Baby Lotion vs Regular Adult Lotion Explained for Parents

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When you bring your baby home from the hospital, you’re going to realize pretty quickly:

Taking care of baby’s skin is quite a task!

It’s dry, flaky, and soft but easily irritable. Keeping it moisturized and baby smooth is no easy feat.

So a lot of parents wind up spending a fortune on tubs and tubs of baby lotion.

Is that really necessary, though? What’s the difference between baby lotion vs regular adult lotion?

Does it matter or can you just use whatever’s cheapest?

The difference between baby lotion vs regular adult lotion usually boils down to this: Baby lotion will often (but not always!) have fewer ingredients — usually fewer or no fragrances or added colors, and fewer or no alcohols — and may sometimes use more “natural” ingredients.

Like most products specifically formulated for babies, baby lotion is gentler and more mild, but it may not be necessary to spend top dollar on top of the line natural/organic lotion. Most babies without skin allergens and sensitivities will do fine with basic gentle moisturizer.

But wait, so there’s so much more to learn! Let’s explore more about all things baby lotion and moisturizer.

Do Babies Really Need Lotion?

Lotion is often great for baby’s skin!

Heck, it’s great for most people’s skin.

Lotions and moisturizers essentially provide water for the skin and then lock it in place with an oily barrier, thus hydrating your skin.

(Some adult lotions have ingredients that claim to help with complexion, specific skin issues, etc.)

But some experts don’t believe that lotion is necessary for babies — especially for newborns less than 1 month old or so — unless baby’s skin is noticeable dry.

In other words, there’s no need to apply lotion and moisturizer daily to prevent dry skin unless you’re noticing issues.

But if baby is getting dry, flaky skin regularly (this is common after bath time!), baby lotion is a great place to start and won’t cost you very much to start treating the problem.

Until then, the main product you’ll want to have on hand is Aquaphor — a lotion-like product that helps keep the skin hydrated a protected — for regular application to the diaper area, which is prone to brutal rashes.

Difference Between Baby Lotion vs Adult Lotion

OK, let’s get real, shall we?

Do you need baby-specific lotion, or can you use adult lotion for a baby?

To answer that, let’s take a look at some common differences in ingredients.

(Obviously, parents should STRONGLY avoid any lotions that offer tanning, complexion care, wrinkle relief, or anything like that. For our purposes we’re going to compare pretty basic adult vs baby lotions.)

One of the lotions we used the most for our daughters was Aveeno Baby — it’s really popular, easy to find, affordable, and was recently a top pick from Parent’s Magazine.

Here’s what’s in a bottle of Aveeno Baby:

  • Water
  • Oat kernel extract
  • Oath kernal flour
  • glycerin
  • mineral oil
  • sodium benzoate
  • acrylates
  • coco-glucoside
  • polyquaternium-7
  • guar gum derivative
  • dimethicone
  • cetyl alcohol
  • isopropyl palmitate

OK, bit of a mouthful, yeah? Now compare that list to what’s in regular Aveeno adult lotion:

  • Water
  • Glycerin
  • Distearyldimonium Chloride
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Paraffinum Liquidum
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Dimethicone
  • Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour
  • Allantoin
  • Paraffin
  • Cera Microcristallina
  • Stearyl Alcohol
  • Myristyl Alcohol
  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Benzyl Alcohol.

The first difference you’ll notice is the number of ingredients. Adult Aveeno has 16 listed ingredients whereas Aveeno Baby has only 13.

Outside of that, they actually have a few common ingredients, including glycerin, cetyl alcohol, and dimethicone.

Aveeno offers a great explanation of what each of these ingredients actually do, making them a little less scary.

The other big difference you’ll see is that adult Aveeno utilizes more alcohol ingredients. These can have a number of different properties but often alcohols are used to quickly dry the skin (ironic, right?) so it doesn’t remain greasy and wet for too long after applying lotion.

Too much alcohol could potentially dry out baby’s skin too much, so these are avoided in baby products.

Now, Aveeno is a great product that should work well for most babies! But if your baby has really sensitive skin (or you’re just so-inclined), you could go for something even more natural.

An even more gentle option would be Honest baby lotion, which contains:

  • Allantoin 0.5%;
  • Polyhydroxystearic Acid
  • Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
  • Bis-Diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2
  • Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax
  • Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter
  • Citric Acid

Honest has about half the ingredients of Aveeno Baby, most of which are naturally derived.

Or even better yet, you could try Earth Mama, which has even fewer ingredients:

  • Organic aloe leaf juice
  • organic olive fruit oil
  • organic rooibos extract
  • organic calendula flower extract
  • and organic shea butter

Generally, lotions for baby will exist on a sliding scale.

On one end of the spectrum, you’ll find products like Aveeno Baby that are slightly toned down versions of adult lotion and will work extremely well to hydrate skin, especially for a majority of baby’s with no skin issues.

On the other end, you have hyper-natural choices like Earth Mama that are great and contain no risk of skin irritation. But they may not work as well for dry skin.

Regardless of what you end up choosing, the big differences between adult vs baby lotion products will be that baby lotions rarely contain fragrances — these are one of the worst offenders when it comes to irritating skin or causing allergic reactions. Baby lotions are generally gentler, more mild, and contain fewer ingredients overall.

You’ll want to avoid products that contain parabens, sulfates, fragrances and scents, and too many alcohols (which help dry the skin quickly).

Is Baby Lotion Really Worth It?

It might surprise you to find that baby versions of popular lotion brands often don’t cost much more (if any!) when compared to adult versions.

Specialty, organic lotion like Earth Mama or even brands like Honest will run a premium, however.

As with most baby products, there’s often no need to go to extremes unless your baby has specific allergens or skin conditions/sensitivities.

Most babies will do just fine with run of the mill baby lotion (like Aveeno), whereas others will require more gentle and more natural products like Honest.

Try baby lotion in small amounts and monitor the reaction. If it causes drying, itching, and redness, you can switch to a different product.

Baby Lotion Alternatives

If your baby has dry skin or you’re just concerned with keeping baby’s skin hydrated, you do have other options.

Baby oil is another option in the case of severe dry skin or skin conditions like eczema, but it’s generally not necessary for daily use otherwise.

(Read more on baby lotion vs baby oil here.)

Your pediatrician can help you figure out what the best choice in this area might be.

And of course, in our house we swear by Aquaphor for almost anything related to skin. Aquaphor does not moisturize skin on its own, but helps lock in natural moisture and create a protective barrier. It’s great for the diaper area, which is prone to rashes and has super sensitive skin.

Vaseline is another popular choice which has a similar effect — we don’t like it as much because it’s a bit messier, but it’s super effective.

(Read Aquaphor vs Vaseline here.)

Wrapping Up

Baby lotion and adult lotion are not the same!

Baby’s skin has special needs and is a lot more sensitive, so you’ll find fewer ingredients and potential irritants in baby lotion.

But lotion may not be necessary for every baby, and unless your baby has dry/flaky skin, you might not need to use it every day.

You might be wondering if adults can use baby lotion, and the answer is Of course! However, baby lotion is more gentle and might not be as effective as you’re used to. So unless you really need a product for sensitive skin or want something naturally-derived, regular adult lotion will hydrate your skin much better.

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Hope this helps!