Cold weather can cause alligator skin, but do you need to buy an expensive lotion to keep the beast at bay? We tested 14 body lotions costing 14 cents to $1.15 per ounce ($3.25 to $13.75 per bottle). Four, from CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart, are less-expensive clones of tested products from Aveeno, Jergens, Vaseline, and Cetaphil, respectively.
Twenty-six female staffers helped us out. In our temperature- and humidity-controlled lab, we measured the skin moisture on their bare legs in the morning with a special device. Then we applied the lotions and measured again after 2 hours, 5 hours, and 24 hours. Many of the products are claimed to moisturize up to 24 hours, and the Ratings (available to subscribers) are based on that time frame.
Sixteen other staffers took home the four pairs of look-alike products. (We covered the labels.) A panel of 10 used the highest- and lowest-scoring lotions side by side. Our sensory panelists assessed each lotion's scent and feel.
All lotions left skin more moist, but top-rated Cetaphil and Eucerin were about twice as effective as lowest-rated Up & Up. Our staffers had no preference when they compared look-alike pairs. But most thought the highest-scoring lotion moisturized better than the lowest-scoring one. Our favorite cheapskate news: Eight products worked better than the most expensive, CeraVe, and two cost just 18 cents and 27 cents per ounce.
Check labels for lactic acid, methylparaben, farnesol, and retinyl palmitate. Exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid can be irritating and increase UV sensitivity. Some parabens are preservatives that can mimic the effects of estrogen. Research has detected parabens in breast tumors. Farnesol is a fragrance ingredient identified as an allergen by the European Union. It's in Cetaphil, which is labeled as fragrance free. A Cetaphil customer-service representative says the chemical acts as a preservative. Retinyl palmitate has been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer in animal studies, and it can convert to retinoids, associated with a risk of birth defects.
The lotions listed as "slightly more moisturizing" can help you say "Later, 'gator" to dry skin. Many are sold for various skin types, from normal to extra-dry skin. Cetaphil was the most effective; Vaseline Total Moisture did well and costs less than half as much.