We asked a dermatologist which product you should use when.
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Fall has officially arrived, and with it comes the changing leaves, pumpkin spiced lattes, and annoyingly dry skin. Although it's early in the season, I've already begun to feel the effects of the temperature drop on my dry dermis, and I've found myself reaching for my heavy creams more and more as each week goes by. 

With so many different types of body moisturizers on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which you should be slathering on your skin. Luigi L. Polla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Forever Institut and Alchimie Forever, gives us the rundown on the biggest difference between body creams and body lotions, and when (slash how) you should be using each. 

What affects moisture levels? 

Your skin's moisture levels are affected by the extracellular matrix in the dermis. What even is this matrix, you ask? "This matrix is composed of collagen, elastin, and more, and is key to helping the skin retain its moisture levels (in addition to being essential to the technical properties of the skin)," explains Dr. Polla. "In general, this extracellular matrix will diminish with age, which is what leads to drier skin as we age, as well as a 'thinning out' of the skin." Other factors that will impact the skin's moisture levels include hormones, vitamin deficiencies, UV rays, inflammation, and environmental factors, too. 

Factors in our environment have a significant impact on the health (and moisture levels) of our skin. "This can range from temperatures, to the presence (quantity) of UV, to the moisture in the air, to the pollutants and allergens present," says Dr. Polla. "Our skin will indeed change based on these environmental factors, and, as such, our skincare routine must be adapted regularly." 

What is body cream?

Loading your body up with enough lotion to create a DIY Slip 'N Slide isn't the best for compromised (i.e., eczema, psoriasis, etc.) or parched skin. You should opt for body cream instead to get the most hydration benefits after bathing, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), a group of over 20,000 practicing dermatologists,. 

The name itself gives away the texture—a body cream is the thickest, richest of body moisturizing products because it usually contains a higher percentage of oils and a lower percentage of water in the formulation. While ointments can be less appealing to some people because they're oil-based, and therefore feel greasier, they have the greatest emollient effect (emollients are substances that help soothe skin and increase moisture levels). They also create a barrier between the skin and the environment to help seal moisture into the skin. "I recommend body creams to all of my patients and believe that everyone will benefit from using a body cream; after all, your anti-aging efforts extend long beyond your neck and décolleté," says Dr. Polla. "However, it is particularly essential for more mature patients to use, as their extracellular matrix is diminished." He recommends Alpha KM Body Cream ($26; amazon.com). "This product contains ammonium lactate, which is an ingredient that's particularly beneficial for extra, extra dry skin types."

Another incredibly luxe, super-rich body cream (albeit an investment) that offers powerful hydration during the colder months is Augustinus Bader The Body Cream ($165; sephora.com). Featuring the brand's signature TFC8 complex, bisabolol, and shea butter, this body cream is worth the splurge and will last throughout the season. 

What is body lotion? 

Body lotion, on the other hand, "typically indicates a slightly lower viscosity versus a cream," explains Dr. Polla. "A body lotion will contain more water than oils, and the texture will be less thick. Because its emulsion properties are more diluted than those of creams and ointments, this type of product is typically best for someone who is not suffering from very dry skin."   

If you're someone who doesn't love the feeling of a thick body cream, and would prefer a fast-absorbing texture that feels lightweight yet moisturizing on the skin, opt for a body lotion. Some of Dr. Polla's favorites include Alchimie Forever Soothing Body Lotion ($49; dermstore.com) for its texture and botanical antioxidants. "It also has a subtle lavender scent that I find intoxicating," he says.  

Dr. Polla also loves La Roche-Posay Lipikar Daily Repair Moisturizing Body Lotion ($18; target.com) because it contains niacinamide and glycerin, two well-researched and beloved skincare ingredients, along with Avene TriXera Nutrition Nutri-Fluid Balm ($42; ulta.com), which is based on the special Avene thermal water, and is hydrating and light at the same time. 

How to avoid dry skin in the fall and winter

Beat the flaky and scaly skin in the colder seasons by adding as much moisture into your skincare routine as possible. Swap your lightweight body cleanser for a thicker, more hydrating body wash or bar soap. Additionally, you can add body oils to your bath or straight to your body for increased moisture—Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Body Oil ($60; saksfifthavenue.com) is a hydrating, relaxing, and soothing option.  

"It's also very important to take care of your hands (I often refer to them as your second face) during the winter," says Dr. Polla. "The cold and wind will dry out cuticles and the skin of the hands; in turn, the hands can look ashy and aged and feel rough and uncomfortable due to the cold." To keep skin well-moisturized, Dr. Polla suggests seeking products with hydrating ingredients, like various botanical oils (such as jojoba seed oil), vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid

As tempting as they are, avoiding long hot baths (or showers) will also help to prevent transepidermal moisture loss—plus, incorporating a humidifier in your home or office will go a long way in helping dry skin during the cooler months.