January, 1993. I am a college freshman returning to school after the holiday break. Rushing upstairs to see my friends, I burst gleefully into a dorm room, only to have one of them greet me with horror. “Dude, what’s wrong with your face?”

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Love the skin you’re in.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known anything was wrong with my face. Sure, I had a dime-sized patch of dry skin on my right cheekbone. But I had taken some pride in it: to me it was the mark of a true New England girl. To my friend — who not only hailed from the gentler climes of Kentucky but was vastly more educated in the ways of womanly lotions and potions — it was a flaw in need of correction.

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Fifteen years later, I’m still prone to dry skin in the winter, though nothing quite so dramatic as that cheek patch. Now it tends to be itchy elbows, rough heels. Alas, I’m not much more schooled in the world of cosmetics than I was then. Which may be why, on my first trip to buy lotions to test for this column, I stared at the many green options for what felt like an eternity, then fled the store.

GRIST’S PICK

Alba’s Very Emollient Body Lotion
$8.79 for 12 oz.

I made myself go back (deadlines are deadlines, yo), and pick up a few. I chose three lavender-scented lotions to create some common ground for comparison; chose an unscented variety for the chemically sensitive crowd; and steered as clear as I could of parabens — those suspected carcinogens commonly used in mainstream cosmetics but spurned by many eco-manufacturers.

My goal: to find out if there are lotions out there that can soothe skin while smelling OK (or not at all), not costing an arm and a leg, and containing few or no scary chemicals. For help, I borrowed the noses and parched flesh of a few friends, two males and a female. Prices cited are from my local supermarket, and may vary.


Jason Hand & Body Therapy
Lavender with Green Tea and Evening Primrose
$7.49 for 8 oz.
Tested on animals?: No
Paraben free?: Yes

It’s always hard for me to get past the bizarre punctuation on this company’s name (which I haven’t attempted to replicate here), but it turns out to be worth it: this is an effective lotion whose smell is as advertised, both in the bottle and on the bod. It was deemed by tester Ellen to “rub in quite nicely,” but others found it too greasy and the smell “too synthetic-y.” The relatively pricy Jason line includes unscented options as well.

Nature’s Gate Organics Body Lotion
Lavender & Aloe
$7.79 for 12 oz.
Tested on animals?: No
Paraben free?: No

Such a pretty green bottle! Such pretty talk of Ylang Ylang and Hyssop and Jojoba and other words that are fun to say! Such a “lush elixir” that feels good going on and holds its lavender scent so nicely … so why, why the parabens? This lotion otherwise got the vote for best scent and texture, and competes well in the price category too. Nature’s Gate does offer some paraben-free products, it should be noted, just not in this line.

Kiss My Face Ultra Moisturizer
Lavender & Shea
$8.59 for 16 oz.
Tested on animals?: No
Paraben free?: Yes

I always feel like Kiss My Face is the poseur of eco-products, like somehow it’s a knock-off that’s snuck onto the shelf. But by all accounts, this company is doing things right. Alas, by my accounts, this entry into the lavender category did not hold up upon application, its scent turning chemical-ish on the skin. It was deemed “by far the worst one” by one of my testers. Still, the price is right, and another scent could do the trick for you.

Mountain Ocean Skin Trip
Coconut
$8.39 for 8 oz.
Tested on animals?: No
Paraben free?: Yes

OK, this bottle is hard to squeeze. And the coconut smell, while overwhelming from the bottle, smelled to me like something closer to “monkey’s ass” once applied to my skin. However, tester Jeff was a staunch supporter, and Ellen said it rubbed in nicely and didn’t feel greasy. But, she added, “It smells like vacation. Nobody wants to walk into the office smelling like that.”

Alba Very Emollient Body Lotion
Original
$8.79 for 12 oz.
Tested on animals?: No
Paraben free?: Yes

GreenerChoices

How to Find Real Organic Lotion
Consumer ReportsGreenerChoices.org reminds you that only agricultural ingredients, like aloe vera or soy, can be certified organic. To shop greener, look for the USDA organic seal or a “100 percent organic ingredients” label. Learn more.

You’ve gotta love a company that boasts on its bottle that it’s “E.U. Cosmetics Directive Compliant,” because as we all know, the E.U. is waaaay ahead in terms of rules and regulations. As for the lotion, it’s a little watery, but feels light and smoothes in easily. Once applied, it has a delicate scent that’s just a teeny bit reminiscent of Pez, or of a J.C. Penney bathroom, or of “my grandmother” — it all depends whom you ask.

Canus Goat’s Milk Moisturizing Lotion
Fragrance-free
$6.99 for 16 oz.
Tested on animals?: No
Paraben free?: No

It was hard to resist the milk jug-style packaging and the promise of using goat’s milk to moisturize (even the cashier was intrigued), but until they get rid of those parabens, I can’t feel good about recommending this one. Also, it should be noted that the focus group males responded violently to this odor, despite the fact that it was unscented. “Take the first letter off the company name and that’s what it smells like,” said Jeff, while long after the testing had ended Micah said the scent (undetectable to the females in the group) “still haunts me.”

The bottom line: There’s no one answer here, since personal senses create a slippery slope when it comes to lotions, and since several companies are doing good work in this area. But based on a combination of scent, texture, commitment to paraben-freeness, cost, and range of products available (including unscented options), my vote is Alba.