Hot take: Skincare is confusing. As appealing as it might seem to adhere to a simple routine comprised of only the basics, it's also been well established that the otherworldly dewy and glowy skin many of us are chasing requires some bells and whistles beyond just cleanser and sunscreen. On the other side of a more pared-back skincare approach, there's a whole world of products from serums to eye creams, and some slightly more mystifying options like essences and ampoules to get the job done. Among said perplexing options is another elixir that's recently been blowing my mind (and making my skin so soft), known as liquid lotion.
While lotion isn't a new concept by any means, it's the recently nuanced use of the term lotion in the western skincare realm that's left some room for questions. Stateside, this word has historically been used to describe a lightweight cream in both the face and body categories, characterized by its moisturizing or otherwise humectant properties. Picking up a bottle of lotion almost always meant you'd be pressing down on a pump or squeezing a tube to dispense a gel-like swirl of a smooth, spreadable emollient.
Thanks to the ever-growing appreciation for Asian beauty rituals—especially the involved routines from Korea and Japan—our understanding of what a product labeled as a lotion could be has evolved to include milky, near-liquid, and liquid formulas meant to be patted into the skin to deliver not only intense hydration but sometimes active ingredients, too.
Don't get it twisted—skincare companies can give products all sorts of confusing monikers (as long as any claims they're making are mostly true), and this name game has a lot to do with much of the confusion around some skincare product functions. But when it comes to the lotions-versus–liquid-lotions distinction, it's really more of a sign of the variety in the use of the word in different parts of the world.
As the commenters and mods who have tried tirelessly to make sense of the liquid lotion conversation in the skincare communities on Reddit and beyond have explained, a liquid lotion in the Asian beauty tradition is essentially the same thing Americans would call toner. The difference is that instead of attempting to extract oil or even exfoliate the skin, like the quintessential toners that come to mind first for most Western skincare lovers, liquid lotions are meant to impart deep-level hydrating and skin barrier-strengthening ingredients into the skin.
Unlike creamier lotions that mostly remain on top of the skin to lock in moisture, liquid lotions are typically light and water-based (or at least have a penetrative water phase) so they can actually sink into the skin, and as a result, the soothing, hydrating ingredients can travel deeper and really battle dehydration from the inside out.
I first learned about this lotion from WWW market editor Indya Brown's mom, Ms. Yolanda. She's 53-year-old but looks substantially younger, so when she blessed us with her entire skincare routine, I studied it like there was going to be a test. She called out this product as one of her favorites. "I consider it my secret weapon because this toner is super hydrating and leaves my skin glowy," she said. And she's not alone—reviewers of all age groups swear it turns back the clock and keeps the skin so soft.
Then I realized that one of my own holy-grail products actually fits into the liquid lotion category, too. It's formulated by one of the foremost skincare experts in the game, Renee Rouleau and while it's called a toner (again, speaking to the variables in skincare product nomenclature), it's slightly more plush than a typical toner. Its consistency falls somewhere between a serum and ultra-lightweight water cream. (Take a peek below to scope out the consistency.) I press it into my freshly cleansed skin and layer other hydrating serums and a moisturizer on top.
The result is plump, happy skin that seriously glows. I find myself reaching for this bottle year-round, whether I'm dealing with super-dry winter skin or oilier summer skin. No matter what, it helps my face feel balanced and soft, and look plump and glowy.
Intrigued by liquid lotions yet? Don't be shy, this is a beauty editor-approved addition to your skincare lineup! Keep scrolling to learn about some of the highest-rated liquid lotions at every price point.
If you have more than $65 to spend…
This intensely hydrating liquid lotion is on the pricier end, but some die-hard fans make a case for scraping together the funds to purchase. It's got pore-refining trimethylglycine and a host of Japanese botanicals like Uji green tea extract, Oshima sakura leaf extract, and Hokkaido angelica root extract to soothe and nourish the skin. One Sephora reviewer commented that her skin has never felt softer than when she uses this product. Now that's a glowing review!
This one more closely resembles what Americans would typically classify as a lotion, but its ultra-lightweight yet deep hydration and near-fluid consistency are just a couple of reasons folks love it. Peach & Lily purchasers commented over and over about its inflammation-soothing, hyperpigmentation fading prowess, too.
If you want to spend $50 or less…
Kose is another J-beauty brand you've almost certainly come across if you spend time poking around on Asian skincare boards across the web. People love this stuff. This lotion aims to stimulate blood circulation, promoting a smooth complexion, radiant skin, and refined pores. It gets the job done using brightening coix seed extract, hydrating angelica extract, moisturizing melothria, and inflammation-soothing dipotassium glycyrrhizate.
The powerful antioxidant coenzyme Q10 has long been used as a frontline defender against premature aging. It's the hero ingredient of this DHC lotion, aimed at minimizing environmental stressors and helping the skin to absorb and retain moisture to preserve elasticity. Hyaluronic acid, castor oil, vitamin E, and AHA round out the formula.
Tokyo-born DHC is best known for its cult-favorite Deep Cleansing Oil (28), but apparently, the brand is a hitmaker when it comes to liquid lotions, too. This one is formulated with an exclusive alpha gel technology that's supposed to offer multiple layers of moister. It's also got skin-loving brown seaweed to firm the skin, ceramide polymer to strengthen, cupuacu butter to moisturize, and macadamia extract to hydrate and protect. It quickly absorbs into the skin and leaves a subtly luminous finish for an enviable glow.
If you want to spend $30 or less…
If you're as addicted to the skincare pocket of TikTok as I am, chances are you've seen this product making the rounds. Folks are downright obsessed. It's a multitasking, clear lotion with seven different kinds of hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, panthenol, and natural exfoliating enzymes meant to firms, exfoliate, soothe, and deeply hydrate the skin all at once.
This sake-based lotion comes in a rather large bottle and the online AB community reports that it lasts a long time, even when used on both the face and body. "Amazing," "impressive," and "holy grail" are just some of the ways Amazon reviewers describe the ceramide-rich formula.
This DHC option is different than others on this list in that it gently exfoliates with glycolic acid as it hydrates. Despite its dead skin cell–sloughing prowess, Dermstore reviewers say it's gentle enough for sensitive and even irritated skin and leaves the face feeling nice and supple.
If you want to spend $20 or less…
Americans have Benton to thanks for many of the early introductions to the K-beauty traditions that now feel as common stateside as any other skincare practices out there. This one is formulated with quintessential Korean ingredients like snail secretion filtrate and bee venom, which help to fade dark spots and support skin strengthening. It's also got HA for deep, replenishing hydration.
This hyaluronic acid lotion delivers a water burst to the skin. One Amazon reviewer even ranks it above more expensive products, saying, "I'm almost 68 and have used top expensive brands that have done far less. Save your money; this Hada Labo is a great brand." That's the kind of endorsement we like to see.