It seems I’m not the only one who’s hopping on the balm bandwagon. A trend is surfacing among skincare lines that’s placing these solid but creamy emollients center stage—for good reason! I started using balms this summer and saw a real turnaround in the condition of my skin—as in fewer breakouts, diminished scars, and an unbeatable natural glow.
So I had to find out from the experts what makes these balms tick?Here's the insider info that has me questioning whether I'd ever reach for a cream again. Click To Tweet
The ONE ingredient in creams that you won’t find in balms
Guess which ingredient is the culprit when it comes to requiring preservatives? That’s right. It’s aqua, eau, and other fancy terms for water! This innocuous liquid requires the use of emulsifiers and other additives that don’t do much to benefit the skin and may do harm. It’s also the main ingredient in most skin creams and lotions. Hmm… Kinda makes you wonder what you’re getting in those expensive jars. [Lookin’ at you La Mer.]
In fact, when Laurel Shaffer, founder of Laurel Whole Plant Organics, decided to reformulate Sequoia Beauty, she chose to discontinue the creams. Her reason may surprise you—she wouldn’t use them herself! Even though she incorporated the finest natural ingredients, the method of turning raw, whole elements into a cream meant that those ingredients had to be chemically manipulated—a process that she felt was highly unnatural.
As she explained in an email:
“Lotions or creams are [over] 70 percent water and [require] emulsifiers/thickeners and preservatives—yes, you are doing the math correctly, that leaves very little room for active or beneficial ingredients! Really a Balm is that remaining 10 to 15 percent active ingredients…Antioxidant rich oils, plant extracts, healing essential oils—nothing but the result-delivering good stuff. That is also a huge selling point for me—getting what you pay for.”
The bottom line is that no water means no microbial preservatives and more active ingredients. That leaves a highly concentrated formula that does the job of protecting, soothing, and healing the skin efficiently. It is no wonder, then, that more companies are turning to balms than ever before.
Another über-popular skincare brand created a waterless balm as one of its original signature products. Suzanne LeRoux, founder of One Love Organics, listed four main reasons why she formulated Skin Savior as a balm.
In Suzanne’s words:
Preference of texture
“I simply prefer an oil based balm. The emulsifiers that hold oil and water together [in creams] can feel filmy and sticky and can aggravate some skin types, especially sensitive or breakout prone. Properly formulated balms on the other hand, can feel really velvety and luxurious and soak right into the skin. Balms do not require an emulsifier or traditional preservatives so it is easy to keep the ingredients simple and pure. Balms were a solution for me because I do not like the way lotions and creams feel on my skin.”
“Skin Savior is perfect for all skin types but especially those who have oily skin or are prone to breakouts. For example, Skin Savior contains Vitamin B3 (niacin), zinc and lauric acid derived from the pure plant oils and extracts. Vitamin B3, a proven anti-inflammatory, may help to reduce the redness that often accompanies blemishes and can help to calm the skin. Topical zinc has been shown to help calm the skin. And lauric acid has strong anti-bacterial properties. In a balm formula, we do not dilute these potent ingredients in any way and have a formula that is 100% active.”
“You can use a balm for so many purposes, whereas typically a cream or lotion can only be used for its intended purposes. We use our balm to cleanse, spot treat, moisturize, as a treatment masque, bath oil, and so much more and it can go on our face, hair, lips and anywhere on the body. Creams or lotions are usually formulated just for one specific area.”
Value + Environment.
“Balms are highly concentrated and usually contain ingredients in only their purest form. This means that a little goes a long way, and most balms last an average of three times longer than a cream. High-concentration formulas also mean less consumption, packaging and transportation–so you can love the environment as much as you love your skin!”
Barrier protection and nutrient absorption
The founder of Metta Skincare, Anca Grigoras, found that lotions were not keeping her hands hydrated enough. After extensive research, she learned about what the skin needs to hold moisture—and hand creams didn’t cut it. So she developed her impressive line of face, lip, and hand balms sans H2O. Here’s what she said.
A good quality oil-based moisturizer replenishes oil levels in the skin and helps restore the permeability barrier
Anca explained that one of the skin’s most important functions is to act as a permeability barrier to prevent the loss of water and electrolytes. Factors like cold, wind, dry or polluted environments, diet, stress, hormones, age, harsh soaps, and detergents can deplete the skin’s naturally protective sebum levels that are designed to keep water and vital nutrients locked in. The result can lead to water loss and the skin looking dry, flaky, or even cracked.
Different absorption rates
It’s also important to remember that different oils and butters have different properties and absorption rates and a product that combines both quick and slower-absorbing oils will keep the skin feeling supple and moisturized for longer.
On the other hand creams and lotions have a high water content making them very easily absorbed into the deeper layers of skin. However if the outer layer of skin is not in optimal condition, then a great proportion of that hydration will be lost anyway—which is why she couldn’t find a cream that worked for her dry hands.
Vicky Lyons, founder of Lyonsleaf concurs. “The trick to successful skin hydration is maintaining and repairing skin barrier function,” she said in an email. “The fatty acids in natural oils are the same as those your skin uses to create its lipid barrier, so we feel that applying natural oils to repair damage caused by detergents, air conditioning, weather, etc. is the best way to go.”
A carrier for nutrients
Because both the outer layer of skin and cell membranes have a high lipid content, oils are needed to penetrate these and when applied on the skin they act as an excellent “carrier” for nutrients. Additionally certain fatty acids contained in vegetable oils (such as linoleic acid, alpha-linoleic acid, and arachidonic acid) increase skin permeation levels and therefore are an ideal vehicle for introducing the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants already present in the formula. (Source)
Do you use a balm?
I found these founders’ answers to be extremely compelling and would prompt anyone to incorporate a balm into their skincare regimen. As we in the Northeast head into the colder months, it’s prime time to use a solid protective barrier for the skin, though I will say again that I started using a balm in the summer months with excellent results and no oily residue. That makes balms a year-round option.
The information also makes me wonder about the efficacy of the many, many, often expensive creams that are sold today. Are we paying big bucks for a weak product? Will the long-term effects of a cream actually deplete the skin of vital moisture? I’ll be reaching out to some of my favorite skin cream creators to find out!
Ultimately, I do think it’s a question of preference and what works best for your skin type.
With deep gratitude to the outstanding team of skin care brilliance who took the time to answer all my questions about balms: Suzanne LeRoux of One Love Organics, Laurel Shaffer of Laurel Whole Plant Organics, Anca Grigoras of Metta Skincare, Vicky Lyons of Lyonsleaf, and Jessica Lafleur of Stark Skincare.
Top photo credit: Laurel Whole Plant Organics
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