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Hemp cream, salve or balm – what’s the difference?



Topical hemp products have gained popularity in recent years among consumers looking to reap the potential therapeutic effects of the plant. 

There are many benefits to topicals as opposed to oils and tinctures, not least because they may offer targeted relief to specific areas of discomfort. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential of the compounds found in hemp-based products are also thought to help skin issues such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.

As the industry develops we’re seeing more and more different options for hemp-based topicals and skincare, from creams to salves and balms. 

Here we take a look at the key differences to help you decide which is right for you. 

What are creams, salves and balms?

Creams are semi-solid emulsions made by blending water and oil with other ingredients such as stabilisers, emulsifiers, and preservatives. In the case of hemp-based cosmetics, the cream will also be infused with CBD and other cannabinoids and terpenes produced by the cannabis plant. 

The key difference between a cream and a salve or a balm, is that creams are made with water, while the latter two contain little to none. Creams are sometimes preferred over oils, gels or ointments, due to their smooth texture and ease of application. They may also contain a range of other natural active ingredients and carrier oils – such as hemp seed oil – which have their own therapeutic benefits, and enhance the effects.

Salves have been used for medicinal and therapeutic reasons for centuries and are typically made from a combination of natural ingredients, such as plant extracts, oils, and waxes. They tend to be thicker than creams and lotions and are characterised by a smooth, semi-solid texture that can be easily spread onto the skin. 

A balm is similar to a salve in texture and thick, semi-solid consistency but they contain higher concentrations of wax, making a salve softer and easier to apply.


One of the main things to consider when choosing a topical hemp product is absorption or bioavailability – in other words, how quickly the product gets to work and you start to see the effects. 

All CBD-based topicals have a relatively low bioavailability compared to other modes of administration such as oils and edibles, however they do offer a more targeted approach, meaning a little goes a long way. 

Creams, salves and balms all have a range of benefits for the skin, the key difference comes into what happens once they are applied to the skin’s surface.  

As creams contain a large proportion of water, they are absorbed by the skin quicker and the consumer is likely to experience any therapeutic benefits in a shorter space of time. The high moisture content also makes them ideal for hydrating and soothing dry and inflamed skin. 

As a balm contains more wax than a salve, it doesn’t penetrate the skin as effectively, but rather sits on the surface acting as a protective barrier, sealing in moisture and other properties.

Salves act in a similar way but as they have a more pliable texture and lower wax content than a balm meaning they can absorb into the skin faster, depending on the ratios of oil to wax used. Salve also remain on your skin’s surface for a longer period of time, which helps ensure maximum product absorption. 


Balms and salves may not be as absorbent as a cream, but the high concentration of wax means it has an extended shelf-life and the product retains its quality for longer. 

When a cream is exposed to the environment, it attracts bacteria, mould and other microorganisms which require water to thrive. 

Many natural waxes, such as beeswax, also contain natural antimicrobial properties which can help inhibit the growth of these microorganisms and as a result wax-based products typically contain less synthetic preservatives.

The waxy consistency also creates a physical barrier that helps to protect the product from contamination and prevent air and moisture getting in and can act as a stabilising agent against oxidation.

Key takeaways 

Choosing the right topical hemp product for you ultimately comes down to your skin type, your specific needs and desired effects and whether these would suit a water or wax-based solution. 

It’s also important to consider how the product is stored. Even highly-concentrated wax products will lose some of their potency over time and need to be stored properly to maintain their quality and longevity. Hemp Point uses sustainable and recyclable miron (violet) glass packaging to store its range of hemp-based cosmetic products in order to preserve the active ingredients. 

Founder of UK-based cannabis brand, Hemp Point, Tomas Biroscik added: “We share these values and would not put anything in our products that we wouldn’t use on our own skin. In addition to being formulated without PEGs and Parabens, our hemp-based cosmetic products are also free of the eight major allergens, not tested on animals, GMO-free, dermatologically tested, vegan (except for our salve, which contain beeswax), and formulated without synthetic fragrances, artificial colours, sulphates or any other nasties, only using all natural emulsifiers and preservatives certified for use and meeting the ECOCERT standard.”

Hemp Point’s 1000mg Hemp Extract infused cream and salve containing whole-plant hemp extract and award-winning hemp seed oil is available now. 

Look out for a new range of hemp-based cosmetics, including a gel and face serum – coming soon at

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