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What is a Balm?!

Badger Baby Balm tins being filled on the line

When you hear the word balm, what images come to mind? For me it recalls memories of my mother’s mystery jars in the fridge. And the tin under the sink that was used for everything from shoe polish to hinge-greaser. Needless to say, balm has now taken on a very different meaning in my mind. And not because I work at Badger! In fact, I work at Badger because I developed such a deep love for the old-timey balm.

Collectively, we are a nation of lotion-lovers. I was certainly no exception growing up. I loved my big ol’ bottles of creams and ointments dedicated to smoothing, softening, and scenting my skin. Jump ahead to my time as a bakery owner, and lotions didn’t cut it anymore. Between the constant hand washing and handling of dough, exposure to the elements, and all-around work, I couldn’t apply enough lotion to heal and prevent cracks in my skin. I had to find a better solution.

So my friends, I am here to extoll the virtues of using a balm. Read on to compare function, benefits, and some helpful tips when making the switch.

What is a Balm - Badger Blog

Function – lotion vs balm

When you break it down to basics, the function of a lotion is to deliver oil. Our bodies produce oil, because this is what moisturizes and protects the skin. A lotion uses water to deliver the oil. This serves two purposes: water immediately hydrates and plumps the skin and it also helps the oil to absorb. However the plumping effect is short-lived, as water continuously evaporates from the skin.

Because lotions contain a mixture of oil and water, they require lots of other stuff to hold them together and keep them fresh. Things like emulsifiers, which bind water and oil together, and preservatives, which inhibit bacteria growth in environments that contain water. Without all this stuff, you’d have what looks like a salad dressing (or a lava lamp), which you’d need to refrigerate to keep fresh.

A balm is a concentrated, waterless moisturizer that delivers the oil directly to the skin. So if you were to take your 4 oz bottle of lotion and remove all of the water, emulsifiers, and preservatives, you’d be left with, more or less, a 2 oz balm. And because there is no water, there is no need for emulsifiers. Oils blend together and beeswax thickens it up. This process is so simple that anyone can do it at home! In fact, that’s how Badger started.

The absence of water also means that balms do not require much preservative, because bacteria cannot grow without water. In the case of Badger’s balms, they are preserved with either essential oils and/or vitamin E from sunflower. They last a long time because the biggest threat to their freshness is rancidity.

When talking functionality, I’d say the point goes to the balm. It delivers oil to the skin, and skips the “middle man” (water) and his cohorts (emulsifiers and preservatives).

What is a Balm - Badger Blog


In my opinion, the benefits of a balm far outweigh those of a lotion. Let’s put aside fancy marketing claims and look at real-world benefits to using a balm.

1. Intensive moisturizing
Because a balm is all of the good stuff and none of the filler, it is especially potent. You can use it sparingly for regular skin maintenance. Or you can apply liberally and leave on overnight as an intensive treatment. Combine a liberal application with some sort of containment (i.e., thick socks, cotton cloves, etc.), and you’ve got yourself a spa-like treatment.

2. Super-concentrated
As I mentioned earlier, a 2 oz balm is more or less the equivalent of a 4 oz bottle of lotion. As such, a balm is much more concentrated – meaning you can apply much less to get the benefits. Perhaps you’d look at a 2 oz tin and think “that’s not going to last very long!” I think you’d be pleasantly surprised as to how long the hockey puck-sized container will actually last you. Just looking around my bathroom, I see tins that pre-date my time here at Badger. (Some look like they pre-date the industrial revolution!)

That being said: a little balm goes a long way, so start by applying sparingly. (See below for helpful application tips.)

3. Pure
Creating a balm is simply oil and wax, which means that we can certify them USDA organic. USDA is a food-grade standard which means that our balms are actually pure enough to eat. (We do not recommend this though!)

beeswax illustration

4. Humectant and Occlusive

A balm not only provides moisture, it helps the skin to retain moisture. Oils nourish and soften the skin, while beeswax – which serves to thicken the balm – also helps to create a barrier on the skin, locking in moisture. In addition, the beeswax provides a barrier from the air, keeping moisture from evaporating from the skin, while shielding it from the elements.

When I was a baker, it was these characteristics that saved my skin. Whereas a lotion would wash off immediately, a balm provided a longer period of moisture and protection, which helped the skin to heal. And because Badger uses food-grade ingredients, I felt good about using it in a kitchen setting.

5. Portable
Little tins of balm are perhaps my best travel buddies. For starters they are TSA compliant because they’re not liquid. And, they can rattle around the bottom of my purse without the fear of spillage.

open tin of balm

Balm application basics:

  1. Less is more. Start with less and add more as you like. But don’t worry! If you apply too much just blot with a tissue or paper towel.
  2. Use clean hands to dip into those tins. While the chance of bacterial growth is little-to-none, best practice is to wash hands before application. Also, any residual moisture on the surface of the skin will help the balm to sink into the skin faster.
  3. Keep your balm covered when not in use, and keep it out of extreme temperatures. Repeated melting and cooling can change the consistency of a balm.

Helpful tips for Use

I like to think that there are two types of people in the world: those who rub, and those who dig. (Also Stones fans and Beatles fans, but that’s an entirely different post!) When approaching a balm, try each of these methods to see which is right for you.

Rub: If you are new to using a balm, this method is for you! Simply pop the top off of the tin and gently rub your fingers over the surface. The heat from your hands will melt and transfer a little balm onto your fingertips, and from there you can apply a little bit at a time, anywhere that needs soothing.

Dig: This method works best for applying balm to larger areas, or for intensive treatments. (This is also the preferred method here at Badger HQ.) Just use a thumbnail or cosmetic paddle to dig out a chunk of balm, warm it up between your palms to liquefy, and then apply it anywhere you need it. This method sometimes lends itself to over-application, so here’s what we Badgers do. If we apply a little too much to our hands, we’ll work it up to our elbows. If there’s still some left over, we’ll invite our neighbor over for an impromptu hand massage.

Check out all of Badger's Balms in Tins

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