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Creams, Gels, Lotions Online

Cream, gel, ointment - what's the difference?

In medical and cosmetologic practice, various drug forms are used to treat different external pathologies (including skin diseases). These can be creams, gels, sprays, lotions, ointments, powders, etc.

If the doctor doesn't indicate a certain drug form in the prescription, the pharmacist in a drug store can most likely ask you: "Do you need a cream or an ointment?" It seems that the name and price are the same, so is there any difference between the forms? To make the right choice, you should know how popular forms of drugs for external use differ from each other.

Briefly about drug forms

The first thing you need to know is that modern dermatological products are low-dose products. This means that even if you choose the wrong drug formulation, you will not have an overdose or an allergic attack.

To distribute evenly the active component on the affected body area, several types of bases are used. These actually define, on what stage of pathological process the medication works more effectively, what its strength, depth and efficacy period are.


As a rule, a cream base includes two components – water and oils. Due to these, the cream-based medication is rapidly absorbed, doesn't stain clothes and represents a perfect solution for ambulant therapy. However, you should remember, that the active ingredient in this form doesn't get into your skin as deeply, as the ointment does. Therefore, the cream is more suitable for mild forms of dermatological diseases and elimination of cosmetic defects.

For example, in this specific form you can buy Retin-A, Tretinoin and similar medications, which are often used for acne treatment. Most of the modern skin pathologies, including extensive inflammations of the delicate body areas show a good response to treatment with cream-based medications.

By the way, a popular and effective product for treatment of herpes of the 1st and 2nd type (Zovirax) is also available in the form of a cream.


The base of the ointments contains a large amount of fat; this is why many patients prefer a lighter cream texture to a greasy one. The latter drug formulation has a long absorption period, which provides a deeper penetration of the active ingredient and a longer period of the drug action.

The ointment is recommended in the following cases:

  • dry skin rashes
  • subcutaneous induration
  • scars

Covering the treated body area with a bandage increases the effectiveness of the active substance "delivery". Thus, ointments are recommended for use when you have severe dermatological pathologies (for example, in chronic psoriatic plaques).

Disadvantages: because of poor absorption, the remains of the greasy base should usually be removed manually. In addition, the ointments can stain clothes. If the rashes are wet, it is better to choose a lighter texture for the treatment.


Gels have a consistency that provides with the softest sensations and effectiveness. Being water-based, these do not contain any fatty ingredients. This drug formulation allows a more durable and comfortable use in treatment of the below diseases:

  • rosacea;
  • acne;
  • inflammatory elements with a slight oozing;
  • increased sebum secretion;
  • oily seborrhea, etc.

The acid-base composition of the gels is most close to the pH of human skin, so they are less likely than other drug forms to provoke discomfort or irritation. Even if a breathable film remains on the skin surface after drying, it does not cause discomfort.

Important! Regardless of the drug formulation, do not forget to check out the production and expiration dates, as well as recommendations for the drug storage. For example, it is worth keeping medicines in the refrigerator only when the manufacturer recommends it in the package insert.