What are the Most Common Lotion Ingredients?

Felicia Dye

Lotion is probably one of the most widely used beauty products. There are varieties available that are marketed for general use, as well as those marketed toward people with special concerns, such as those with scars, wrinkles, and those who are ethnic minorities. Despite the marketing, however, certain ingredients tend to be common in most lotions, including water, glycerin, and steric acid.

Shea butter can be found in many lotions.
Shea butter can be found in many lotions.

Water is one of the essential lotion ingredients and often one of the most prevalent. People often buy moisturizing lotion thinking it has special ingredients responsible for the extra moisture that is advertised. It may contain substances to help moisturize the skin, but in many cases, moisturizing lotions have increased water content or purer forms of water. The importance of water is further highlighted by the common inclusion of glycerin, which is sometimes listed as glycerol. This ingredient is a humectant, which allows the skin to derive moisture from water in the air.


Oil is another essential ingredient in lotion. The oils included in lotions can widely vary, but almost every product does contain some type of oil or fat. In many instances, these may be referred to as butters, such as shea butter, mango butter, or coconut butter, which are solids. In other instances, the oils are liquids, such as hazelnut oil, seed oil, or mineral oil.

Water, glycerin and steric acid are the most common ingredients found in lotions.
Water, glycerin and steric acid are the most common ingredients found in lotions.

In addition to the oils or butters, a person may find lanolin in lotion. This greasy substance, a wax derived from sheep's wool, helps soften the skin.

Oil is an essential ingredient in lotion.
Oil is an essential ingredient in lotion.

Although most people don't think of acid as being beneficial to the skin, there are several that are common lotion ingredients. Citric acid is a preservative that helps extend the shelf life of lotion, while steric acid is used to change the its consistency. When lotion is produced, it can be very fluid. The more steric acid that is added, the thicker the substance should become. When solid oils, such as shea butter, are used, less steric acid is needed.

Vitamins are also commonly included in lotion. One of the most popular is vitamin E, which is believed to benefit the skin in a number of ways, including promoting healing of wounds and elasticity. Vitamin C is also included in some lotion recipes. This is commonly added for its antioxidant properties, which are believed to help renew the skin and fight signs of aging.

Although it may come near the end of a lotion’s ingredient list, fragrance is commonly added. The scent of a lotion is often one of its biggest selling points, and there are a variety of scents available. Those who have sensitive skin may, however, need to use fragrance-free lotions.

Lotions containing vitamin E can promote healing and skin skin elasticity.
Lotions containing vitamin E can promote healing and skin skin elasticity.

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Discussion Comments


I hate lotion.


Did you know if you put on perfume right after applying lotion, it will stay longer? Just throwing that out there. Does anyone know the best type of lotion?


I understand why there is glycerin, shea butter and oils in lotion but why do they put alcohol?

I've noticed that many lotions have something called "cetearyl alcohol" in it. Isn't alcohol drying? Why is it in skin lotion?

There are also a lot of color additives in lotions which is annoying.

@alisha-- Petrolatum is just vaseline.

Vaseline, glycerin and mineral oil are all by-products of petrolatum. It is probably the most common body lotion ingredient. Petrolatum is the more scientific name for it and that's what labels usually use but sometimes they also put glycerin.

This ingredient creates a barrier on the skin that prevents moisture from escaping, so it keeps the skin hydrated and soft for a long time. That's why it is a very popular ingredient in lotions.


All of my lotions at home have an ingredient called "petrolatum" in them. It's one of the first ingredients in the list. What is it?

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