Product Comparison: Body Lotions

July 15th, 2009 - filed under: The Fashion » Beauty and Cosmetics

In the great grand effort to ‘green’ your life, there are two major areas that matter above all others: cleaning and cosmetics. These are the primary eco-offenders, the personal products that do the most damage. And so, conversely, these are lifestyle changes that pack the biggest punch!

I don’t know about you guys, but I am a lotion fiend. I apply a hefty helping, head to tippy toes, at least once a day. So it’s important to me – for my body and for the environment – that the goo I choose to use is up to par.

And so I’ve spent the past many months in testing – rotating lotions, recording notes. I’ve squeezed and squirted and sniffed and slathered all sorts of salves, and now I present to you: my findings!

The Great Lotion Face-Off, 2009

I am not sponsored by or affiliated with any of these companies; I paid for products in full.

Products were selected via these criteria:

  1. Must be widely available, ‘common’ nationwide in the US (sorry foreign readers!) and online (at least there’s that!)
  2. Must be widely attainable – under $12 for a standard sized bottle
  3. Must contain only vegan ingredients* and must not be tested on animals
  4. Must be ‘natural’ and free of harsh/harmful chemicals

*one exception, noted

Avalon Organic Botanicals Lavender Hand and Body Lotion

~$10.99 / 12 oz

Available at: Trader Joes, various natural stores, and online


  • no parabens
  • no petroleum-based ingredients
  • no sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate
  • no synthetic fragrance or color
  • carries the leaping bunny logo

My Experience: This lotion has a delightful lavender fragrance, but it is strong. The consistency is pretty thick as well, more like a hand cream than a body lotion. Considering its high price tag and strong fragrance, I think this would be best for a guest bathroom hand lotion, or something else along those lines.

Trader Joe’s Moisturizing Cream: Extra Dry Formula

~$5.99 / 16 oz

Available at: Trader Joes


  • none

My Experience: This stuff’s so thick, it sits on my skin like putty. I don’t feel like I even really absorb much, but it sure is a pain in the butt getting dressed after I put it on. I had to hang out for a while, air drying, which is fine on slow-start days but if I’m in a hurry it’s just no good. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than the feeling of clothing clinging to sticky arms and legs. Amiright?

Also, it says it’s unscented, but really it has that ‘lotion’ smell. My 0.02¢ : If it’s gonna stink anyway, you might as well add a bit of pleasing aroma.

I would not buy this again.

Desert Essence Fragrance Free Organics Body Lotion

~$8.99 / 8 oz

Available at: Natural markets everywhere, and online


  • organic
  • wheat and gluten free
  • no parabens or pthalates
  • no petrolium-based ingredients
  • no sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, or other ‘harsh preservatives’
  • no artificial colors

My Experience: This lotion was totally ‘meh’. It wasn’t too thick and it wasn’t too thin. It wasn’t too oily or too watery. It wasn’t bad . . . but it wasn’t very memorable either. And again, ‘unscented’ should mean unscented, not ‘icky lotion smell’.

I would probably buy this again . . . if I had to.

Burt’s Bees Radiance Body lotion*

*this product is not vegan, but it is ‘beegan’. It contains no animal products aside from bee byproducts, in this case royal jelly and beeswax. I am vegan and endorse using vegan products exclusively.

~$9.00 / 6 oz

Available at: Many major drugstores, natural markets, and online


  • paraben and pthalate free
  • ‘99.21% natural’
  • package from 22% post-consumer recycled plastic

My Experience: Oh, Burt’s Bees. The ubiquitous, ever present ‘natural’ option in your local drug store. And good for them – they’ve broken down a lot of barriers, made natural products accessible to a lot more people. It’s just a shame they sold to Clorox™, and that most of their products aren’t vegan (I guess, to be fair, it’s in the name). Anyways, this was some of my ‘pre-gan’ lotion, but I figured I’d include it here. I know many of my readers are not vegan, and many live in less eco-friendly regions. I do appreciate BBs’ influence in the marketplace – they’re everywhere!

