What's the difference in formulation between a cream, a salve, a lotion, and a body butter?

Posted by Amy Johnson on

I get this question a lot at craft shows and wrote this to help you undersand how they are formulated. 

What is the difference between a Lotion, Cream, Body Butter and a Salve/Balm?

 A salve or balm is a simple combination of oil(s) and beeswax.  Beeswax is melted with the oil and then when it cools it will harden into your desired consistency. It's basically making a solid form of a herbal infused oil for ease of use.  It can also have other things added to it such as essential oils, nut & fruit butters, vitamin E, etc. but it does NOT contain water!.  This gives it a long, stable shelf life without added preservatives. The beeswax acts as a preservative in this case.

Lotion: A lotion is created when you take oil & water and blend it together using an emulsifying agent such as emulsifying wax or beeswax and friction like a blender to combine it all together.  Lotion usually has a higher concentration of water to oil (70% water, 20% oil, 10% emulsifying agent).  Depending on whether or not you use preservatives, lotions will have a shorter shelf life due to the high concentration of water. Lotions like creams are made with water and thus in order to have a stable shelf life, they either need to have preservatives added, or if you don't want to use a preservative, you need to store this at cool temperatures such as in the refrigerator in order to prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria. In which case they will last approx. 3-4 months.

Cream: A cream is also created when you take oil & water and blend it together using an emulsifying agent, typically emulsifying wax or beeswax.  Creams have a higher concentration of oil in them than lotions (45% water, 45% oil, 5-10% emulsifying agent), making them thicker, heavier and more moisturizing. Like lotions, creams contain water and thus need a preserving agent or should be stored in the refrigerator. You can make a cream with a lower percentage of water, and a higher percentage of oil. e.g. 15-20% water or hydrosol, 60-80% oils & butters, 10-15% emulsifying agent).

Body Butter: A body butter is created by blending natural butters like shea butter, cocoa, butter and/or mango butter with infused oils.  My body butter blends usually tend to be a blend of butters and liquid carrier oils making them more malleable and easy to apply and absorb into the skin. An example would be 60-70% butters and 30-40% oils). True Body Butters should NOT contain water.










NOTE: Ratios are in weight, not volume. 


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  • Great explanation of the difference between a salve, cream, lotion and body butter.

    Suzanne A Bolton on

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