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Topical CBD: A Breakthrough in the Industry?
By Anastasia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.

Topical CBD: A Breakthrough in the Industry?

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You don’t need to look far to see how popular CBD has become. CBD is a fascinating compound that has made its way to the forefront of the health and beauty industry. It only takes a quick Google search to find thousands of CBD products ranging from CBD bath salts to CBD chocolate.

You would have most likely heard about the oral consumption of CBD through oil drops and edibles. But what about the new popular way of using CBD topically with creams, balms, and salves? Probably less so.

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In this guide, we break down all you need to know about CBD topicals, including CBD topical benefits, how CBD topicals work, and how to find the right CBD topical product for you.

What is Topical CBD?

There are a variety of different CBD products in the marketplace, varying from oil drops to edibles. With all the choices and wide variety, one of the most popular new options in the CBD marketplace are CBD topical products. When used topically, they provide external relief that is often hard to find in the natural supplement industry.

“Topical” products can refer to any cream, balm, salve, or lotion that is applied directly to a particular area of the body with the intention of treating that specific area.

Topical CBD products not only benefit the skin’s health and appearance, but may also provide localized relief for physical discomfort. In essence, topical CBD combines aesthetic and therapeutic benefits into one product.

Topical CBD, unless it is transdermal topical CBD, never actually enters the bloodstream. Instead, CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid receptors present under the skin. These receptors work to calm inflammation in the skin, or joints and muscles in surrounding areas.

Benefits of Using Topical CBD

When it comes to the topical application of CBD in oils, creams, lotions, balms, and serums, CBD is a recognized active ingredient and has been found to possess some beneficial properties.

CBD has benefits as an antioxidant and is known to fight “free radicals”. These cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA and are responsible for the process of cellular ageing. Free radicals are caused by exposure to toxins that appear in our daily lives, such as pollution, fatty foods, alcohol, and smoking. However, while they are very harmful, they are unavoidable and part of the life cycle. Antioxidants fight against these free radicals and help prevent cellular damage. CBD is an excellent source of antioxidants, and when used as a skincare product, may help prevent skin damage and the signs of ageing.

CBD has anti-inflammatory benefits. When the body is injured, there is usually an inflammatory response. This response may cause swelling, pain, or irritation. If the cause of the inflammation is not resolved, it may begin to damage the body’s tissues and cells. CBD acts to reduce the symptoms and damage caused by inflammation.

Meanwhile, CBD is a skin conditioning agent. One function of CBD is the prevention of sebum secretion. Excess sebum, an oily substance, can cause common skin problems such as acne and dermatitis. In general, acne is a common issue that more than 9% of people face. Although acne is relatively common, it can cause us to feel self-conscious or anxious on a daily basis. It has been suggested that a CBD cream could be applied to prevent human sebocytes from creating the chemical in excess. Topical product ingredients will enhance the appearance of skin, keeping the skin soft, smooth, and healthy-looking.

How do these CBD products work?

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Topically-applied CBD will never make it through the skin and into the bloodstream. The effects are localised to the area of application, and you will not experience all of the cognitive benefits of CBD. This is an excellent option for people who experience issues in localised regions of the body and are looking for pain relief.

When applied to the skin, CBD balms/creams work in a couple of different ways. The first is the physical action that is associated with rubbing it in our skin. The action of rubbing stimulates the nerve endings in your skin, which helps to mask underlying pain signals, so the sense of discomfort is reduced. When this rubbing action is combined with an active ingredient like CBD, which is absorbed through the skin, its benefits are amplified for reducing aches and pains.

CBD also acts with your endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are made by your body that interact with cannabinoid receptors and help maintain a stable equilibrium in your body. If your body is not producing enough natural endocannabinoids, then these cognitive processes may become unbalanced, causing changes in pain, appetite, and mood. CBD is a source of natural endocannabinoids and ingesting them or applying them topically can restore a balanced equilibrium in your body.

