I had a lot of trouble narrowing down the difference between balms, butters and salves for the longest time. Specifically balms and salves. It wasn’t until I started actually making them that I truly understood the distinctions between the three. Hopefully I can save you time and brain cells by sharing what I have learned with you. If you don’t care what the differences are and just want to see the recipe then head on down to the bottom of the post. But be warned, you are missing out on some good stuff!
Let’s kick it off by saying butters, balms and salves are anhydrous, meaning waterless. This means they don’t require a preservative system. So, they are the perfect DIYs for anyone. With proper care and no water introduction these formulations can last for years. Butters, balms and salves are great options for adding layers of protection to the skin and locking in moisture. Anhydrous products do not introduce moisture to the skin, since they are waterless, but they will keep moisture in. This is why balms are so great for winter and preventing wind burn and chapped lips. They help prevent water loss from the skin.
Key words in this article and what they mean
✔️BUTTERS– Plant and nut derived butters like shea, cocoa, mango, kokum, babassu. Just to name a few.
✔️OILS- Plant and nut derived carrier oils such as jojoba, sweet almond, or coconut oil. These oils not only provide their own set of nutrients for our skin but they also have the ability to dilute the harshness of direct contact from essential oils as well as provide a beautiful way to extract the nutrients of other plants and herbs through oil infusions.
✔️WAX– Beeswax, carnauba wax (vegan) or candelilla wax(vegan and more popular), soy wax( vegan)
What is a salve?
A salve is an ointment like product with a specific intention. Its intention could be healing wounds, soothing burns, helping to reduce infections or potential for infections, healing scars, sunburn relief, diaper rash treatment or overall skin protection (just to name a few). It is said that salves have the ability to be somewhat absorbed into the skin (which adds to their medicinal benefits). While balms on the other hand really just sit on top of the skin creating a protective barrier, or an occlusive barrier, that can also be softening to the skin.
You will notice balms may come in stick form such as lip balms and body balms. This is because the firmness of the product makes it difficult to scoop out of a tin or would take a lot of time to warm up with the fingers in order to get a good amount on your hands. However, salves can easily be scooped out of a tin and smoothed across your skin for instant relief. I am a huge fan of salves, personally. Just make sure they don’t get too warm or else they tend to melt quicker. But not to worry, put them in a cool place and they will be good as new (as long as you didn’t scorch them).
Salves are pretty cut and dry as to what they consist of. Balms on the other hand, get a little more complicated. Balms can be made of just wax and oils or they can be made of wax, oils and butters. This depends on the consistency you are going for as well as the effect. I recommend buying some base ingredients (see my product suggestions for everything you need) and just playing around with different recipes so you can physically witness the difference.
Generally, when you add softer butters to a balm, the yield will be a softer more spreadable balm, as opposed to just using wax and oil which tends to yield a firmer more wax like balm. Both are great, it just depends on what you are looking for. Also, depending on the type of butter you add, you can alter the benefits of your balm simply by adding a specific type of butter….pretty cool!
Body butters generally consist of oils, butters, essential oils and sometimes a small amount of wax depending on the firmness desired. There are whipped and non-whipped body butters. Personally I make whipped every time, I just love it! When making whipped butters you do not use wax. Check out two of my favorite recipes on this page.
Whatever you choose to make, do it with intention. You are in the driver’s seat and have total control over what type of butter, balm or salve you are going to make. All you have to do is pick a wax, butter, carrier oil and optionally an essential oil that meets the needs you are looking to fulfill. If you intend on making an herbal salve then you will also want to choose the right kind of herb or plant to infuse into your oil. These are pretty simple and fulfilling decisions. Based on the choices you make you could have a simple moisturizing body butter or a power packed herbal infused healing salve! (See bottom of post for infusion options 👇 )
Let’s break it down even further- The 3 main anhydrous (waterless) products and what they consist of.
✨Body Butters- Butters, carrier oils (infused or not infused), essential oils, sometimes wax. Can be whipped or not whipped.
✨Balms– Wax, oils, butters (not always) and essential oils (not always). Uses ratios that yield a firmer texture.
✨Salves- Infused oils, wax, and essential oils (not always). Uses ratios that yield a softer more ointment like texture.
Here are some recommendations. You don’t need all of them! Just giving you somewhere to start.
Recommended starter butters
Recommended Starter oils
Recommended starter herbs for infusions
As with many processes, slow and steady wins the race here. If you want a truly nutrient packed herbal infusion, it will take time. You can certainly utilize the quicker methods of infusing your plant materials in oil over a Bain Marie on low heat for hours. But that generally wastes electricity or non-renewable resources depending on your power source. So, I don’t practice that method. I have always practiced the below method. Not to say the quick method does not work. I have tapped into it twice and while yes, the oil smelled like the herbs I was infusing, it just didn’t seem to produce as effective of a product in the end as the slow infusions do.
Slow infusion: Fill your jar 2/3 with dried plant material of choice. Pour your oil almost to the brim of the jar, leaving a small bit of space maybe 1/4 inch. Take a knife or spoon and go around the edge of the jar to release any built up air bubbles. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes and if the elements swell over the brim of the jar, remove any excess needed. Cap the jar tight, mark it with the date and place in a cool dark area for 6 weeks. The reason I don’t leave a lot of space at the top of the jar is because of oxidation. This is when oxygen has a chemical reaction to compounds in the oil which leads to the oil going rancid. The less room for oxygen, the less room for oxidation.
I am going to start incorporating solar infusions into my practices as I want to become familiar with as many methods as possible. This is when you practice the same setup as above (slow/cold infusion), but rather than putting the oil in a cool dark area, you stick it in a sunny area (as long as it won’t get TOO HOT). Apparently this method only takes 4 weeks as opposed to 6 weeks.Print
Simple Salve Recipe
Simple salve recipe that you can change to meet your needs. If you want a softer consistency then increase the oil ratio and decrease the wax ratio. Vice versa if you are looking for a firmer consistency. See notes for tips and recommendations.
- Prep Time: 5
- Cook Time: 10
- Total Time: 20
- Yield: 8 oz 1x
- Category: Skincare
- Method: DIY
- Heat your wax over medium low heat in a double boiler setup. This can also be done by placing a bowl into a pan filled 1/3rd with water. Just make sure the bowl does not touch the water and that the bowl is heat resistant.
- Once the wax is melted add your carrier oil and stir. Ensure the contents are completely liquified and there is no white or unmelted wax residue
- Turn off the heat
- Stir the contents and add in your essential oils of choice.
- Immediately pour the mixture into your sterilized containers and leave to cool and set.
- Once the product is set and cooled it is ready for use. 😊
⭐️ If using candelilla wax it is generally recommended you use half of what is called for with beeswax. This is because candelilla wax is much harder than beeswax. For this recipe I would say use between .5 oz and .7 oz of candelilla wax as opposed to the 1 oz used for beeswax.
⭐️ Essential oils are a great addition for both medicinal properties and just overall scent and well being. I recently made a salve with only ylang ylang essential oil and I use it before bed because it’s soothing. If you are looking to make a soothing salve based on scents and not so much herbal infusions you can add up to 50 drops of essential oils for this recipe.
Keywords: DIY salve recipe, how to make a salve from scratch, salves made with oil infusions, what is the difference between a salve and a balm
SheLivesNaturally is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Until next time!