Creams vs Ointments

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Question

What's the difference between a cream and an ointment?

Answer

A cream is a preparation of a medication for topical use (on the skin) that contains a water base. Essentially, it is a preparation of oil (often lanolin or petrolatum) in water. An ointment is a preparation of a medication for topical use that contains an oil base - essentially a preparation of water in oil.

Creams and ointments contain a different proportion of oil to water. Ointments have a higher concentration of oil, compared to creams. The more oil, the greasier and stickier the product. Creams may work better on larger areas of the skin because of their "spreadability" factor, compared to ointments.

Several factors are taken into consideration when selecting a topical product. Skin absorbs a cream more quickly, whereas an ointment will remain on the skin longer and take a longer time to absorb. Your physician may prescribe a cream if he or she wants your skin to absorb the medication quickly, or an ointment may be prescribed if slower absorption through the skin is desired.

Your pharmacist is a great resource for additional information about these types of products.

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