The difference between a cream and a salve is that salves always contain beeswax and they are a lot firmer (think lip balm).
A salve is a blend of oil and beeswax in proportion of five to one more or less. Salves are often made with infused oils that extract the medicinal qualities of herbs directly into one of the basic ingredients.
If you add water based ingredients to a salve, it becomes a cream. Creams that include mostly oils and wax are very rich and work well for removing heavy make-up or providing serious winter skin protection. Not all creams contain wax but in the absence of this thickening agent the use of a fat that is solid at room temperature – like cocoa butter, shortening, or coconut oil – is required.
To obtain a light, highly absorbable cream you need to blend oil and water based ingredients into an emulsion and at this point the list of additives grows to include herbal infusions, vegetable glycerin, or aloe vera juice.
You can make luxurious creams or salves in your own kitchen almost exclusively out of cooking ingredients, all you need is a good recipe and a hand blender. The proportions between the oil and water based components are essential, even an extra drop of rose water can quickly turn a smooth as silk lotion into a chunky, waxy and unusable glop. I found great recipes in Stephanie Tourles’ Organic Body Care Recipes and I use them all the time. Keep in mind when making salves that wax is very hard to remove from the utensils, which makes cleaning a drag.
There are very few handmade cream recipes that will allow you create an emulsion just by stirring the ingredients with a spoon. I heard they exist, never managed to successfully replicate one. The blender turns the components into a delicate cream lighter than air that you will not believe you can make just by mixing oil and water.
Once the base cream is ready you can incorporate your favorite essential oils for enjoyment and beneficial effects (reduced irritation, faster healing of cuts and scrapes, improved sleep), and add the tiniest drop of food coloring for a beautiful pastel color to match the fragrance.