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What’s the difference between cream, lotion, and ointment?

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The Answer

All of these topical treatments contain a mixture of oil and water. Cream is mostly water, lotion contains an even mix of oil and water, and ointment is mostly oil.

Creams, lotions, and ointments are all ways that a topical medicine or treatment can be applied to the skin. The difference between them relates to the ratio of oil and water in the medium that contains the active ingredient.

  • Creams are mostly water with some oil added
  • Lotions will usually contain around equal parts oil and water
  • Ointments are typically 80% oil or higher

Oil and water generally won’t mix, so an emulsifier is added to create a homogeneous mixture.

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