What Is the Difference Between Cream and Ointment?

The difference between cream and ointment is that the two substances are formulated differently. Cream contains 50 percent oil and 50 percent water, while ointment contains 80 percent oil and 20 percent water, states ABC News.

Cream is used to create a layer of protection between moistened skin and the surrounding environment. Ointments are used to create a visible layer of protection on the skin to lock in the skin's existing moisture. Ointments should not be used on areas of the body that are prone to sweat, although they are a good choice for people who have eczema.

In some instances, accidentally or intentionally using too much of a sports cream or ointment can lead to a condition called sports cream overdose. The condition is also known as Ben-Gay overdose or menthol and methyl salicylate overdose because sports creams and ointments contain the poisonous ingredients menthol and methyl salicylate. The symptoms of sports cream overdose include problems with the airways and lungs, such as rapid or shallow breathing. Those that are affected can also stop breathing completely. Other symptoms include eye irritation, throat swelling, loss of vision and ringing in the ears. Affected people may also experience kidney failure, problems with their nervous system, stomach or intestines, and skin rashes.