Butters, Balms, and Salves – What’s the difference?

by Jade Shutes

Butters, Balms, and Salves – What’s the difference?

Both body butters and balms are made utilizing the base ingredients of natural butter/s and herbal and/or vegetable/nut/seed oils. Balms contain beeswax. Salves use herbal oils and beeswax.  Since body balms, butters, and salves do not contain water, they are called anhydrous formulations. The lack of water also means they do not need a preservative however depending on which vegetable oils you use in your formulation, you may want to consider adding in 1% antioxidant such as rosemary CO2 extract, vitamin E or mixed tocopherols.

The difference between butters, balms and salves is not consistent across the industry but for the sake of clarity, we shall attempt to more clearly define each one.

Body Butters = Butters + Vegetable oils/Herbal oils/Specialty Seed oils +/- Antioxidant

Note: sometimes body butters contain a small amount of beeswax or other wax but not so much that it becomes a body balm.

If one adds water and/or hydrosols and/or aloe vera gel into a butter formulation, the end product would technically be called an emulsion (water + oil), also known as a cream or lotion, depending on water content. A cream or lotion are emulsions, meaning a combination of oil and water along with an emulsifier, such as emulsifying wax NF or olivem 1000.

Whipped butters = Butters +/- Vegetable oils/Herbal oils +/- Antioxidant

These are basically body butters that have been whipped with a beater/mixer. Whipped body butters do not contain beeswax.

Body balms = Butters + Vegetable oils/Herbal oils + Beeswax or other wax + Antioxidant

Body balms typically contain beeswax or other wax (e.g. candelilla or carnuaba). An antioxidant may be indicated, particularly if using polyunsaturated fatty oils.

Salves = Herbal oil/s + Beeswax* + Sometimes other vegetable oils, e.g. tamanu oil

(antioxidant, uncommon but if needed feel free to add)

Salves are traditionally combinations of herbal oils and beeswax (or other wax). Other vegetable oils (e.g. tamanu) are sometimes added.

If you put butters into a salve this becomes a body balm or butter, depending on amount of beeswax.

What are your thoughts about these ‘definitions’?

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