Cream, Lotion or Ointment – What’s the difference? Choose the right one!

Cream, lotion or emollient?When it comes to skin care there is a wide array of products that are available on the market. Each one is often advertised  better than the other, leading to confusion or a wrong purchase. Getting exactly what you need and the product that is best can be a challenge with all the different choices around. Not all skin care products are made in the same way and there is a difference between creams, ointments and lotions. All three are different formulations for topical products with differing water and oil contents. One of the best ways to get what you need is to know what each product is, and what it can do exactly for your skin.


Creams are emulsions made from equal amounts of water and oil, or ½ water and ½ oil. By emulsifying these two, a semi-solid formulation with medium thickness is produced. Often, it may be able to hold its shape even after being removed from the container. Due to the technique used to create creams, it is non-oily and can often be easily spread on the skin offering moderate moisturization. At the same time it is quickly absorbed by the skin and can be washed off without any trouble. Certain creams may contain active ingredients that help the skin, but will not necessarily require a physician’s advise before being used. Creams are often packaged in tubes or tubs since these are too thick to be pumped out.


Ointments on the other hand, are a homogenous formulation composed of 20% water and 80% oil. Like cream it is semi-solid, but with a much higher viscosity making it very thick. Due to this, ointments usually leave a greasy feeling when used and are made for use on small areas, rather than throughout the whole body. These are manufactured as emollients or moisturizers because of their occlusive property or ability to trap in heat and moisture. Aside from this, ointments commonly have a therapeutic purpose as they are used to apply active ingredients and promote the absorption of medication by the skin. Ingredients used may be stronger than those found in creams and lotions. Some ointments with strong ingredients may require a prescription or a doctor’s advice before being used.


Lastly, lotions are emulsions that are thinner than creams. These are made as either water in oil, or oil in water with about 2/3 of the mixture being water and 1/3 oil. The result is a low viscosity formulation that can be applied easily on the skin. This can be put on lightly and is quickly absorbed by the skin. Lotions are commonly use as emollients to help keep the skin moisturized and soft. Unlike creams and ointments, these do not usually contain any active ingredients for treating specific skin problems. Many lotions can be easily bought over the counter and do not require a doctor’s recommendation for use. Due to its runny consistency, lotion is often dispensed through the use of a pump or through a squeeze bottle.



MD with a great interest in skin diseases, mental health and physical training.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *