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What's the Difference Between a Lotion, Cream, and Balm?

We all have our texture preferences when it comes to skincare, but do you know the basic differences between a lotion, cream, and balm? Perhaps knowing these distinctions can help you choose the right product for your skin.

Really, it comes down to water content and additives.

Lotions contain the most water out of the three - typically at least 50% of the formula - which makes lotion easy to spread, quickly absorbed, and desirable for its non-greasy feel. Because lotions wear easily on the skin, they make a good option for lightweight daytime hydration. However, since lotions contain large amounts of water, their moisturizing effect can be significantly less than creams and balms and relatively short-lived.

Creams contain less water than lotions, tend to be thicker (and creamier), and provide richer moisture. They sit on top of the skin a bit more, providing an occlusive barrier which helps to lock in your skin's moisture.

Because lotions and creams contain water, they require a preservative system to prevent harmful microbial contaminants. And unless the lotion or cream is oil-free, it will also require an emulsifying agent to homogenize the product (since oil and water don't naturally bind). Preservatives and emulsifiers aren't bad, in fact, they're necessary, but some are better than others. When in doubt about ingredients, search for a moisturizer from a brand or retailer you trust that vets ingredients for you, or research the ingredients using a guide like the Think Dirty app or Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database.

Balms are typically anhydrous products meaning that they are completely waterless. Therefore they don't necessarily require preservatives or emulsifiers, allowing them to be among the most concentrated moisturizers available.

Balms are formulated with a mix of oils and waxes, providing deep hydration that's ideal for extremely dry and eczema-prone skin. The oils serve as emollients to soften and nourish the skin, while the wax serves as an occlusive agent to lock in moisture and prevent transepidermal water loss.

While balms are the richest and most concentrated of the three, not all balms are created equally. Based on the types of oils and waxes used in the formula, their textures can range from lightweight and fast-absorbing to heavy, suffocating, or even sticky.

We are extremely proud of the texture we've achieved with Ranger Balm - it's ultra moisturizing yet effortlessly melts into the skin like a silky veil without ever feeling sticky or suffocating. After curating the ideal combination of time-tested plant-based ingredients to nourish and sooth even the most sensitive, problematic, and eczema-prone skin, we tirelessly formulated until our final product was as pleasant to apply and wear as the results it provides.

Our organic plant oils are bound together with the perfect ratio of sunflower wax to provide a creamy, gel-like consistency that instantly melts upon contact into a fine silky oil. Unlike beeswax and lanolin (which are animal-derived) and petroleum (which is neither clean nor sustainable), Ranger Balm uses a clean and vegan wax that comes from the winterization of sunflowers. Not only do we believe that sunflower wax is the more ethical choice for our formulas, but it's also exceptional for compromised skin.

If you've found this helpful, please learn more about the Ranger Balm difference and receive 10% off your first order.

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