Cream vs. Ointment

What's the Difference?

Cream and ointment are both topical medications used to treat various skin conditions. However, they differ in their composition and consistency. Creams are water-based and have a lighter texture, making them easier to spread and absorb into the skin. They are often preferred for treating conditions such as rashes, itching, and mild irritations. On the other hand, ointments are oil-based and have a thicker consistency, providing a protective barrier on the skin. They are commonly used for dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis, as they lock in moisture and provide longer-lasting relief. Ultimately, the choice between cream and ointment depends on the specific skin condition and individual preferences.


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ConsistencyThicker than lotion, but lighter than ointmentThicker and greasier than cream
IngredientsWater-based with oil and/or fatOil-based with little to no water content
TextureSmooth and easy to spreadGreasy and may leave a residue
MoisturizingProvides moderate moisturizationProvides intense moisturization
PenetrationPenetrates the skin relatively quicklyForms a protective barrier on the skin
UsageCommonly used for daily skincareOften used for treating dry or damaged skin
Photo by Bee Naturalles on Unsplash

Further Detail


Creams and ointments are two common types of topical medications used for various purposes. While both are applied externally to the skin, they differ in their composition, texture, absorption, and overall effectiveness. Understanding the attributes of creams and ointments can help individuals make informed decisions when selecting the most suitable option for their specific needs.


Creams are typically water-based formulations that contain a combination of oil and water. They also include emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives to maintain their consistency and prevent microbial growth. On the other hand, ointments are oil-based preparations that consist of a high concentration of oil or petroleum jelly. They may also contain small amounts of water, waxes, or other ingredients to enhance their texture and stability.

Due to their composition, creams are generally lighter and less greasy compared to ointments. They are easily spreadable and quickly absorbed into the skin. Ointments, on the other hand, have a thicker consistency and tend to leave a greasy residue on the skin. This attribute can be advantageous for certain conditions that require prolonged contact with the skin or when a barrier is needed to protect the affected area.

Texture and Absorption

As mentioned earlier, creams have a lighter texture and are easily spreadable. They are absorbed relatively quickly into the skin, making them suitable for conditions that require frequent application or when a rapid onset of action is desired. Creams are often preferred for moisturizing, soothing, or treating mild skin irritations, such as dryness, itching, or rashes.

Ointments, on the other hand, have a thicker and more viscous texture. They do not absorb as readily into the skin and tend to form a protective layer on the surface. This attribute makes ointments ideal for conditions that require a longer duration of action or when a more occlusive effect is desired. Ointments are commonly used for treating dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, or other chronic skin conditions that require intensive moisturization and protection.


The effectiveness of creams and ointments can vary depending on the specific condition being treated. Creams are generally considered to be more cosmetically acceptable due to their lighter texture and non-greasy feel. They are often preferred for use on exposed areas of the body, such as the face or hands, where a greasy residue may be undesirable.

Ointments, on the other hand, are known for their superior occlusive properties. The thick consistency of ointments allows them to create a physical barrier on the skin, which helps to lock in moisture and protect the affected area from external irritants. This makes ointments highly effective for conditions that require enhanced hydration, such as severely dry or cracked skin.

Application and Usage

Both creams and ointments are typically applied externally to the affected area of the skin. Creams are usually dispensed in tubes or pump bottles, which allow for easy and controlled application. They are often recommended for use on larger areas of the body or when a thin layer of medication is sufficient.

Ointments, on the other hand, are commonly packaged in jars or tubes. Due to their thicker consistency, ointments may require a spatula or clean finger for application. They are often recommended for localized treatment of smaller areas or when a thicker layer of medication is needed.

It is important to note that the frequency of application may vary depending on the specific medication and condition being treated. Some creams and ointments may need to be applied multiple times a day, while others may only require once-daily application. It is essential to follow the instructions provided by the healthcare professional or indicated on the product packaging.


In summary, creams and ointments are two distinct types of topical medications with different attributes and applications. Creams are water-based, lighter in texture, and quickly absorbed into the skin. They are suitable for moisturizing, soothing, and treating mild skin irritations. On the other hand, ointments are oil-based, thicker in consistency, and provide a more occlusive effect. They are effective for conditions that require enhanced hydration and protection.

When choosing between creams and ointments, it is important to consider the specific needs of the condition being treated, as well as personal preferences regarding texture and greasiness. Consulting with a healthcare professional can provide valuable guidance in selecting the most appropriate option for optimal therapeutic outcomes.

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