Craft shows and farmers markets are often full of people exposed to natural, handmade skincare for the first time. People often ask for “Chapstick” instead of lip balm, not realizing that is a specific brand name, like Kleenex instead of tissue. Since I only sell what I make, myself, I don’t resell other brands of product. I try not to come across as if I correcting them, because they may have an association with their choice of words differently than I do and instead I seek to open up the discussion about my process. After all, talking in person with the maker of a product can be quite informative.
The jury is definitely still out on all the similarities and differences between balm and salve – because they overlap in so many ways. My exposure to both is through the world of retail and herbalism, but I took a quick tour in the internet and saw nothing consistent in the examples. Yet, I’d like to suggest there ARE some commonalities not already mentioned. Of course, these are my observation and not indicative of an attempt to rewrite anyone else’s definition. There might still be items in the world that do not fit this definition but are labeled as such. For the most part, they seem consistent in this regard, though:
In a nutshell, it seems that most people would agree that balms sit on top of the skin while salves absorb into skin. Salves generally seem to be softer than balms, and are applied with the fingertip. Yet, they are firmer than an ointment or lotion, which share similar functions and ingredients albeit different ratios. Any of the above may have herbal infusion or essential oils, while salves specifically seem to utilize more herbs and balms use more aroma, not necessarily essential oils and sometime even flavor – a different kind of extract. Both salves and balms may be functional; however, salves primarily exist to support healing, while balms seem to exist to prevent damage. Balms, being more firm, tend to be formulated in stick form and have a “slip” factor to glide the product from an applicator tube instead of fingertips, versatile for travel and everyday use. Conversely, Salves tend to hang out in first aid kits or medicine cabinets until they are needed and have a variety of consistency. I know mine vary greatly depending upon the season.