But alas, this lotion sort of blows. It’s very thin, almost runny, and it goes on really greasy. Like, really really greasy. Like oil-slick-limbs, I-need-to-pat-myself-dry-before-dressing sort of greasy. One cool thing though – it contains natural mica, a glittery mineral, that makes your skin sparkle in the sunlight. So fabulous! A+ feature in a B- product.

ShiKai Cucumber Melon Hand and Body Lotion

~$7.99 / 8 oz

Available at: Natural markets everywhere, and online


  • many organic ingredients
  • pharmaceutical grade ingredients whenever possible (as opposed to cosmetic grade)
  • all natural fragrances
  • carries the leaping bunny logo

My Experience: I really dig this company, and use their platinum shampoo to keep my hair so fiercely white. Unfortunately, the lotion didn’t quite measure up. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. The odor was a bit too saccharine for my liking, and the texture of the balm was rather oily. It was thin and left a bit of a greasy film on my skin. Nothing as bad as that dang Burt’s Bees, but still not so fun. It’s too bad – the price sure is nice.

J/Â/S/Ö/N. Cocoa Butter Lotion & 84% Aloe Vera Lotion

~$6.99 / 8 oz

Available at: Natural markets everywhere, and online


  • paraben free
  • many organic ingredients
  • packaged in recycled, recyclable plastic
  • carries the leaping bunny logo

My Experience: I liked both of these, but I found the cocoa butter to be more pleasing than the aloe vera. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a stickler for texture – not too thick or thin, not too gummy or greasy. The cocoa butter is just right, and the aloe vera is almost there, just a bit on the oily side. My biggest complaint were the odors, neither of which was very inviting. I love me some cocoa butter (it was my old standby – that giant cheap drugstore tub – before I went ‘natural’), and I love the smell of the stuff. The J/Â/S/Ö/N variety has a faint cocoa butter under-scent, but it’s obscured by a harsh, unnatural top note. Not enough to turn me off forever, but definitely enough to knock it out of first place. But bonus – this is some of the cheapest natural lotion out there!

Nature’s Gate Papaya Moisturizing Lotion & Hemp Moisturizing Lotion

~$9.99 / 18 oz

Available at: Natural markets everywhere, and online


  • paraben and pthalate free
  • colorant free
  • packaged in recyclable containers

My Experience: Ohmygod the papaya smells SO good. This is hands down my favorite lotion. It’s the *perfect* consistency, smooth and soft and quickly absorbed by the skin. No hanging around trying to air dry, and no desire to wipe off excess greasies. It’s awesome, and it smells so good I want to eat it. On top of that, it’s one of the cheapest options! My co-op sells it in bulk (score!), but even if you source it the standard way, it’s the same price as the others for roughly twice as much lotion. We have a winner!!!


  • Valerie

    Living in Phoenix, Arizona I am a lotion fiend as well, especially this time of year. I had never given any thought to the greenness of my lotion (the ingredients or the container). I usually just buy the coupon special at Costco, mostly because it’s the most I can get for my buck. When my supply runs low, I will see what is available in my area. You have given me much to think about. Thanks for your inspiration!

    P.S. I was just looking at the ingredients in my current lotion and I have to admit I don’t know what half of this stuff is. I am going to look up what these are, but I was wondering if you could give us all some tips. What ingredients should we be looking for? What are the ones to avoid? Why?

  • Sayward

    @ Valerie – Oh it’s so important! What you put *onto* your body is integrated, just like what you put *into* your body. It is a little more expensive, but it’s really worth it. And it’s the kind of expense that is pretty negligible, in the long run. You don’t really notice at the end of the month, whether you spent $3 or $7 on lotion. =)

    That is a GREAT idea for an article. Consider it queued!

  • Valerie

    I have another idea for you: chapstick!

