Baby Oil vs Baby Lotion Explained for New Parents

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When they first meet their baby, one of the first things parents notice is their baby’s delicate skin.

It’s so soft and squishy!

Which leads you to wonder…what kind of baby skin products do you need as a new parent?

The infant skin product section at the store is overflowing with tons of different products, but most of them fall into one of two categories: Oils and lotions.

So what’s the difference between baby oil vs baby lotion and which one do you really need?

Normal baby skin doesn’t necessarily need lotion or oil, especially right after birth. But once baby is a month old or so, you’ll want to keep a steady supply of lotion with a small stash of oil on the side. Lotion is more for everyday use and basic moisturizing of dry skin, and you’ll go through it quickly.

However, when skin problems like chronic dry skin, eczema, rash, or cradle cap appear, you might need a little extra help from baby oils. 

We’re going to dive deep into the differences and similarities between baby oil and baby lotion. As always, consult your baby’s pediatrician when it comes to your baby’s health (including skin issues) to know what’s right for your baby.

Baby Oil Explained

Baby oil is an emollient that locks moisture into human skin.

Usually, it contains only two ingredients: mineral oil and fragrance.

Some other brands go the plant-based oil route, using canola oil, flaxseed oil, apricot oil, and more.

This oil is unique in that you apply it on slightly dampened skin for it to work its best — usually right after baby’s bath.

You can either lightly towel off before applying, or not towel dry at all.

Baby oil helps the water soak into the skin by creating a barrier on the surface of the skin, making the water less able to evaporate away — it sounds counterintuitive, but give it a try.

It’s not just for moisturizing baby skin, either.

You can use baby oil for a gentle infant massage and the removal of cradle cap.

Baby oil is relatively inexpensive. The most popular brand is Johnson and Johnson brand baby oil, with its iconic pink label and cap.

You can purchase 3-ounce bottles and up to 20-ounce bottles. The 14-ounce bottle of J&J costs about $8 at the time of writing this article.

Other brands like California Baby and Burt’s Bees run at a little higher price.

A 4 to 4.5-ounce bottle of baby oil from one of these higher-end brands can cost $8 to up to $18.

You may want to purchase from one of these brands if you are concerned about organic ingredients or allergy-free ingredients.

Baby oil should not be used on a baby’s skin until they are at least 1 month old.

That’s because the oil does not work well on a newborn’s skin. Plus, your baby’s skin is still developing its own barrier against the bacteria in the world and needs to be left alone as much as possible.

There’s some controversy surrounding the use of baby oil, specifically the products that contain mineral oil.

Mineral oil comes from crude oil, which many parents aren’t comfortable with. Plus too much use of baby oil (or using it incorrectly or on the wrong types of skin) can lead to clogged pores and other skin problems.

Pros and Cons of Baby Oil

So now that we know what baby oil is made of and how it’s used, what are the benefits and drawbacks of using it?


  • It usually only has a handful of easily-pronounceable ingredients.
  • It’s an effective way to lock in moisture into a baby’s skin.
  • Baby oil has multiple uses. You can use it to treat cradle cap as well as for baby massages.
  • It’s fairly inexpensive.


  • Baby oil does not absorb well on newborn skin and can be messy.
  • The ingredient mineral oil, found in some baby oils, is derived from petroleum
  • Incorrect or too much usage can cause clogged pores

Baby Lotion Explained

Baby lotion is something most parents are probably familiar with.

Baby lotion is different from baby oil in that it is usually creamy in texture and absorbs into dry skin to help, well, moisturize it!

Use baby lotion on your baby after a bath or whenever you notice dry skin on your baby.

Some lotions contain soothing, natural scents, like lavender, that can help your baby calm down before bedtime.

Baby lotion is very similar to lotion for adult skin. However, baby lotion is more suitable for babies because it’s as simple as possible when it comes to ingredients.

Baby lotion will usually not contain any kinds of:

  • alcohol
  • artificial fragrance
  • dyes
  • parabens
  • or phthalates

… all things that can irritate sensitive skin.

What baby lotion does have in it is oils, water, glycerin, dimethicone, and other ingredients to help your newborn’s skin stay hydrated.

Baby lotion is most suitable for babies over 1 month old, and especially best used on dry or irritated skin.

There are tons of different kinds of baby lotion out there. Everybody knows the pink Johnson and Johnson classic baby lotion, and even they carry a few different variations on their original baby lotion.

Other brands that make baby lotion include Aquaphor, Burt’s Bees, Aveeno, Cetaphil, Honest, and more. 

Baby lotion, in general, is cheaper than baby oil per ounce.

You can buy twice as much baby lotion for the same amount you’d pay for one bottle of baby oil.

However, you will probably be going through the baby lotion a little bit faster than the baby oil.

Keep an eye on the ingredients when you are shopping for baby lotion.

Sometimes, ingredients that may irritate your baby’s skin can be snuck into some lotions while they still tout an “all-natural” label.

It’s always a good idea to rub a little onto your baby’s skin to see how they react before putting it all over your baby’s body.

Pros and Cons of Baby Lotion

So what’s the final word on lotions?


  • Baby lotion is usually cheaper than baby oil.
  • It’s easy to apply directly to dry skin.
  • Baby lotion is usually free of irritating ingredients.
  • Sometimes, baby lotions contain soothing smells like lavender to calm baby down.


  • You have to read labels carefully. Sometimes baby lotions contain alcohols or fragrances that can irritate your baby’s skin.
  • Baby lotion runs out more quickly than baby oil.

Wrapping Up

Now that we covered both baby oil and baby lotion, we have a clearer idea of what suits our baby’s needs best.

Baby lotion is always good to have around to quickly hydrate a baby’s skin on a near everyday basis.

Baby oil is more of an added protection if you and your baby’s doctor decide that dry skin is a problem. It can be useful to keep around in a pinch for treating cradle cap or giving baby massages.

Most normal baby skin does not require both lotion and oil, unless you are excessively bathing your baby.

Baby and adult skin is generally capable of hydrating itself, so long as we are drinking enough water (or in baby’s case, breastmilk or formula), not bathing too often, and keeping ourselves in temperate weather conditions.

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Hope this helps!