters are even thicker and packed with fats – and usually so rich that they actually have a spreadable consistency like softened butter.

Picking the Right Lotion Type

A thin body lotion is fine for most skin types. It's a good choice for anyone whose skin is oily or slightly dry. Lotion is light and sinks into the skin quickly, so it's the right formulation for anyone who dislikes the feeling of thick or oily products. Because it's super concentrated, body butter is a good choice for anyone with skin that's very dry, but it's not a good fit for oily skin. Body creams have a medium-weight richness, so they're appropriate for people with normal or dry skin.

Avoiding the Wrong Lotion

When picking the perfect body lotion, knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to look for. Read ingredient labels and steer clear of products containing phthalates, parabens and anything that's simply called "fragrance." Don't use moisturizers containing retinol for daytime use. To avoid shady chemicals altogether, make a homemade moisturizer using easy-to-find ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, almond oil, essential oils and water. You may have to try a few recipes to find one that perfectly suits your skin.

Applying Body Lotion

Body lotions, creams and butters trap moisture on the skin, keeping skin hydrated and preventing dryness. Your moisturizer of choice can most effectively accomplish that when the skin is already damp, so apply moisturizer not more than five minutes after bathing. Starting with a grape-sized dollop, rub the product between your palms to warm it up and then use both hands to massage it into the skin. (Using a long-handled lotion brush is helpful for anyone with mobility issues.) Move from the neck down, or from the feet up, to make sure you don't miss any spots.

Targeting the Right Areas

Some people make the mistake of finding a body lotion and using it all over, every day, no matter what. That works fine for some, but skin needs can change from day to day. It makes sense to keep a light lotion and a richer cream or butter on hand and to use them on different parts of the body. For example, you might apply cream or body butter to the rough soles of your feet, dry elbows and knees or any other areas that are extra parched, and use a light lotion everywhere else.