Balms, salves, and ointments are oil-based, occlusive layers that are made to protect the covered area from outside elements or deliver specific “messages” (also known as constituents or “drugs”) locally. Though they may have ingredients that are nourishing, these preparations do not contain water and therefore are not moisturizing (and even more so…not hydrating!) no matter what oils are used.*
What Are These Products For?
Balms are occlusive and do not let any water in or out, protecting the covered area and are a bit harder from more wax in the mix. A salve, though also a barrier, is slightly gooier and more “medicinal” holding a strong dose of the intended treatment directly to an affected area. Ointments include larger amounts of a mineral substance that creates more of a protective paste. Some people consider the terms to be interchangeable and we’re cool with that. Brooklyn Herborium has been known to use extremely descriptive, technical, scientific words like “Goo” and “Rub.”
Like anything that is medicinal or “drug-like,” these are not recommended for continual use, but should be used as needed to bring immediate relief of acute situations. In the meantime, the proper self-care and nourishment needs to be instituted to resolve the underlying problem that led to those symptoms. Like anything that “does it” FOR the body, overuse could create a situation where the body doesn’t do it for itself as well. This is not to say that it is “bad” or that we shouldn’t do it, but that we need to use medicinal-type preparations with respect so that they can continue to be a part of our toolbox in the future. (SOAPBOX ALERT: So next time you pick up that CBD oil…remember that even if it is legal, it IS still a drug. A lovely, useful one that comes from a great plant and gives many people real relief, but an active plant constituent that is not a replacement for getting your basic needs met, creating loving limitations, and holistic self-care)
What about essential oils?
We consider essential oils the “drug” of the plant, which gives the body “messages” about how to respond or actually “does the work” for the body, depending on the dose. In a balm, salve, or ointment, the essential oil presence is usually quite strong for this exact purpose. We only use essential oils in our balms, salves, and ointments with the intention of short-term acute usage.
The Gifts of Mother Nature & The Gift of the Wise Women
At Brooklyn Herborium, we tend to think of herbal education as a two part process: First, is accepting the gift of the plants as nature offers them, and, at the same time, accepting the gift of the Wise Women-the heritage and knowledge passed down through generations of the proper preparations and appropriate usages for individual situations.
What Preparations Do We Produce at Brooklyn Herborium?
Preparations With Herbally-Infused Oils (Macerations) That Also Contain Essential Oils
How Does Brooklyn Herborium Suggest Using These Preparations?
As a Barrier
When applied topically, balms and ointments form a barrier layer, protecting the area from dust, air, fungi, bacteria and viruses. Do not put over damp skin, as this will trap water in and make wounds fester. Instead, clean area with a gentle cleanser (Clean & Green / Biome Rehabilitation Foaming Cleanser), moisturize with your Moisture Duo if necessary, and pat dry with a towel before applying) In addition, wisdom (oh, her again…) reminds us that functional skin is resilient and can defend itself under non-extreme circumstances.
As a Facial Cleanser
Some people use balms as a facial cleanser. While it may feel really good to do this—especially if you have a lot of congestion in the form of make-up in your pores, we don’t really recommend it for regular use—especially if you have current or a history of barrier damage. If you would like to try it, choose a balm that does not contain essential oils and warm a pea-size dollop between your fingers before applying over dry skin. Massage in circular motions with fingertips moistened with warm water to release debris and then remove by holding a steamy washcloth over the area for a few moments before gently wiping away. You may need to repeat the press and wipe with the washcloth more than once. Also-this works best if the cloth has some texture to it. This is only appropriate for nighttime use and certainly NOT every night. It is a good idea to go to bed without moisturizing after oil or balm cleansing so that the skin responds by rebuilding its own moisture levels.
As a Moisturizer or Hydrator
Fooled you. Balms have no water content and are not moisturizers. You may add a water component to create something that holds water, but there are better ways of doing this.
