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What are Pharmaceutical Ointments?

The pharmaceutical formulations are developed in such a way that they can deliver the active ingredients or medications to the targeted site and provide therapeutic effects. One such application method is an ointment. It is a formulation containing therapeutic substances that can be applied topically or over the skin. In this section, we will learn about the development process and application of ointment in different aspects. Keep on reading to find the definition and description of the process of formulating ointments in the pharmaceutical industry.

What is Ointment?

An oil-based topical formulation with a semi-solid texture and a greasy appearance that can be applied to the skin is called an ointment. As per the ointment meaning, the therapeutic substances are dispersed in the medium. The medium generally has 80% oil and 20% water. As you can easily understand that the water medium is mixed evenly with the oil medium to prepare a thick suspension.

This formulation is prepared in such a way that it can deliver a thick and viscous application. The viscosity of an ointment preparation ensures that the medicines in it will be properly absorbed through the skin. In fact, ointments are also used to cure infections. The availability of the therapeutic substances in the application of ointment is much higher and suitable for skin diseases.

As per the technical ointment definition, every preparation has a specific number that signifies the amount or percentage of water content in the formulation. This is called the water number. The degree of emollition is also determined by the level of viscosity of the formulation. The more water it contains the better it will spread and get absorbed. Despite the fact, it is made viscous for special application purposes. If you notice the formulation of creams, you will find a higher percentage of water content than ointments.

Where Ointments are Applied?

You will find a plethora of application of ointment in different parts of our body. As mentioned earlier, the ointment meaning refers to the topical application of this formulation. An ointment is prepared for applying on the skin and mucosal region of our body such as anywhere on the skin, chest, nose, anus, mucous membrane of the eyes, etc. You will be astonished to know that an ointment can be categorized as prescribed or over-the-counter drugs. Due to the viscosity rate, the application remains on the skin and does not get easily removed. This method of preparation confirms the availability of the medications in the affected area for a longer period.

The medications disperse in the oil or water base. When applied topically, the ointment base carries the pharmaceutical substances on the skin cells. When absorbed, the ointment base loses its integrity and releases the medications properly. This is how an ointment acts on the topical portion of our body. This type of medicine works excellently but the greasy formulations are sometimes hated by the patients.

How Ointments are Prepared?

If you observe the ointment definition carefully, you will understand that a formulation must have a base to disperse the therapeutic substances and to apply them on the topical portion of a human body. The preparation is not that simple as a complex base is prepared by mixing oil and water together.

To understand how an ointment is prepared, you need to define the meaning of an ointment base. It is considered as the pharmaceutical vehicle that contains the medicinal substances dispersed uniformly throughout the formulation. Let us check the different kinds of vehicles used to define ointment formulation and its stability.

  • Absorption Base

A base or vehicle with a specific oleaginous composition that contains one or more emulsifiers is called an absorption base when it can easily absorb water. The water absorbed disperses evenly to form a water-in-oil emulsion ideal for the preparation of different kinds of ointments. Wool fat and beeswax are used for such purposes.  

  • Emulsifying Bases

Emulsions are prepared by introducing water in oil or oil in water. In this aspect, an emulsifying base is prepared by introducing water into the oil system to disperse therapeutic substances. This base acts as a carrier for ointment preparation. The most common bases in this category are emulsifying wax and cetrimide.

  • Hydrocarbon Bases

In the same way, when hydrocarbons are used as oil bases where water will be introduced, they are called hydrocarbon bases. The most common examples where hydrocarbons are used are ceresin, hard paraffin, soft paraffin, and microcrystalline wax.

  • Vegetable Oil Bases

In this case, natural vegetable oils are used as the oil base. The water medium is introduced in these oil bases and an ointment base is prepared. These bases are used generally in cosmetics. The most common vegetable oils used for this purpose are almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, etc.

This is how we can answer what is ointment in the pharmacy and cosmetics industry.


Check the definition of ointments and learn what is ointment used for. Study this section and discover how these formulations are prepared. This is the perfect example of emulsions used in the pharmaceutical industry for preparing medicines.

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FAQs on Ointment

1. What are Pharmaceutical Ointments?

Pharmaceutical ointments are therapeutic preparations that deliver medications to the affected areas on different topical regions of our body. The emulsifying bases are used as vehicles to deliver medicines. A water-in-oil base is prepared to make the application of therapeutic preparations easier and better.

2. What is an Ointment Base?

An ointment base is used to define ointment or the content of a formulation. The base is prepared to disperse the medicinal substances in it evenly and to deliver them appropriately to the exact location topically.

3. How can an Ointment be Evaluated?

The evaluation of an ointment can be done by calculating its drug content, medication penetration level, the release of medications from the ointment base, consistency, irritant effect, and absorption level of the medications. This is how you can also answer what is ointment exactly. The formulations are pharmaceutically evaluated before releasing into the market.