What is an Ointment?

Most people have used an ointment for one reason or another. Due to their basic combination of ingredients – an oil, a wax, and added essential oils – they are surprisingly easy to produce.

So what is an ointment?

An ointment is a homogeneous, viscous, semi-solid preparation – typically a thick, greasy oil with a high viscosity – that is intended for external application to the skin. Ointments tend to be used for muscle pain, rubs, or in products such as nappy rash creams.

Consistency of Product.

The consistency of ointments can be altered unintentionally by climate, or intentionally by adding additional oils such as emu oil. The combination of essential oils, and thus the viscosity of the ointment, will vary depending on its intended use. For example, a nappy rash cream applied on an infant would need to be less viscous than a liniment used by a sportsman.

Common Properties.

Most ointments are moisturizing for the skin, and, due to their having few ingredients beyond the base oil, have a low risk of sensitization and irritation. Though an ingredient base of oils and beeswax is preferable, there are a number of alternative options.

1/ Hydrocarbon bases; e.g. a hard or soft paraffin, which is a petroleum product.

2/ Absorption bases; e.g. wool fat or beeswax. I prefer beeswax because it is a cleaner, more natural product. Beeswax itself can be bought as natural, unrefined, or bleached wax. I prefer it straight from the beekeeper. Melt the wax and allow the solid particles to settle.

3/ Synthetic water-soluble bases

4/ Emulsifying bases; beeswax is also the most widely-used emulsifier, but carnauba wax, cocoa butter, shea butter, and emu oil have also been used. Carnauba wax is used to provide a lovely glossy surface to your finished ointment and, as it is a plant wax, is also suitable for vegans.

5/ Vegetable oils; e.g. olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, etc.


The essential oils you select will depend on the benefits you wish to achieve. For example, calendula oil and lavender will create soothing and moisturising ointments suitable for an infant. Clove, cajeput and menthol essential oils are popular in sports liniments. For an elderly person who wants pain relief, but has dry sensitive skin, lavender, peppermint and marjoram are ideal. You may also like to add 5% wheatgerm oil for its vitamin E content, or carrot-seed oil for vitamins A, C, B1 and B2. Whatever you select, make it appropriate for its purpose.

Preserving Your Ointment.

I have never had problems with ointments, and this is basically the result of:

1/ Both the jars and my equipment are kept very clean.

2/ There is no water content in the ointments. Water will tend to make the creams become unusable.

3/ You can add grapefruit seed extract as a preservative, and rosemary extract as an antioxidant.

Benefits To Using An Ointment.

All these products are excellent at holding moisture in the skin, and, being oil-based, will not wash off as easily. This is essential if you plan to use it the ointment for massage, manipulation or as protective layer, such as a nappy rash. Natural ointments are easy to make for home use, are easy to customise, and easy to use.

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