The Difference Between Balms, Ointments and Salves
Whether you have chapped lips, chafing, dryness or irritation, balms, ointments or salves are typically a great way to find soothing relief. Choosing the best option for your dry or irritated skin is where things can get a bit confusing. Are ointments and balms the same? Do they have different ingredients and textures? Are they used for different purposes? Ahead, we’re breaking down the differences between balms, ointments and salves.
What Are Ointments?
Ointments are the softest in texture and can treat a variety of medical concerns such as eczema, itchy skin, irritation or rash. While antibiotic ointments should be prescribed or recommended by your doctor, there are a handful of OTC options available to target other skin concerns, like extreme dry skin. For example, the CeraVe Healing Ointment can be used to treat dry, chafing, cracked skin or injuries like burns, scrapes or cuts. It’s highly moisturizing, non-irritating and great for all skin types, including eczema-prone skin.
What Are Balms?
A balm is designed to sit on top of the skin, not absorb completely. Balms can be formulated to target specific areas of the body or issues. Some of our favorite balms include Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1, which soothes and hydrates the lips, the House 99 by David Beckham Seriously Groomed Beard and Hair Balm, which hydrates and helps style beards, and the La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5, which repairs and soothes irritated skin.
What Are Salves?
While the terms may be used interchangeably, a salve is a subset of the ointment category. Salves are typically softer than balms yet harder than traditional ointments. They absorb deeply into the skin and are frequently infused with herbs or essential oils to treat wounds and sores.
What’s the Difference Between Balms and Ointments?
An ointment is a type of lotion used specifically for medicinal purposes. Think of them as topical emollients that directly address only one skin concern. Ointments are typically used for purposes that are antiseptic or geared towards heightened skin conditions, such as excessively dry skin. Balms, on the other hand, can treat either one specific concern or a handful of concerns. You’ll see many balms, with a thickness similar to that of a lotion or cream, that are meant to address dry skin and another concern, such as irritation. Essentially, balms can have medicinal purposes, but not always.
When to Use a Lip Balm Versus an Ointment
If you have an open wound or scratch that you want to keep from getting infected, browse the aisles of your local drug store for an antibacterial ointment. The same could be recommended for forms of immediate irritation, such as rashes or mosquito bites. If you’re looking to hone in on one specific skin concern, there are a variety of topical ointments available to you. Consult with your skin-care professional on the best type of ointment to use for your skin concerns.
Image: Chaunte Vaughn