As a Sore-Muscle Rub
Remove a pea-size amount of Arnica balm from the tub with a clean utensil. Spray 6 pumps of a Mineral Mist directly into it and rub together. Use Instant Alchemy if you like to “feel it working.” Massage into sore areas. Do not use over broken skin. You may, however use it without a Mineral Mist on bruises with no open wounds. (Make sure to wash your hands well before touching anything else—especially eyes and other sensitive areas.
Soothe Eczema Patches
Clean area. Mist 5 pumps of Mineral Mist (use on of our herbal ones if you don’t want to feel it) into 3 drops of Cow Fart Juice and rub over the entire affected area. Pat dry. Remove a small amount of Honey Balm or Cow Fart Goo from your container with a clean utensil and rub over the (clean, dry) area. Note: This doesn’t control, suppress, or “treat” the eczema, but it feels good while you are making dietary and lifestyle changes to improve your body’s response to inflammatory agents.
There really is no need to use a zinc rash cream unless there is a rash. In fact, putting an occlusive ointment over damp baby bottoms (and then wrapping in plastic…) is an effective way of creating a rash. Instead, when there are signs of diaper rash, gently wash the baby’s bottom and pat dry with a cloth before applying a thin layer of ointment. Our Baby Moon Zinc Ointment has been tested and proven by cloth diapering professionals to not only be effective, but to wash completely out of cloth diapers. To troubleshoot cloth diapering, we recommend working with DiaperKind.
Colds and Congestion
For adults, scoop a pea-size drop of Happy Vapors Chest Rub out of the container with a clean utensil. Warm between the hands and then massage directly onto the chest. (For under-nose area you can use this…but we prefer Cow Fart Goo). For babies and children, we do not recommend putting it on the chest, but to take a small amount (a lentil? A split pea?) and massage onto the soles of the feet, covering with socks. Of course, seek the advice of your doctor or pediatrician for medical advice.
Fungal (and other biome-related) Situations
Some things to remember about fungus such as ringworm or athlete’s foot: You will want to keep the area clean with soap and water (not antibacterial)—so you could use either our Clean & Green Hand Soap or the Biome Rehabilitation Foaming Cleanser (which is also helpful in other ways for biome management) for washing. Use 1 drop of Cow Fart Juice (stronger than the Goo) for an area about 3 inches square and apply it twice a day over dry skin. For areas prone to sweat or being wiped off, use a small dab of the Cow Fart Goo over it. Also, make sure that you are getting enough good fats in your diet as malicious microbiota like to take over both topically and internally when there is an imbalance! And, it is very hard to get germs out of polyesters and acrylic fabrics, so you may want to avoid microfibers. We prefer unbleached, undyed silk for pillowcases and wearing natural (cotton, linen, wool) fabrics on your body as to not keep spreading fungus and bacteria.
Scrapes, Abrasions, and Wounds
When the skin is first opened, clean the area. If it is a large wound or a puncture, seek medical advice. I like to clean the skin with Clean & Green Hand Soap or Biome Rehabilitation Foaming Cleansing and dry it well before applying a very small amount of Cow Fart Juice—sometimes 1 drop is all you need —to the area. Apply Cow Fart Juice twice daily while the body is working to heal the wound to keep the scab that is forming soft. Once there is a scab, you may switch to Cow Fart Goo to hold the herbal properties directly onto the area, soften the scab, and encourage the skin to heal with more elastic in the collagen, thus reducing instances of scarring. (For older scars, we recommend Seeds of Change)
Final note: If you have a medical problem (such as an infection or wound that won’t heal) see a medical professional. If you need ideas for self-care to help you figure out why this may keep happening to you, make an appointment for a consultation with one of our specialists!
Come Learn at Brooklyn Herborium!
“From Oils to Ointments” is a two part workshop that we offer four times a year at Brooklyn Herborium. In the first week, we prepare the maceration of flowers, leaves, barks and roots into the cold-pressed vegetable, fruit and seed oils. 6 weeks later, we reconvene to decant our maceration and craft that oil into a final product.
*Perhaps you could buy something that is thick and ointment-like that does have a water component, but that would then become an emulsion (which would, incidentally, need a strong preservative) and (due to the fact it can now penetrate the skin because of its water) it no longer meets our criteria for being a balm, salve or ointment.