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Basic Information

An ointment - which may also be known as a salve, topical cream or similar - is a viscous fluid designed to be applied topically to the skin for medical or cosmetic purposes. Most are formed from a base fat, possibly emulsified with water, to which any actives (such as herbs or drugs) are then added. Base fats will depend on what the source culture has to hand - olive oil has been popular historically, so have animal products such as fats, lanolin (wool grease) and butter. Waxes are also used and synthetic chemistry adds non-biologicals such as petroleum jellies, polyhydric alcohol suspensions (such as polyethylene glycol gels) and the like. Polysaccharides - such as alginate gels extracted from seaweed have also been known to play a role in some times and places.

Primary uses of creams and ointments are to treat conditions of or damage to the skin - at the least they can provide a protective layer to prevent further damage and shield the underlying tissue whilst it heals, hopefully reducing pain and the risk of infection. Appropriate compositions may also replace skin oils lost to excessive washing or chemical attack. Active ingredients added to an ointment may enhance one of these functions or merely be designed for adsorption across the skin. Astringents and anti-infective agents are amongst the more common additions, ranging from mass retail antiseptic creams to prescription only topical antibiotics. Apparently a mixture of honey and salt was often used as a wound dressing in many historical contents - not exactly fat based, but meeting most of the other criteria of an ointment.

Protective ointments also have their place - the most familiar will probably be sun cream, used to protect exposed skin from solar radiation, barrier cream is also common in many workplaces to protect skin from low level chemical damage.

It is also possible to blend perfume into an ointment - this may be purely cosmetic or may have (intended) medical applications.

Magic and alchemy extend the range of effects still further - ointments applied to or around the eyes can shield the user from gaze attacks and/or illusions, whilst those applied to the skin can have all sorts of effects from protection (from physical harm or energy attacks), disguise and concealment or even flight (infamously popular with witches).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • This is a good format for potions designed for roles such as protection and concealment. Just don't rub your skin with the stuff you're meant to use on your armour…
  • Also ideal for low end healing potions.
  • In no- or low-magic settings, these are liable to be a big deal when faced with burns and similar things.
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