  • Kelly

    Thank you so much! I am constantly overwhelmed by the plethora of products out there…for everything! While it’s great to have options, I’m horribly indecisive and I don’t want to waste my money figuring out which one is best. Facial products are the most difficult to figure out. I will definitely pick up the Nature’s Gate after I finish my current bottle of TJ lotion. :o)

  • Amber Kaplan

    Lovely review! I really like the Alba Botanica spf 16 for the California summers. Not sure how it measures up to the rest, but the bottle says “Vegetarian Friendly” and “No Animal Testing”.

  • Sayward

    @ Valerie – Already in progress! =D

    @ Kelly – I’m working on a review of facial cleansers and of facial moisturizers, but it’s going to be a while. It *is* overwhelming, especially now that ‘natural’ is a trend and companies are beginning to [mis]market their products. Gah!

    @ Amber Kaplan – Alba is great! I’m using for my facial moisturizer right now. It’s definitely vegan – they sell it at my vegan grocery store! I should try out that lotion. Thanks lady!

  • Homegrown Texan

    About the scent…I believe unscented means just that…they haven’t added any scent. The ingredients themselves have their own smell (and as you’ve found, it often isn’t terribly pleasant), which I’m guessing is why lotions started out being scented in the first place.

    People who are sensitive to fragrance (either actually breathing them, or having them on their skin) benefit from unscented lotions, even if they don’t smell so great (and I’ve found that usually the smell goes away once the lotion dries).

    I personally like scented things. My favorite is lavender. But sometimes I like an unscented lotion so it doesn’t clash with some other fragrance I’m wearing (even though I agree…it smells kind of icky on it’s own!).

  • Sayward

    @ Homegrown Texan – That makes perfect sense!

  • Mari

    I’m with you on Nature’s Gate’s Papaya lotion, I’ve been using it (off and on, because I now live abroad) since I was 16 (almost 20 years). I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. It smells great, you don’t need to use loads, and it makes your skin super soft.

  • MC

    The best lotion for me is plain organic virgin coconut oil. It has a mild smell and is vegan and pretty easy to find. Plus it’s cheap and you know exactly what is in it. But, a little goes a long way. Seriously.

  • Sayward

    @ Mari – Great minds!

    @ MC – I agree, actually, and I’m heading there myself.

  • Swan

    I have a huge problem with coconut oil, sadly. I put it on, and it smells great for, oh, the first two to three hours, after that, it goes rancid and smells nasty. Then I smell awful, and end up trying to rush home just so I can hop in the shower. I have firmly decided that coconut oil should never be used externally. For oil, I say stick to jojoba, also, it works wonderfully in place of more noxious lubricants, like KY (and that’s my helpful tip of the day (; ).

    Since I’ve tried the majority of the lotions you listed, and firmly agree with your assessments on all of them, you might want to give Hugo Natural’s Vanilla & Sweet Orange Lotion a shot. Omg, the scent is to die for. It smells just like an orange creamsicle pushpop–specifically, although I don’t know if you’ve had them or not, the Fred Flintstone creamsicle pushpops they used to make when I was a kid. Best thing about is, not only is it vegan, but it’s pretty much natural enough that you could probably eat it without any ill-effects–and the scent will almost make you consider it. By far the best lotion I’ve ever tried.

  • Sayward

    @ Swan – Haha, great tip! I haven’t tried jojoba, but plan a trial with coconut, jojoba, and cocoa butter.

    I’ll also try Hugo Natural’s. How expensive is it? It sounds amazing – I’m really looking forward to it!

  • Ansley

    This is a fantastic list! Thank you! I’ve been reading about the things to avoid, and it’s great to be educated about it. But this normally leaves me in a fit of frustration at the store. “Blast you, petroleum by-products and silicone! You’re in everything!”

    At least now I can attack the lotion problem! Bruhaha! I’m interested to see what you find as far as shampoo, conditioner, and sunscreen are concerned!

  • Sayward

    @ Ansley – I agree, it’s all so overwhelming. I’ll be addressing shampoo and conditioner in the future, and sunscreen is a good idea as well. Thanks!

