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The Five Ointments That Everyone Needs In Their Medicine Cabinet

5 Neat Things5 Neat ThingsJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast “Ask a Clean Person.” Each week, she’ll round up five essential cleaning products, tools and organizational systems to help you live your tidiest lives.

Fun story! Last Friday night I got a text from a friend, shortly after I’d gotten home from happy hour and while I was cooking dinner: “JOLIE! I need a drink.” (I’m the one who gets the text when things go wrong, which is basically how I got into this line of work in the first place.) All is fine, but my friend’s face was all banged up, long story, and he had a wedding to go to the next day. I was like, “When you get home, slap some bacitracin on those cuts and scratches,” except he had no bacitracin, he said. “Aquaphor?” “Nope.” “Cortisone?” “What?” And then I lost it completely because I LOVE ointments and the idea of a home so utterly lacking in ointments was really sad for me.

Anyway! Here are some ointments I love, presented in alphabetical order so none of them get their feelings hurt.

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Aquaphor

You can use Aquaphor much like you’d use Vaseline to soothe dry skin, but it’s much thicker and more potent.  
Graphic: Shep McAllister

Aquaphor is like a souped up Vaseline (another great ointment I have known!) It’s the stuff to use when chapped lips start to become unbearably, painfully chapped, or if your skin has gotten uncomfortably chafed. It’s also excellent for use on very dry hands and feet to restore moisture, though you’ll want to don gloves or socks while it absorbs, since Aquaphor is quite thick.

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Bacitracin

Bacitracin is basically the generic form of Neosporin, but without the additives that some people are allergic to.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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Bacitracin is a topical antibacterial cream used to treat scrapes, cuts and minor burns, and will help to keep them from getting infected as they heal. Because bacitracin is used on wounds that are prone to infection, it’s important to wash your hands well before applying it, so that you don’t end up transferring bacteria from dirty hands into the open cut. Also, here’s a fun fact! If you want straight up bacitracin, buy a tube that just says ‘bacitracin;’ Neosporin is a brand of bacitracin, but it also contains other ingredients that people often have allergies to. Now you know the difference!

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Blue Star

Blue Star is smelly, but it’s perfect for fungal issues like athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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Where bacitracin is an antibacterial ointment, Blue Star is an antifungal ointment. If you suffer from athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, first of all I’m sorry but also Blue Star is a good thing to know about, especially if other topical treatments haven’t quite done the job in relieving you of those afflictions. Blue Star can also be used on dry skin and bug bites buuuuuuut there are gentler options for those things to consider using first — also because Blue Star, unlike many other ointments, does have a distinct smell to it.

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Cortisone Cream

Cortisone cream is the ointment you want to pull out for rashes and skin irritation of all sorts.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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Technically speaking, cortisone cream (or gel!) is for use on rashes and other itchy skin conditions — rashes, poison ivy, bug bites, etc. — but I grew up in a house where cortisone cream was the answer to, like, every medical problem you could think of. If I broke my leg, my mom would be like, “Oh just take a Tylenol and slap some cortisone cream on it, you’ll be fine.” (That does not, obviously, constitute any sort of official medical advice.) As a result, I always have cortisone cream in my medicine cabinet AND ALSO I always have it on me when I travel.

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Rosebud Salve

Rosebud Salve is a versatile, pleasant-smelling lotion that you can use as a lighter-duty Aquaphor on the go.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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While it’s not medicinal in the way many other ointments are, Rosebud Salve still deserves a spot on this list because it is SUCH great stuff. It’s a much looser ointment than Aquaphor, and oh God I’m sorry for that arrangement of words but it’s true and needs to be said, which makes it a good alternative when you need some ointment on the go. Chapped lips, dry cuticles, scraped knuckles, etc. will all benefit from a dab of Rosebud. If the original rose scent isn’t for you, the same stuff is also available in minted rose and strawberry. Can’t decide which one you like best? Buy all three!

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person