CBD acts differently to the other abundant element in cannabis plants, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC acts by imitating the natural cannabinoids in your body and binds with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which are found in large amounts in the immune system. While THC binds to these receptors, CBD interacts with an enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase). FAAH has a function in removing the natural endocannabinoid anandamide from the body. CBD stops this breakdown and helps restore balance on the body’s physiological systems by reducing pain, inflammation, or the number of toxins in a specific area. CBD’s ability to increase the number of endocannabinoids in the body is thought to be the reason for its therapeutic benefits.

The endocannabinoid receptors are abundant throughout our skin, including in skin cells, skin nerve fibres, and hair follicles. The abundance of cannabinoid receptors in the skin allows topical CBD products to have a localised anti-inflammatory, soothing effect. It also helps to stabilise skin mast cells, which release histamine and are involved in allergic skin reactions.

Why choose to use CBD topically instead of orally?

Rather than ingesting CBD orally, which will enter the bloodstream and take a couple of hours before you can experience its effects fully, topical application allows CBD to be absorbed directly into the area it is applied on for a faster and more focused relief.

CBD topicals are perfect for addressing troubled skin areas, such as irritated or dry skin. They’re also ideal for providing natural relief to sore and tired muscles and joints. With CBD oil topical application, you can massage the topical CBD oil right to the areas that need attention, directing the extract’s benefits to that spot.

What topical products are there?

When you are contemplating whether to purchase a CBD lotion, cream, or salve for yourself, you need to keep a few things in mind. First of all, you need to understand why you are using it – are you using it for irritated skin or muscle pain? 

There are different forms of topical products that are made explicitly for helping irritation or relaxation. It would be best if you then determined the strength and dosage that you will need to achieve what you are aiming for. You may only be looking for products that help you relax or for pain relief. Knowing what products are will help you pick the best CBD topical cream, lotion, or balm out there.

One of the leading causes of confusion with CBD topical products is the inability to differentiate between CBD balm, CBD salve, and CBD ointment. There isn’t a whole lot of difference that distinguishes between the three, but can be broadly broken down. An ointment is defined as a semisolid that is applied to the skin or mucous membranes. A salve is a balm or ointment that is infused with medication that acts through the skin. The medication, in this context, would be CBD.

The main difference between a balm and a salve is what composes the products. Studies show that a typical balm will consist of beeswax, butter, an antioxidant, and either vegetable or herbal oil. In comparison, a salve is usually composed of beeswax, herbal oil, and sometimes another vegetable oil. The amounts of each substance vary, leading to a different consistency. Typically, balms are thicker and harder, while a salve is much softer. Regarding CBD salves and balms in particular, for CBD salves, cannabidiol replaces the herbal and fatty acid components of the product. In addition, CBD salves usually last longer than balms and creams, which contain a lotion base.

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Now, which one should you choose? Salves and balms have slightly differing targeted results. A CBD salve is typically used for pain relief in a specific area, providing a focused result. The targeted function means that those who use these products may experience the desired effects in a short period of time. In contrast, a CBD balm is ideal for use upon a more general area of the skin. It is easier to use when you’re not looking to target a specific area for relief. Balms can be conveniently used for a larger area of dry skin.

Overall, the difference between CBD balms and salves is relatively minor. However, it can make a big difference in the product that you ultimately require. With the right strength and formula, you may experience relief more efficiently. CBD creams and lotions are similar to balms, except they contain a combination of oil and water.

Another new option may be transdermal patches. A transdermal patch is a CBD infused stick-on patch that can be placed on the skin. These are designed so that the CBD held within the patch moves away through the skin underneath. This creates a continuous supply of localized CBD to the skin. Like other topicals, they provide a localized relief in the areas you need it the most. However, the major difference between patches and other topicals is that patches deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream.

Most CBD patches are designed for pain relief. They have been shown to be more effective than other CBD delivery methods, mostly as they are able to deliver a more sustained accurate dose and to get straight into the bloodstream. This puts patches in a slightly higher category than even the best CBD topicals, in terms of their overall effectiveness. Transdermal application releases CBD slowly over several hours, as opposed to other methods such as oils and vapes. They tend to act within about 30 minutes and can deliver CBD for up to 12 hours. CBD patches are a perfect option for those who want a discreet way of taking their CBD in public, but are not conscious of CBD in their bloodstream.

