Know Your Skincare Options: Lotions, Butters, Balms or Salves?

If you love to moisturize your skin (and we hope you do!), then you’ve likely tried all of the various types and consistencies. But do you really know the difference between an herbal lotion and body butter or a salve and a balm? And more importantly, why should you care?

While these all may sound similar, there are actually a few distinct differences and benefits between those four types of moisturizers and we’re going to explore that in this article.

The Difference Between Body Butter and Herbal Lotion

First let’s look at the difference between body butter and lotion for healthy nourished skin. 

Typically, a lotion is going to be more liquid in its consistency and has a higher water content while a butter is going to be much thicker and creamier. Butters can sometimes be very heavy and greasy, and take a bit longer to be absorbed into the skin.

Body butter is typically made up of a heavier moisturizer like shea butter or cocoa butter while an herbal lotion usually contains actual water as well as lighter hydrators like squalane and glycerine.

In addition to body butter there’s also whipped butter, which is slightly different. A body butter is typically composed of butters, vegetable oils, herbal oils, and certain seed oils and antioxidants like rosemary CO2 extract, vitamin E or mixed tocopherols. Sometimes beeswax can be added — but not enough to make it a body balm!

On the other hand, whipped body butter is less dense than body butter. Main ingredients typically include butter, vegetable and herbal oils as well as antioxidants that have been whipped with a beater or mixer to give it that whipped cream look and feel. These are typically beeswax free. 

Mango body butter on table with dried mango remains and rocks

The Difference Between Herbal Salve and Balm

Herbal salves and balms tend to be a bit more medicinal and healing compared to herbal lotions and body butter.

A body balm is composed of mostly beeswax mixed with either vegetable or herbal oils and some antioxidants. The combination of oils and beeswax creates a thick consistency that can serve as a protective barrier on the skin, which is why they work well for topical use of common aches, pains and muscle tension.

Balms are usually infused with vitamins and essential oils, which can also provide healing properties for headaches, minor colds and swelling of the muscles or joints. For example, Wise Woman Herbal’s Fire and Ice Balm contains beeswax along with organic olive oil, shea butter, arnica, St. John's wort, white willow, wintergreen and peppermint essential oils, menthol, and vitamin E, among other ingredients that promote joint and musculoskeletal health and encourage a normal healthy inflammatory response.

While salves are quite similar to balms, they have a higher ratio of herbal oils compared to beeswax, which makes them smoother and softer in consistency. Sometimes vegetable oils like tamanu are also added. 

Salves are very soothing and have been used for hundreds of years in many cultures for wound healing, sunburns, dry skin/eczema and chapped lips. Natural herbal salves contain healing ingredients and are not usually petroleum-based. Wise Woman Hebal’s All-purpose Salve contains healing botanical ingredients like organic olive oil, beeswax, calendula, comfrey, vitamin E and vitamin A that can be used for minor skin irritations like chapped or dry skin. 

You can learn more about Wise Woman Herbals various topical botanical balms and salves here

WWH Salve in tin with leaf/branch laid on top

Picking the Right Herbal Moisturizers for Your Skin

As you can see, while similar, these various kinds of moisturizers all have different consistencies and benefits based on your skin type. If you have really dry, cracked skin, which can be common during dry cold winter months, you might opt for something very thick and moisturizing that can be absorbed deep into the skin for additional hydration — like a butter or a salve.

If you have normal to oily skin already or if it’s summertime, you might want to opt for a lighter everyday lotion so that it can easily absorb and doesn’t feel heavy when applied. Sweating off your lotion in the summer is no picnic!

And finally, if you are looking for topical relief from minor aches, pains or wounds, you might want to look at a variety of different salves and their healing properties!