My two previous posts about balms here and here weighed heavily in favor of balms. Actually the compelling reasons to use a balm made most skin creams look like a ploy to get the consumer to shell out money on a product that contains empty fillers. That is clearly not the case.

I’ve still been using several creams that do work well for my skin. In a billion-dollar industry that is often rife with false claims, it was time to get to the bottom of the ‘Balms vs. Creams’ question.

I decided to turn to some of my favorite companies to find out why they choose a cream as delivery method as opposed to a balms. In their words below, you see the outcome sways back in favor of creams, but I do not rule out the possibility of both as viable options.


Katharine L’Heureux, Kahina Giving Beauty

  1. What advantages are there to using a cream vs. a balm?

Our skin is made up mostly of water. As oil and water don’t mix, the liquids, whether water, or in the case of our Night Cream, aloe vera juice, glycerin, and grape juice extract, in a cream create an emulsion with the oil allowing the active ingredients to penetrate more deeply into the lower layers of the skin. For the same reason, we recommend applying a hydrosol, such as our Toning Mist before applying oils. Because fluids aid in oil absorption. The liquid ingredients in our Night Cream are also working to hydrate and calm skin and to deliver powerful antioxidants.

It’s important for skin to be hydrated and moisturized. Emollients like oils or butters accomplish moisturization but hydration comes from water. Think about “dry skin” vs. “dehydrated skin.” You can have oily, dehydrated skin. What is your skin lacking in that case? Water. All the oil/butters in the world are not going to help you if your skin is dehydrated.

  1. Why did you choose a cream base and not a balm? Was a balm a consideration?

There is a place for both in our skincare line.  The Night Cream was developed for nightly use (although many people love it during the day) as a deep moisturizer with serious anti-aging properties that will allow skin to breathe during its restoration cycle while you sleep. Balms are wonderful for protecting and healing surface layers of skin. We have a Hand and Body Balm that is great for moisturizing and healing extremely dry hands, feet, and elbows, and we will soon be introducing our Kahina Lip and Face Balm, which will be wonderful to protect skin during the cold NYC winter.

  1. How have you handled the issue of preservatives, emulsifiers, and additives that are necessary when water is an ingredient?

The primary preservative we use in our formulations is p-anisic acid, derived from anise, and rosemary extract. Our formulations undergo extensive challenge testing to ensure stability and shelf life of at least two years.

  1. You include many outstanding ingredients in the formula. Can you tell me about absorption of nutrients?

As I mentioned earlier, the aloe vera juice, glycerin, and grape juice extract, create an emulsion to assist with absorption of the resveratrol and the oils and plant extracts in the Night Cream.

Sarah Villafranco, M.D., Osmia Organics

The reason I use a cream is that balms just don’t work for my skin!  I made our moisturizer in an effort to calm my perioral dermatitis, which goes nuts if I apply an oil serum or balm. The advantage of a cream is that it contains water, and actually moisturizes the skin. Balms and oils only soften the skin, and really need to be applied to wet or damp skin to have the maximum effect, helping seal in the moisture. If applied to dry skin, oils and balms just leave you, well, oily or balmy. The advantage of oils and balms is that they don’t need preservation, which is a sigh of relief. They only need antioxidants like tocopherol or rosemary extract to help prevent rancidity. We do make three oil serums, which are really lovely. But when you go into facial balms, you are using either a solid oil or a wax to achieve the firm consistency. I love that for hands and feet and elbows, but find that it’s a little heavy for faces. That’s just a personal preference, though. Some of those balms are dreamy and so lovely—but still best used on damp skin.

Sherylynn Gibbs, Sevani Botanica

Moisturizer creams contain water to replenish lost moisture in the skin and offer fast penetration of actives into the deeper dermal layer of the skin. When the skin becomes dehydrated, trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) can accelerate aging, as our body is skin and body are mostly water.

