If you’ve ever run out of skincare, chances are you’ve found yourself wondering: is there really a difference between face and body products? If you ask a dermatologist, they’ll tell you that it’s more than just clever marketing — that your facial cleanser and your body lotion are formulated specifically for those areas, for good reason.
Turns out, there are distinct differences between the skin on your face and the skin on your body — and regions of differentiation within those areas, too. Here’s a closer look at the biological and physiological differences between facial skin and body skin — and why it’s important to your skincare choices.
Article Quick Links
- How are facial skin and body skin different?
- Epidermal layer
- Differences between the face and body epidermis
- Dermal layer
- Differences between the face and body dermis
- Why do we need separate face and body skincare products?
- Dr. Lee’s last word
- Shop the article
How are facial skin and body skin different?
You may have heard that the skin on your face is more delicate, while the skin on your body is tougher. But what does this mean, exactly? Let’s dive deeper into some of the regional differences between the epidermis and dermis to learn more about why skincare gets so specific.
Remember that the epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin — the tough, outer dead skin cells that act as a barrier between your insides and the environment. It’s actually composed of 5 layers, including the innermost stratum basale and the outermost stratum corneum:
- Stratum basale: mostly keratinocytes that are continually renewing and pushing outwards, plus melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), Langerhans cells (innate immune cells) and Merkel cells (modified nerve endings).
- Stratum corneum: several layers of corneocytes (essentially flattened and hardened keratinocytes) bound together by fingerlike desmosomes and surrounded by lipids and natural moisturizing factor (NMF).
Differences between the face and body epidermis
- Stratum corneum thickness: the facial stratum corneum (especially the eyelids and lips) is distinctly thinner than its body counterpart.
- Keratinocyte turnover rate: skin cells on the face renew roughly twice as fast as body skin cells.
- Corneocyte size and maturity: facial skin cells are smaller and younger than body skin cells.
- Trans epidermal water loss (TEWL): rates are higher for the facial skin than for most of the body.
Key point: the epidermis of facial skin is younger, thinner, and more penetrable than body skin.
The dermis lies just beneath the epidermis, and the two are intertwined via finger-like projections that increase the surface area of what’s known as the dermal-epidermal junction (DEJ). This layer gets its structure from collagen and elastin proteins that support:
- Hair follicles
- Sebaceous glands
- Sweat glands
- Blood vessels
- Nerve endings
Differences between the face and body dermis
- Sebaceous glands: more plentiful on the face than on the body.
- Sweat glands: eccrine (cooling) glands distributed on face and body; apocrine (secrete a thicker form of sweat into hair follicles) found mostly in the body skin.
- Blood vessels: more prevalent in facial skin.
- Dermal thickness: thinner on the neck & eyelids than rest of face or body
Key point: facial skin has more sebaceous glands and blood vessels than body skin.
Why do we need separate face and body skincare products?
Now that we’re up to speed on the key differences between facial skin and body skin, we can draw some basic conclusions about the formulations created for each region. Here, we break it down by skin concern:
- Face: thinner skin needs gentler products and a non-occlusive moisturizer to prevent TEWL. Try SLMD Acne System and Sensitive Skin Acne System, based on Dr. Sandra Lee’s Cleanse, Treat, Moisturize philosophy.
- Body: thicker skin can mean deeper pimples requiring more potent concentrations of active ingredients. The award-winning Body Acne System contains both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in higher strengths.
- Face: more sebaceous glands means it’s important to choose non comedogenic moisturizers. Hyaluronic Acid Serum also contains squalane, to hydrate and moisturize without clogging pores.
- Body: thicker skin can tolerate heavier emollients and can benefit from added exfoliants. Glycolic Acid Body Lotion helps lock in moisture.
- Face: skin that’s more exposed to the environment (including UV rays) benefits from antioxidants, sunscreen and retinoids. Try Bright Future Vitamin C Serum and Dual Defender SPF 30.
- Body: can tolerate more frequent exfoliation to help combat rough, dull skin. The Body Smoothing System is formulated with glycolic and lactic acids, plus shea butter to exfoliate and moisturize.
Dr. Lee's Last Word
People are always asking me if it’s ok to use face products on the body, and vice versa. Generally speaking, it's fine to use facial skincare on the body, but not the other way around. The skin on our face is much thinner and more delicate than the skin on our body, which is why we have unique formulations for each.