Creams and Ointments, What's the Difference, Which is Best

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  Creams and Ointments, what's the difference, which is best? Creams and Ointments, what's the difference, which is best? Many medicines intended for skin application are packaged both as creams and oint-ments. Examples of these topical medications include corticosteroids and antibiotics.Many moisturizers also come in both a cream and ointment form. Is there a difference ina medication that comes in a cream as compared to an ointment? Is one or the otherpreparation better to use?First, some definitions are in order. Creams are a mixture of roughly half water and half oil. They spread easily, are wellabsorbed, and wash off with water. Creams are usuallypackaged in a tub or tube since they are too thick to be dis-pensed in a pump like a lotion. Most ointments are 80% oiland 20% water. The oil component is made from hydrocar- bons, such as mineral oil or petroleum jelly. Ointments feelgreasy and are occlusive , meaning they stay on the surfaceof the skin and are not well absorbed. The water and oil components of creams and oint-ments serve primarily as a vehicle to carry an active ingredient or medication. When is it best to use a cream?  In general, people prefer using creams to ointmentssince they are less sticky and heavy on the skin. Even though we think of creams as be-ing moisturizing, given their higher water content and the evaporation that occurs fol-lowing application, creams are better than ointments for treating oozing or wet skinconditions. Since the viscosity (thickness) of creams is less than that of ointments, they  also work better for covering large areas of skin. When is it best to use an ointment?  Ointments are best used on dry skin. They are ‘oc-clusive,' which means they trap moisture and are not well absorbed into the skin. Thus,they are able to keep the skin moist for longer periods of time. Ointments also promotemore complete absorption of the active ingredient or medication. Because of preserva-tives used in creams, ointments are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Here are a few topical medications that come in both a cream and ointment form: Topical steroids -  Corticosteroids are the most commonly used topical medication. Theyare most often used to treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as poison ivy or eczema.Corticosteroids are different than anabolic steroids, such as testosterone, that promotemuscle development. Weaker corticosteroids are available over-the-counter (Cortaid,1% hydrocortisone, Cortizone 10, others) while stronger preparations (0.5% triamci-nolone, Kenalog, Diprosone, others) are only available by prescription. The potency of agiven corticosteroid may change depending on whether it is in cream or ointment form.Being occlusive, an ointment will allow the medication to enter the skin more complete-ly than a cream. At the same dosage, most topical corticosteroids will be classified as be-ing stronger when packaged as an ointment as compared to a cream. Moisturizers -  Ointments, with their higher viscosity, are generally the best moisturiz-ers. They form a barrier that helps to seal moisture into the skin. Examples of ointment- based moisturizers include Eucerin, Aquaphor, and Vaseline. If a less greasy prepara-tion is desired, cream-based moisturizers that come in a tub or tube are usually betterthan lotions. Antibiotics -  Neosporin and Polysporin are popular topical antibiotics that come in both a cream and ointment form. Neosporin consists of three different antibiotics,neomycin sulfate, polymixin B sulfate and bacitracin. Polysporin is a combination of two antibiotics, bacitracin and polymixin B sulfate. Generic versions of topical antibi-otics are also available, usually marketed as triple antibiotic ointment or cream. Topi-cal antibiotics are used to aid healing of minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Since many peo-ple are allergic to neomycin, it may be best to use a topical antibiotic that does not con-tain this ingredient.  Here are some guidelines for deciding when to use an ointment and when to use acream:1. Creams are best when covering large areas of the skin or to avoid the greasiness as-sociated with an ointment.2. Wet or weeping skin lesions, such as eczema or poison ivy, are best treated with acream (or gel).3. Ointments are best when treating dry skin conditions, such as psoriasis.4. Ointments allow greater penetration of the active ingredient in the topical medica-tion, whether it is an antibiotic, steroid, or anti-fungal medication.5. The best moisturizers are in ointment form.6. Ointments may be better to use on sensitive skin since many creams are manufac-tured with sensitizing preservatives.If you have any questions about creams and ointments, please log into your account andsend us your question. We are here to help...
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