Before apps, there were balms. Got a cut? There’s balm for that. Chapped lips, cracked heels, itchy rash, sore spot, topical infection? Hey, there’s a balm for that. Multipurpose balms aren’t just relics of ye olde ancestors—they’re still staples in drugstore hauls, bathrooms and bags. And for every one you’ve already heard of, there are a million more. (Actually, every country basically has its own version.) Collect them on your travels, or add to cart right now—whatever late-winter skin ailment you’re inevitably dealing with, there’s probably a balm for that, too.
This French pharmacy staple was made for nursing mothers to use on their chapped nipples, but anyone can use it all over. It has soothing calendula and benzoin (the latter is a resin from tree bark) for a homeopathic approach to healing chapped skin, while a mild antiseptic protects vulnerable areas from infection. Models, makeup artists, and French girls alike love it because it dries mostly matte—great for a natural highlight, or under matte lipsticks for a little extra moisture.
This medicinal balm feels cooling on skin, making it perfect for achy muscles and sore spots. You can even try rubbing a little on your temples for instant headache relief. The sensation is thanks to a combination of cassia (cinnamon) and menthol essential oils—because it’s quite strong, be careful not to apply it to open wounds or burns. Thanks mainly to antibacterial and anti-inflammatory camphor, the balm not only feels good instantly but works over time to calm itchy, dry skin.
Is Aquaphor the same thing as Vaseline? Well, not exactly. Think of it as the slightly more dressed-up version: along with a base of petroleum jelly, Aquaphor’s got skin-hydrating glycerin and waxy lanolin to seal moisture in super dry skin. It’s dermatologist-recommended (and you probably own a tube already). But it’s good to note that if you’re vegan, or have a wool allergy, you should stick to classic Vaseline instead.
Vitacilina is more like Mexican Neosporin than Aquaphor: the active ingredient is Neomycin Sulfate, an antibacterial that aids in wound healing. And similar to Neosporin, you shouldn’t use it on acne. But if you happened to have carved out a pimple and made a bloody mess, you can dab on a little Vitacilina and cover it with a bandage to lower your risk of infection. You can also use it on cracked lips and elbows, cuts and scrapes, ankles bludgeoned by breaking in new winter boots. Just don’t use it for over a week at a time, or you’ll build up resistance.
Originally intended as a diaper rash cream, Sudocrem’s a great over the counter remedy for those with eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and even breakouts. Its main ingredient is zinc, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that calms inflamed skin. With a base of lanolin and paraffin it won’t be as mattifying or oil-controlling as other zinc-based products, but for extra compromised winter skin, it forms a protective layer between your face and potential irritants. Plus, one tub lasts forever.
Another diaper cream—are we sensing a theme here? Pick it up in a Scandinavian pharmacy for the packaging, but keep it in your bag because it’s a staple. With zinc, vitamin E, and petroleum jelly, it’s made up of the gentlest skincare ingredients—no preservatives, dyes, or fragrance to see here. Idomin Salva is also free of lanolin, making it a vegan-friendly option.
It’s only recently become a stateside trend, but Papaw ointment has been around for over 100 years. The Australian balm’s main ingredient is fermented papaya (paw paw fruit), which acts as a gentle exfoliating enzyme—compared to the rest of the balms on this list, Papaw is the most “active.” It also has glycerin and petroleum jelly, to hydrate and seal moisture. Papaw is recommended for use on wounds, rashes, mosquito bites, and, of course, as a lip balm. Keep a tub at home and a tube in every bag.
Loved by Natalie Toren
The Indian do-it-all balm blends Ayurvedic principles with homeopathic skin soothers like camphor for instant relief. It has mild antiseptic qualities and works on everything from scraped knees to burns to extra dry skin. As a night cream, expect to wake up with smoother, more hydrated skin—that’s probably due to the base of coconut oil, which acts as a heavy occlusive to keep moisture in. That being said, if you’re sensitive to coconut oil or essential oils, you might want to try a different balm—both are essential to this one’s efficacy.
Loved by Alexa Chung
This refined balm is free of lanolin, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil—instead, the novel formulation uses a super high percentage of glycerin to draw moisture to the skin, and coconut glycerides to keep it sealed. Along with vitamins E, B2, and C, plus camphor for instant relief, Yu-Be soothes skin that can’t handle heavier occlusives but still needs something deeply nourishing. And it’s been put to the test by Japanese mountain climbers—Sumiyo Tsuzuki, the first Japanese woman to climb Everest from the tougher Tibet side, kept a tube of Yu-Be around her neck.
You know Skin Food—you probably own it already. It made its way into your bathroom from German pharmacies, where the low-price cream is suggested for everything from cracked heels, dried-out cuticles, and flaky skin. The formula is ultra-rich (thanks to lanolin, beeswax, and cholesterol) and chock full of essential oils. It’s not the best to use on eczema or skin that’s sensitive to essential oils, but makeup artists keep it in their kits as a natural eye gloss or skin-forward highlighter. You already know we love it.
Photo via ITG