Water based ingredients include teas, aloe vera juice, hyaluronic acid, B vitamins, glycerin, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, peptides, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), hydrosols, and more. These water based ingredients offer vital plant-based nutrients and antioxidants when incorporated into a finished product. Many of these ingredients are not oil soluble, therefore you will not find them in an anhydrous product (salve, lip balm, beauty balm, etc), hence the need for creams. Creams with glycerin and hyaluronic acid for example offer humectant properties which attract and bind moisture to the skin, preventing TEWL. Mild exfoliators such as alpha hydroxy acids gently dissolve skin cells promoting new cell growth thus refining the texture of the skin, minimize age spots and scares, stimulate collagen and elastin promotion (the fibers that keep the skin plump and firm), AND promote a radiant glow [as in the best-selling Sevani Botanica Rapid Renewal Resurfacing Creme].  These ingredients, when combined in efficacious levels offer a multitude of benefits.

Don’t ditch your creams or toners if you want to experience some exceptional benefits! Click To Tweet

Cecilia Wong, Cecilia Wong Skin Care

They each serve different functions and have their own benefits but I formulated my products in creams because they are more hydrating “humectants.” Since they contain water, they have moisturizing properties. They deliver water to the skin. Creams are much lighter in texture and get absorbed into the skin much quicker and at a much deeper level [as in Cecilia Wong Skincare Creams]. They can also be used all year round. As for balms, they tend to have a wax base and it’s best at protecting the skin. Not all skin can tolerate the heaviness. It can be troublesome for combo/oily skin complexions as the wax is pore clogging. It sits on the skin causing greasiness, more oil, and blemishes. Balms can also be too heavy or suffocating for sensitive, delicate skin.

Kelly Snyder, Queen of the Hive

Balms are protective and can be 100 percent organic (as they don’t contain any water or emulsifiers, it’s easier to make, easier to preserve) but they can also clog pores as they’re more of a protectant than anything. A cream is lighter, more moisturizing, and contains water and emulsifiers, which means it can’t be 100 percent organic (ours is 70%). I guess you could put the bee venom [found in the Face Contour Cream with Manuka Honey & Bee Venom] in a balm but it would probably make more sense in a cream, as a cream would ‘go further’ and is less concentrated than a balm. Also, as we wanted to make a cream that would be moisturizing and light instead of a concentrated balm. The bee venom works best in this medium.

Dr. Macrene, 37 Extreme Actives

A balm is a medicated salve and typically is used to connote a soothing medicament as opposed to an anti-aging cream. 37 Actives is the ultimate anti-aging cream as it delivers 50 of the world’s best anti-aging ingredients. It is not considered a balm as it is not meant as a soothing remedy, though within it are a number of anti-inflammatory soothing ingredients including bisabolol, the active ingredient of chamomile, organic feverfew, organic tea, organic coffee, and cacao extracts and barrier fortifiers of essential fatty acids and lipids, which all work in concert to soothe the skin.

Julie Longyear, Blissoma

Our skin has both oil and water components. Only some nutrients are oil based. Some are water based like minerals, MSM, allantoin, and Beta-glucans from mushrooms and oats. The water in a product can be useful because of what it carries if a company is caring enough to infuse it heavily with as many water based nutrients as it can hold. There are solubility limits but Blissoma packs as much as we can into our products.

Minerals are an often overlooked essential nutrient and skin hydrator. They are responsible for cell life processes and proper hydration balance. Oils don’t contain minerals. There are other nutrients like Niacinamide that also help keep skin hydrated in a different way than oils. Niacinamide is water soluble and helps rebuild skin’s ceramide layer, which helps prevent moisture loss throughout the day. It also stimulates cell renewal, reduces redness, and keeps acne in check.

And some emulsifiers like soy lecithin actually help ingredients penetrate further into the skin because they have such an affinity for cell membranes. I am not at all opposed to natural emulsifiers because they can really improve the absorption of various ingredients. You’ve tried our stuff—the creams absorb so beautifully and leave a gorgeous satiny finish on the skin. That’s partly because our emulsion system is carrying the product into the skin very quickly.

I love oils but it’s just one aspect of how to treat skin. I’m definitely not a fan of how some lines just use a huge percentage of only organic aloe as a labeling trick to up their organic percentage, or just water to save on money, but an ethical and quality oriented line is using that water to deliver a different range of nutrients and actives.

I agree with the benefits of balms as written up. For some people the lack of preservative system, and simpler formula may be awesome. But there are lots of people that benefit from an emulsion based product. Options are good, since people’s skin really varies in how it behaves.

So there you have it! What do you use? Balms, creams, or both? What brands are you loving right now and which ones would you love to try?