How to use topical CBD

If you’re confused about how to apply CBD oil topically, here are a few helpful steps that you could follow. As topicals aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream, they only work in the area where you apply it on the skin. Therefore, it’s important to understand each area you are looking to treat. Here’s some tips when it comes to applying a topical CBD product.

  1. Thoroughly wash the area you want to apply the product with water and soap. It’s essential to remove any oil build-up, excess dirt, or already applied creams from that area
  2. Make sure you dry the area before application. This will guarantee there are no barriers between the product and the skin and will make the best condition for quick absorption
  3. Start with a small amount of oil and rub gradually into the desired area. Allow the oil to penetrate the skin and apply more if the skin seems very dry
  4. Let the oil absorb for a few minutes, and don’t cover it with any bandages or clothes, so it doesn’t rub off
  5. Make sure to check the area for any adverse reactions, such as any itching, irritation, or redness
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You should notice an effect on the area almost immediately, but it may be subtle, so you’re welcome to repeat the process if you feel comfortable. Your effects may last between six and twelve hours, depending on the strength of the product.

The process really is that easy. Topical CBD products are no more difficult to use than any other balm, lotion, or cream. Perhaps there’s no surprise that topical CBD products are gaining popularity, with such a simple process; people are already familiar with how to use them.

A buyer’s guide for topical CBD products

Now that you know how to use topical CBD products, which ones do you choose?

Shopping can be a stressful experience in itself. With the CBD industry growing like many others over the last few years, there are now hundreds of companies offering a wide range of CBD products. It has become so popular that, in fact, CBD is popping up in everything from bath bombs to lip balms and everything in between. With enough products to cover you in CBD from head to toe, it’s enough to confuse even the most experienced CBD consumers.

It is important for first time users to make sure that you get the real deal and not some low-quality product that may cause more problems than it claims to cure.

Whether or not you have been using CBD products for years or are simply looking to dabble for the first time, these few tips will help you become a CBD expert when it comes to shopping for your next CBD fix.

Always find the certificate of analysis

Ask the company for its certificate of analysis. This report tells you that the product has been verified in the lab by an independent third-party and will give a breakdown of how much CBD the product contains as well as its other ingredients. If they can’t provide them, don’t buy the product as it is unlikely to have been tested safely.

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Check the reviews

Make sure to read all the reviews before buying a CBD product online. Reviews can tell you a lot about a company and its products, as well as the type of customers that purchase them. You can use this to assess whether a product is of high-quality and cost-effective. Look for companies that partner with a review verification service to make sure the reviews are from genuine customers. Many of us, including myself, have often been fooled by fake reviews, and this is an easy mistake to make.

Be aware of “miracle drug” claims

CBD products are healthcare products, but not actual medication. CBD product manufacturers aren’t allowed to say that their product will cure a specific problem. If a company is making eccentric claims such that their CBD product can “cure cancer”, stay well away from it. False advertising is a huge problem area for the CBD industry. There have been numerous cases where manufacturers have misled their customers on the ingredients of their products. One study shows a massive 70% of CBD products have some form of inaccurate labelling on their ingredients list, so you really never can be too careful.

Have a chat with your doctor

It is never a bad idea to have a chat with your doctor if you’re thinking about trying a CBD product. It’s especially important if you have any underlying conditions that mean you take other medicines daily.

Getting some professional advice can also help you determine whether any CBD products will or will not interact with some medications that you are already taking. However, this is a bigger issue for orally ingested CBD rather than topical CBD creams, as they are not indigestible, so there is less risk since it is applied through the skin, but it is still never a bad idea to seek information from a professional.

Watch for side effects (not necessarily from CBD)

Topical CBD products aren’t associated with any particular side effects. However, you may experience irritation or an allergic reaction from another ingredient in the product. The rare side effects of CBD reported, such as drowsiness or diarrhoea typically come from products that orally ingest CBD, not topicals.

To be safe, check all of the other ingredients in the product you are purchasing.