  • Leah

    Ugh, the lotion problem. I actually spent the weekend trying to make my own lotion, so reading this was pretty timely. Let me tell you, I had a HARD time getting it to work. Apparently lotion-making requires a lot of trial and error. I got a couple of good batches, though.

  • Sayward

    @ Leah – What did you use? I’d love to hear about your process!

  • Lenn

    Heads up…

    Add Noah’s Naturals to the “omg grease bucket” list. Not sure if it’s vegan, but it is organic.

    We live in a VERY non-organic-friendly area. So hard to find anything organic/natural/chemical free, so I was stoked to find this stuff since I can’t use conventional skin care products, but sadly it’s thick, it smells rather like Crisco and applies about the same I’d imagine Crisco would.

  • Brandi

    UNREFINED VIRGIN COCONUT OIL. It will NOT smell rancid! Shortly after application you can’t even smell anything. I use it for myself, and both of my small children. It is wonderful. My kids tend toward (minor) skin issues… dryness, flakes, very easily irritated/chapped. And overnight this clears their flares right up. I even use it on the baby’s bottom before bed to fend off diaper rash. And on my lips as a balm. And it’s great on toast!! ;)

  • Lauren

    I like to mix up my own oil concoction, 1/2 jojoba oil and 1/2 sweet almond oil. Not a lotion, but moisturizes so well, not greasy and absorbs quickly. Give it a try sometime!

  • Natalia

    Why is it that natural good for you personal care stuff costs so much MORE than the chemical junk personal care products?! You would think that natural products would cost LESS since they are closure to nature than something made in a lab :/ When I was a starving student i got all my personal care stuff from the 99cent store. I SHUDDER to think of what chemicals I slathered on during that time!

  • guest

    i liquify plain ole coconut oil and use right after bathing. Skin just soaks it up!

  • Emily

    I stumbled onto your site via pinterest… :) And, though I know this is an older post, I had to share my absolute favorite commercial lotion… Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Chamomile and Argan Oil Healing Baby Lotion. Long name, but a beautiful product!!! For $10 at Walgreens. No parabens, phthalates, paraffin, gluten, propylene glycol, mineral oil, synthetic fragrance, PABA, synthetic color, DEA, or sulfates… no animal testing or animal products at all.

    I originally bought this on a whim for our baby… and it is my favorite! I also use it as my facial lotion… it is the only product I’ve found so far that moisturizes my face with the perfect balance, without being greasy, or leaving my skin still parched and tight. BEAUTIFUL product. :)

  • Ash

    You can easily make your own lotion. I use a nice and easy recipe from another blog here:

    Rather than olive oil I have been using coconut oil. Plus I throw in a chunk of cocoa butter and it thickens it up a little and make it more moisturizing I think! Plus I choose my own scent.

    Downside: If you don’t use it (DO NOT make more than 1 jar at a time) it eventually starts growing a little something. I made 2 at once and left one with a lid on it for a few weeks. When I went back it had little brown spots on top. I have had no issues other than that.

    1/4 cup emulsifying wax
    1/4 cup olive oil
    1 1/4 cup water
    Essential oil (optional)

    In pint sized jar melt wax and oil together (I nuke mine for about 1 minute or so). Once melted add essential oils then water. Mix together well and let sit (I also mix mine a few times before it gets ‘done’ setting up…don’t know why.)

  • evolet0680

    I make a lotion out of coconut oil, olive oil, shea and cocoa butter…..and I add beeswax if I want a more solid “bar” to rub on my skin. What I have found is that if I use a sugar scrub in the shower (1 part VCO, 2 parts sugar, drizzle olive oil, scent it however you like), then at night I do the lotion bar. My skin has never been softer and I live in a gross air, gross dry, all around gross city. But my skin is baby bottom soft. I use a similar concoction on my face on days the coconut, argan, or olive oil isn’t enough. Works amazingly well. The recipe is on She’s not veggie, but she has some great DIY home care recipes that are, and they are like gold to me!