Salves, Ointments And Balms—Which Goes Where When?
Photo: Getty

I grew up thinking Neosporin was a magical cure for just about everything. Chapped lips? Neosporin. Scraped knee? Neosporin. Horse has a saddle sore? Neosporin. Turns out, mother doesn’t always know best, which I found out last year when I had my first laser tattoo removalsession and the nurse cautioned me against using the stuff on the wound. But why, and what can go on cuts versus chafed skin? Below, Dr. Macrene Alexiades and Dr. Debra Jalimanbreak down the differences between the most popular salves.

Neosporin. “It’s a highly allergic topical preparation because it contains neomycin, an antibiotic that one in 10 individuals react to with a red, swollen, blistering rash. That’s why dermatologists never recommend it for their patients, says Jaliman. However, if you’ve been using it to treat minor, infected wounds without any reactions, you’re fine to continue. But, says Macrene, it’s worth considering making the switch to Aquaphor: “A study showed that using bacitracin or neomycin [both present in Neosporin] as compared to Aquaphor caused resistant bacteria in wounds.”

Aquaphor. Both derms agree: This is your best bet for wound care treatment. According to Jaliman, who’s been using it on patients for 30 years and has yet to see a reaction, it’s non-irritating, fragrance-free, soothing, anti-inflammatory (thanks to chamomile-derived bisabolol) and moisturizing (high glycerin content). It’s important to note that because it has mineral oil, which is considered comedogenic, you should use it very sparingly on your face to avoid clogged pores and breakouts.

Vaseline. Aquaphor is petrolatum (plus other ingredients) with water; Vaseline is 100% petrolatum without water. The opposite of a humectant, it’s an occlusive agent that creates a barrier between skin and the environment, working to seal moisture in and inhibit germs from entering cuts. It doesn’t get absorbed (that’s why it feels so greasy and soft), so it has no medical effect on wound healing. We recommend using the Rosy Lips jelly on dry lips for a hint of pink tint.

Lanolin. Let’s get the off-putting part out of the way: Lanolin is an oily, waxy substance secreted from the sebaceous glands of sheep; its waterproofing nature protects the animals’ wool and skin from harsh environmental effects—and it does the same for us. (It’s one of a few ingredients in the cult favorite Rose Salve, but many salves are 100% lanolin.) “You can use it anywhere unless you’re allergic to wool,” says Jaliman. That means cuticles, chapped lips, rough elbows and nipples—”it’s great for women who are nursing,” says Macrene. We love Lano Lanolips 101 Ointment Multipurpose Superbalm, $19,

Bag Balm and other udder ointments. The original formula of the classic green tin listed mercury as an ingredient, but don’t worry—it’s long gone. Now, it contains the antiseptic 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate for antiseptic purposes in a petroleum jelly and lanolin base, and is best for soothing and aiding in the healing process of chapped skin and minor sores, but the jury’s still out on whether it’s safe for women to use post-breastfeeding.

Salves, Ointments And Balms—Which Goes Where When?

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US