year in review

The Best Thing I Bought This Year Is a One-Pound Tub of Vanicream

Photo: Lauren Ro

If you’ve read any of our Strategist editor hauls, you’ll know that our writers and editors buy a lot of stuff, and even though we think carefully about each thing that goes into our carts, there are still standouts. To close out the year, we’ve asked our staffers to write about the best thing they bought in the past 12 months. Today, Lauren Ro on the tub of body lotion that keeps her dry skin hydrated all day long. 

I spent most of the year trying to get pregnant with a second baby. This process involved a bunch of trips to the doctor, getting acupuncture, taking herbs, and, to the best of my ability, eliminating as many harmful chemicals from my hygiene routine as reasonably possible. I started using a sulfate-free shampoo and made sure that my skin-care products were “clean.” But I had a hard time finding a body lotion that was truly hydrating; free of the usual suspects like parabens, dyes, lanolin, and formaldehyde; and actually pleasant to apply.

My go-to, Amlactin, which I had been using for years and reliably gave me smooth, moisturized skin, felt too harsh, even though it’s also paraben free. It’s considered an exfoliating lotion, as it contains lactic acid, and you can really feel it working — it stings and tingles a little, and the scent is slightly medicinal (my husband hates it). But when I stopped using it during my first pregnancy just to be safe, I noticed that my arms had begun to feel a little rough. Other lotions I tried were either too light (Aveeno) or way too thick (Nivea). Then, after reading about it in a couple of Strategist stories about the best body lotions, I decided to give Vanicream a shot.

In total, eight different dermatologists recommended it for dry, sensitive skin (I would say that my skin is dry but not necessarily sensitive), with one of them calling it “truly an amazing product” that’s “extremely thick and moisturizing.” Another dermatologist adds, “If you’re extremely sensitive or don’t have the time to figure it out, then this is probably a good go-to product, as it’s free of almost everything.” I liked not having to go through every ingredient myself, even though the bottle’s straightforward label lays out everything you need to know, including all the icky stuff it doesn’t include. (Other lotions don’t make it easy to figure that out.) In fact, part of the appeal of Vanicream for me was its no-nonsense, decidedly unglamorous packaging: a literal one-pound tub with a pump.

The first time I put it on post-shower, I was immediately impressed with how luxurious and rich the cream felt on my skin — and surprised by how easily it spread. (I’d say that this is definitely more of a cream that goes on like a lotion.) It absorbed instantly, without leaving too much of a residue, unlike the Nivea or the Amlactin, which always felt a bit sticky (probably what made it so effective). At the end of the day, when I changed into my pajamas, my skin still felt hydrated. And after a few uses, my arms were smooth again — good-bye to those tiny, pesky bumps — and have stayed that way ever since. I was a convert.

Not only is it inexpensive at $13, one tub will last you five months, minimum. I bought it in July and only just ordered another one, even though I still have a little left in the jar. The brilliance of the container’s design is that you can easily open the lid once there isn’t enough product for the pump to work and scoop out what’s left at the bottom, something that traditional lotion bottles make impossible to do. From this practical design element to the ultrahydrating formula, Vanicream has exactly what I’m looking for in a body lotion that’s also safe for a developing baby; I found out I was pregnant in September, and I feel good about using Vanicream now — it feels so nice on my expanding belly — and I will postpartum, too.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Best Thing I Bought This Year Is a Tub of Vanicream