Let’s start with the basics here. According to a simple Google search of the definition of moisturizer, this is what you will get:
The first important point to recognize is that each of these products has been created to moisturize the skin in some way, and they are all considered humectants – which is a substance that promotes the retention of moisture. Seems like simple rhetoric, but in the cosmetic industry, there are subtle differences.
Balms: According to the FDA, balms have the connotation of healing, so they really shouldn’t be used for cosmetics, but more cosmetic-like drugs – for example, a “healing lip balm.” Technically, this would need drug clearance by the FDA, but assume the product does have this clearance, balms are waxy in texture. Many balms are made with beeswax and vegan balms are often made with candelilla, soy, or carnauba wax. Balms are created to leave a waxy coating for healing or protection. You want to go for these if your skin is really damaged or you will be in an extreme climate.
Butters: Butters are very nourishing for extra dry skin. They work especially well after exfoliating or after a hot shower/bath when the pores are open for absorption. Butters are usually made with a 75% hard oil (or butter) to 25% liquid oil ratio. Butters don’t have water, so they don’t need a preservative, but be very careful not to put wet hands into a butter jar or you could be introducing bacteria and mold. With butters, a little goes a long way, so start small and add as needed. Be sure to thoroughly rub in a butter or it can feel greasy on the skin.
Creme versus Cream: Focusing on denotation, a “creme” is literally the French word for “cream;” however, when it comes to cosmetics, a creme usually has a lighter consistency compared to a cream. Creams are usually in jars and are focused on the face, under the eyes, or extremely dry skin; they usually have a high consistency of butters (like shea, mango, or cocoa). Cremes are also usually for the face, but are a little lighter in consistency and may have a greater focus on liquid oils over butters (like olive, grapeseed, jojoba, etc.). Most creams/cremes also have some water consistency. Choose a heavier cream if you have very dry skin, for harsher climates, or people with fair skin. A heavier cream also works well on the body for people with “ashy” skin. Opt for a creme if you have medium/dry or combination skin; you may need to switch for summer months.
Lotion: Lotions are lighter in consistency and texture. They are mostly comprised of purified water making them easily absorbed for nearly every skin type. Lotions can vary a great deal based on what types of oils and/or butters are being used, but high-quality lotions will use oils rich in antioxidants like avocado oil, mango butter, shea butter, cocoa butter, olive oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, argan oil, rosehip seed oil (etc.). Lotions are also made with emulsifying wax to ensure the oil and water combine, as well as cetyl alcohol and/or stearic acid to create a fluffy consistency; don’t worry, these are all non-toxic chemicals derived from plants. Lotions also require a preservative since they are made with water; if you ever see a lotion without a preservative, run the other way because it absolutely will grow mold and/or bacteria. Lotions are easily spreadable and are perfect for quick, non-greasy moisture, or for skin that tends to get oily or sweaty.
Salves: If you’re seeking a salve, you’re probably in need of some topical medical treatment. Salves are in-between creams and balms; they are softer than balms but waxier than creams. Salves are often created for medicinal purposes, often called ointments; a common example that many of us have used is Vicks VapoRub. They are often infused with essential oils believed to suppress certain aches and pains – like a muscle salve, an after-workout salve, a clear breathing salve, etc. As with balms, please be sure the salve/ointment has FDA drug clearance before making any medicinal claims!
Serums: Serums are very thin in texture and are created to work beneath a regular creame/creme or lotion. They function to protect and encapsulate skin with extra soothing and moisturizing properties. Serums are almost completely comprised of botanical liquid oils and usually only require a few drops. You wear serums on your face and decolletage because they are rich and specifically made for that gentle skin. Be careful not to use too much, or it can definitely make your skin feel oily. Serums are especially useful for filling fine lines and wrinkles while helping the skin rejuvenate lost moisture, usually for dry skin or mature skin. If you tend to have oily skin or acne, you probably don’t need a serum.
Hopefully this blog helped to clarify all your moisturizing needs! If you have any questions, please comment below!