Topical medication is the most common form of treatment for most of the skin disorders. Although you may be prescribed a cream, you may find that the same topical medication is available in the ointment form too. So, you may now wonder what is the difference between an ointment and a cream. Both of them are semisolid emulsions, which are used to treat skin ailments only.
A cream normally contains less than 50% of hydrocarbons. It is opaque, viscous, non-greasy to mildly greasy. When a cream is applied on to the skin, it mostly evaporates or gets absorbed into the skin. It can either be hydrophilic (in other words it often has a water base) or lipophilic in nature. More often than not it is a preparation of oil (or lanolin or petroleum) in water.
Ointments contain more than 50% of hydrocarbons. They can also be opaque or translucent, viscous or greasy, etc. They do not tend to evaporate or be absorbed into the skin when applied. The base used to make an ointment is oil, in other words, it is a preparation of water in oil.
Ointment Vs. Cream
Following factors may help distinguish between an ointment and a cream. They are:
An ointment normally consists of 80% oil and 20% water. On the other hand, the percentage ratio of water to oil in creams is 50:50. However, there are some topical cream products, which may have much lower oil component as well.
Ointments are greasier in nature and also have thicker consistencies. Hence, you may find it difficult to spread them over large areas of the skin. Creams, on the other hand, are lighter in consistency, and hence they often work better to cover large areas.
Creams are easily absorbed into the skin, whereas ointments stay longer on the surface of the skin without getting absorbed. Hence, ointments are often prescribed for dry skin since they keep the skin moist for a longer period of time, thereby promoting faster healing. However, due to high water content in creams, they cause the skin to dry up faster. Therefore, they are a better option for greasy and oily skin.
The difference between creams and ointments lies in the different water and oil content in both of them. Your doctor is the best person to diagnose your skin condition. Hence, it is important to follow his/her instructions carefully. In case you have any queries, have them answered by your doctor, instead of opting for self treatment.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.