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Myths about topical CBD

While the surge in popularity of CBD is impressive, it is still difficult to distinguish the real, proven information from fake news.

There are specific sources that often discourage new users from trying out a product and even spread misconceptions and lies. This misinformation is usually the root cause for people who shy away from trying CBD.

Because of its ties to THC and cannabis, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding some of the benefits of CBD. Trying to educate yourself on the topic can often be a challenging experience, leaving you more confused than ever and reading a lot more conflicting information.

To help simplify some of this information, we can bust some of the most common myths that people believe about CBD.

CBD is the same as THC

For those who struggle to tell the difference, this may clarify. Although CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, their atoms are arranged differently. As we know, an atom is one of the smallest things imaginable. Now you’re probably wondering, with such a microscopic difference, how different can CBD really be to THC?

The simple answer – extremely different. Let’s explain. As THC and CBD have different structures, they attach to different receptors in our body. We tend to have two different types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. THC binds with the receptors that control pain and mood. That’s why THC can give you feelings of ‘euphoria’ and a ‘high’. CBD doesn’t cause that same high. CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to these same receptors. In fact, it can actually interfere with the binding of THC and dampen the psychoactive effects.

CBD is addictive

The simple answer is no!

As previously mentioned, CBD interacts very differently with the body to THC. At the molecular level, CBD is neither addictive nor gives a ‘high’ feeling.

All types of CBD are the same

This is yet another common myth surrounding CBD products, which can often be compared and confused with one another.

When searching for products, you may come across different CBD terminology such as full spectrum or isolate. In simple terms, they define which type of CBD is used in that product. Each CBD type has its own benefits and may be suitable for specific conditions. Understanding the difference between these is essential for a first time CBD user.

Full-spectrum products contain all-natural compounds of the cannabis plant, such as essential oils, cannabidiol, and cannabicyclol. These compounds all mixed together complement each other to form the ‘entourage effect’.

In CBD isolate products, every element is removed to leave CBD in its purest form. There are little to no traces of THC. Finally, there are also broad-spectrum products, which forms a mixture of both. These products contain all cannabinoids in the plant just as full-spectrum products, but they contain no traces of THC.

Full-spectrum CBD is recommended for individuals who have more severe conditions, whereas broad-spectrum and CBD isolate products are the best choice for individuals who are trying CBD for the first time or those who have high sensitivity to THC.

There is no science that proves CBD benefits

The popularity of CBD over recent years has led to a significant boom in research on its benefits. Several preclinical research studies support the therapeutic effects of CBD. There are certain studies that have shown CBD to be effective in treating severe epilepsy and as a potent treatment for anxiety disorders. With dozens of clinical trials in the pipeline, CBD will likely be approved to treat more health issues soon.

But that said, a significant number of people use CBD products for health reasons that might never have supporting evidence. Only time will tell well which CBD health uses will be embraced by the medical system.

Taking more CBD is better

In short, this statement is completely wrong.

Taking higher doses of CBD might not necessarily be more beneficial. It has been shown that pure CBD isolate typically has a peak effective dose, where both extremely low and high doses are ineffective. The method that you choose to take CBD also affects how much of it actually enters your body. There may be cases where products with higher levels of CBD may be less beneficial than broad-spectrum products that contain less CBD but more of other cannabinoids and organic compounds.

There is still no industry-recommended dose for CBD, and with so many types of products out there, there is unlikely to be any standardized guidelines soon. When it comes to CBD, a user should find his/her own precise dose that will work personally for them.

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Key takeaways

Overall, CBD topical products offer a viable alternative to more mainstream CBD oils for pain relief and skin maintenance. Those who seek the greatest therapeutic benefit should opt for a more potent full-spectrum product with organic ingredients to get the most out of their purchase.

Although there is still limited information available about CBD’s effectiveness as a topical, most consumers report that these products are successful in relieving a wide variety of ailments.

CBD topicals will have a significant future in the management of pain and skin conditions like eczema. They offer external management of pain that most other supplement products fail to offer.


Verified by a health professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.

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