Hemp Cream, Salve or Balm, Which is Best for You?

Liz Filmer
10 Jul 2024

Hemp-based topicals are becoming increasingly popular, but what’s the difference between creams, balms and salves and how do you know which is right for you?

The hemp product market has boomed in recent years among customers who want to feel the possible restorative effects of the plant. 

Topicals have many benefits over oils and tinctures, mainly because they may deliver targeted comfort to precise areas of distress. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant prospects of the compounds contained in hemp-based products are also believed to relieve skin issues including acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

As the industry grows and evolves more and more options for hemp-based topicals and skincare are appearing on the shelves, including creams, salves and balms, but which is the right product for you?

What is the difference between creams, salves and balms?

Creams are a blend of water, oil and other ingredients including stabilisers, emulsifiers, and preservatives, they are semi-solid emulsions. Hemp-based cosmetic creams also come infused with CBD and other cannabinoids and terpenes that are found naturally within the cannabis plant. 

The main difference between creams, salves and balms is that creams are made with water, whilst salves and balms contain very little or none. 

Some people prefer creams over oils, gels or ointments, because of the smooth texture and ease of application. Creams can also include other natural active ingredients and carrier oils like hemp seed oil – which have therapeutic advantages and assist in enhancing any effects.

Salves are generally made from a variety of natural ingredients like plant extracts, waxes and oils. They are generallythicker in consistency than creams and lotions and are distinguishable by their smooth, semi-solid form that makes them easy and comfortable to spread onto the skin. 

Balms are similar to salves in texture and thick, semi-solid consistency however they contain higher concentrations of wax, meaning that a salve is softer and easier to apply.

What is Bioavailability? 

One of the primary things to ponder when selecting a topical hemp product is its absorption or bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to how quickly the product works and how fast you see the effects. 

All CBD-based topicals have fairly low bioavailability compared to other manners of administration like oils and edibles. They do however present a more targeted approach to problem areas, meaning that a little product goes a long way. 

Creams, salves and balms all have a degree of usefulness for the skin, the fundamental distinction arrives in what transpires once they are applied to the surface of the skin.  

As creams contain a large ratio of water, they are absorbed into the skin quicker meaning that you are likely to encounter any potential restoring benefits quicker. The high moisture content is also perfect for soothing and hydrating dry, inflamed skin. 

As balms include more wax than salves, they do not infiltrate the skin as well but instead, sit on the surface and act as a defensive barrier that seals in moisture and protects.

Salves act in a similar way but due to their more supple texture and lower wax content they can absorb faster, dependenton the ratios of oil to wax that have been used. The salve will also remain on the surface of your skin for longer, which offers maximum product absorption. 

What About Shelf-life?

Whilst not as absorbent as creams, balms and salves have a higher concentration of wax meaning that they have an extended shelf-life and retain their quality for longer. 

When exposed to the environment creams can attract mould, bacteria and other microorganisms which thrive in the presence of water. 

In contrast, lots of natural waxes like beeswax, contain naturally occurring antimicrobial properties which hinder the growth of any such microorganisms. As a result wax-based products generally contain fewer artificial preservatives.

The waxy consistency also forms a physical barrier to protect the product, preventing air and moisture from getting in and stopping contamination.

You should also consider how the product is stored. Even extremely concentrated wax products can lose potency over time and must be stored appropriately to maintain quality and longevity. 

More From Soft Secrets:

Cannabis For Skincare

Do CBD Products Work?

Hemp CBD or Cannabis Derived CBD?


Picking the suitable topical hemp product for yourself boils down to your skin type, your individual needs and the desired effect that you require. Essentially you have to determine whether a water or wax-based solution will deliver the best relief. 

Liz Filmer