Have you ever wondered why we have so many different format options in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics? In particular, topical applications such as gels, liquid gels, sprays, creams, lotions, ointments, salves, tinctures, suspensions – What’s the difference, and what are the advantages to each?
We would like to take you deeper into our professional review of two particular formulations – Creams and Gels. One of the great uses of the internet is that it serves as a forum for controversy. The great debate over whether gels or creams are better is alive and well, and is nowhere better exemplified than in pain relief creams and pain relief gels. Using pain relief creams and gels with pharmaceutical agents like lidocaine is quite popular for anything from tattoos, to waxing, microblading to off label treatment of chronic forms of arthritis. But what works best at killing / numbing the pain?
To illustrate this debate, we are going to take our favorite pain reliever – Numbify.com. Thoroughly tested by us & known for its natural ingredients and pain relief, Numbify is in our opinion the strongest pain relief among lidocaine based products. Since it comes in multiple formulations, it makes a perfect case study from which we can compare the same product in a cream and gel form.
To make a cream, it takes a much higher percentage of the gross weight of the product just to turn water in to a cream. This doesn’t even include the oil. Add to that often a bunch of cheap filler ingredients, chemicals, water, texture altering ingredients–usually unnecessary, unhealthy, and cheap. This is what passes for a healthcare product these days.
When you make a gel, it takes a much smaller amount of thickener to produce. A cream is made by connecting water and oil molecules with an emulsifier, making one big molecule. This usually requires at least an equal percentage of thickener as the oil you put in (or water for water in oil emulsions.)
Gels operate much differently, they form a lattice like structure that acts like millions of water balloons, holding droplets of liquid inside. Since most companies use water or cheap fillers in both their Creams and Gels this often provides zero extra strength advantages for either Gels vs Creams.
Gels form with much less ingredients, however most companies still fill them with cheap unhealthy chemicals, and mostly water. Numbify takes advantage of the additional space, by adding a healthy kava kava tincture to their products. Kava is known for its strong natural numbing and pain killing effects worldwide, as well as being a healthier alternative to those cheap chemical fillers. So in our Numbify example Gels provide a significant improvement, but in most other solutions since they are filled with cheap filler or water, they do not.
Since the gel takes so much less space in the product than cream thickeners do, all that extra space in Numbify is filled up with the healthy kava tincture, so when voted on by our testers we were split on what we liked better, with about 65% noticing the difference of the gel better, and 35% still preferring the cream.
The Creams formulation alone takes up between 10-40% of the products gross weight just to make a cream, and then most companies other than Numbify fill the rest with cheap chemical fillers and water.
- Creams are made of oil, water, and an emulsifying agent that connects the two. Classified as either oil in water (meaning there is very little oil in a lot of water) or water in oil, (meaning there is a lot of oil and very little water.)
- Oil in water creams are easier to spread, and usually do not leave the skin greasy and sticky, but rather smooth and dry.
- Water in oil creams are greasier, but better for drier skin with more emollient than their oil in water cousins.
- Creams contain emulsifiers and different preservatives than gels, which if a person has an allergy to one of those ingredients can cause issues.
Gels formulation alone takes up only 4-10% of the gross weight of the product. This leaves more room for other ingredients. Numbify fills this with healthier natural ingredients, that deliver better than cheap chemical fillers most other companies use.
- Gels are transparent to opaque preparations usually containing a carbomer or a cellulose ethers in water or a water-alcohol mixture.
- Gels tend to liquefy on contact with the skin, and absorb better. As they dry they do leave a thin film of active ingredient on the skin, for further absorption.
- Gels can be drying to the skin
- Gels are better at penetrating in areas that are more dense with hair.
Gel vs Cream Background
To give a little history – creams (meaning an emulsion of oil and water), for cosmetic and medicinal use date back in history to ancient times. In Egypt they were used as protectants from the heat and dry climate.
In Greece creams made from oil and finely ground sand were used as protectants from the heat for Olympic athletes. An ancient Roman physician named Galen is credited with making the first cold cream by melting beeswax into rose oil, and mixing in water. Various other creams made from anything from animal fats to wheat husks and milk have been used worldwide throughout history. No-one can deny the pleasant texture and feel of a nice medicinal cream.
Gels on the other hand have a much more recent history. The first modern gel was invented in 1928 by British cosmetic company Chemico Works. This product called Brylcream, was the first modern hair gel on the market. As the science of gels advanced, the uses for them have also advanced. Now used as carriers for everything from lidocaine to antibiotics, and even something as simple as ibuprofen in a gel filled capsule, gels are a major force to be reckoned with in the pharmaceutical industry.
To summarize Gels have better faster penetration than creams and with Numbify Gel pack a stronger punch as they add additional natural pain relieving ingredients than creams.
With the cream product, we observed that it did not absorb as quickly as the gel did. Both seemed to work equally as well, however the gel went to work faster, and the cream lasted about half an hour longer than the gel. As far as skin texture, the cream did deliver a smooth experience, (it is an oil in water emulsion). The gel was rated more popular for tattooing, as it left the skin drier and easier to work with for the tattoo artist.
Concluding the study, while there were more of us leaning towards the Numbify Gel, Cream still could be a great product, and in the end, when choosing what is better – it really boils down to what you are using it for, and what your preference is.