A lot of people have asked what exactly is the difference between balms, butters, creams and lotions.
All of these products have a similar goal, which is to hydrate, treat. balance and/or repair dry skin. They all work to protect your skin by locking in moisture, which helps keep it more supple and smooth.
There are however some important differences between them. The biggest difference comes down to consistancy and thickness both of which are determined by the water to oil content of a given product. when deciding which to use, and where to use it, the oil component that is most important thing to consider.
have a higher water than oil content, therefore tend to be lighter and in easier to spread. However because of this, they also evaporate quicker and usually need more than one application per day in order to remain effective. They are designed mainly for day use and because they are mostly water they are the most adaptable of the moisturizers. They are tolerated by (though not always as effective on) most skin types. Often lotions are used as a moisturizing carrier for scents or fragrances which is why you will so often find them as fragrance accents in bath and body gift sets and the like.
are creams that also have a fairly high water content but which are created specifically for the face. Often they will contain ingredients to combat the effects of aging and/or some kind of protection against UV rays. Lighter moisturizers are suitable for day time and heavier ones should be used at night.
are generally created for the body. They are heavier than moisturizers and have a much higher oil content. They are also more difficult to spread on being thicker than lotions, but they are readily absorbed given chance, by thirsty skin. They do not evaporate like lotions and are more protective of skin surface as they actively lock in moisture. Like most oils and heavily oil based products, creams are best used immediately after shower or bath when your skin has had chance to soak up plenty of water. Applying cream then creates a layer that locks the moisture into your skin. The water does not have chance to evaporate, so your skin remains hydrated longer.
This is why in the winter creams balms and butters are usually best and in the warmer more humid seasons lotions work better.
are usually comprised completely of oils using a stabilizing compound such as beeswax or a butter as their base. Like creams, they are suitable for extremely dry skin and on areas prone to dryness such as the hands, elbows, knees or feet. Unless it has been created to treat a specific skin condition or problem, balms are not suitable for use on the face because they are so dense and can cause facial breakouts.
tend to fall somewhere in the middle of all of this. Normally heavier than creams and denser than lotions they are lighter than balms. They also tend to have a fairly low melting point. Because of this, they are suitable bases for moisturizing bath treatments and soaks.
are a whole nother ball of beeswax. They are generally created to be used on a specific area of the body to address things like rashes, burns, or skin irritations and tend to be strictly medicinal in nature.
So ultimately, the goal when deciding which one to use is to find what is most compatible with your own skin type. Many people will use a combination of products, depending on the areas of the body being treated and on the season. As a general rule, those prone to oily skin, or who have thinner more delicate skin, a lighter weight lotion is the better option. For those prone to dry skin or those who have more mature skin, a moisturiser with a thicker consistency, a cream, a butter or a balm works best.