Balms vs. Ointments: What's the Difference, Anyway?
When a product is referred to as an “ointment” as opposed to a “balm,” what does that exactly mean? Are balms and ointments not one and the same? The short answer is no. Balms and ointments are different, which is why they are labeled as such. Ahead, we’re sharing the differences between balms and ointments, and when to use both in your skin care routine.
WHAT ARE BALMS & OINTMENTS?
According to Dictionary.com, an ointment is “a soft, unctuous preparation, often medication, for application to the skin.” Likewise, a balm is an “oily, fragrant, resinous substance, often of medicinal value, exuding from certain plants.”
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BALMS & OINTMENTS?
An ointment is a type of lotion used specifically for medicinal purposes. Think of them as topical emollients with one solid purpose; they directly address only one skin concern over another. Ointments are typically used for purposes that are antiseptic or geared towards heightened skin conditions (such as excessively dry skin) without there being much room in between.
Balms, on the other hand, can go either way. You’ll see many balms—with a thickness similar to that of a lotion or cream—that are meant to address dry skin and potentially other skin concerns. In one of its alternate definitions, a balm can also soothe the skin. That’s why you’ll see more lip conditioners with the nom de plume “lip balm” as opposed to “lip ointment.” Essentially, balms can have medicinal purposes ingrained into their formulas, but not necessarily to the extent of an ointment.
WHEN TO USE BALMS VS. OINTMENTS
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 to use. 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.