CBD Topicals: Getting Under Your Skin

Of the many categories of CBD products on the market, there’s probably no greater variety than CBD topicals. This fact might make a new customer unsure about whether to try a topical. Let’s answer some common questions about topicals.

1. What are topicals?

The Clear CBD Lip Balm
The Clear CBD 100mg Lip Balm

Customers try CBD-infused topicals in the hope of relieving several skin issues. These include: musculoskeletal aches, inflammation, menstrual pain, osteoporosis, arthritic joints and skin irritations like acne, eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis. The topical targets only the area where it’s placed, bypassing the body’s digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems. Types of topicals include:

  • Lotions and bath soaks/bombs: These are the lightest of the CBD topicals, since they contain some water along with moisturizing oil. They also don’t deliver as much CBD to the skin and may not last as long as thicker topicals.
  • Salves and balms: These have ingredients like pure beeswax and a fatty oil (usually coconut oil), as well as natural scents. The fatty oil helps soak the CBD into the top epidermal layers and the sebaceous glands beneath.
  • Creams: These have a silky consistency—somewhat thicker than a lotion but not as thick as a salve. They might contain shea butter, aloe vera or coconut oil, plus essential oils for fragrance.
  • Oils, gels and ointments: These topicals feel smooth, slick or slippery, since they contain multiple types of oils like camphor, beeswax, menthol or eucalyptus.
  • Lip balms: These naturally moisturize and protect chapped lips from sun, wind or cold weather. Think of a lip balm as a “CBD chapstick.” It contains beeswax and is usually infused with coconut and peppermint oils for a soft application.
  • Transdermal patches: These are unique topicals in that the CBD, terpenes and essential oils in the patch can steadily enter the bloodstream through the skin’s capillaries to extend the potential relief.

2. How do I know what kind I bought?

As with any CBD product, check the label for the ingredients, and ensure that the source is U.S.-grown hemp. Determine if the product is an isolate (which contains only CBD), a full-spectrum, or broad-spectrum product. The latter two containing other cannabinoids from the plant, plus terpenes and flavonoids, to deliver an “entourage effect.” In addition, make sure that the product has been tested by a third-party lab and has a Certificate of Analysis you can read. These are usually online through a package’s QR code, or at the shop itself. This lists the tested amount of CBD in the product.

3. How could topicals affect the body?

cbd topical salve 500mg The Clear™
The Clear CBD 500mg Salve

As part of the endocannabinoid system, the human body contains receptors throughout the skin’s nerve endings, transmitting signals to the brain and triggering the onset of pain. When CBD interacts with these receptors, it can inhibit or reduce the intensity of the signals. The receptors will absorb the topical and provide possible relief. But since everybody is unique, CBD affects people differently. A particular product might help ease pain for you, but it may not work for someone else.

4. Can topicals truly relieve pain?

As with any product containing CBD, topicals aren’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. CBD has not been approved by the FDA, and manufacturers and sellers of CBD can’t make claims about its medical effectiveness. While there’s some information about CBD helping relieve arthritis and muscle aches, most of it is anecdotal. Some clinical studies have been published, but these were conducted primarily to determine the effects of cannabinoids (especially THC) in lab animals such as rats. More research is needed before anything can be proven scientifically about the benefits of CBD topicals.

5. How do I use a topical?

CBD Lotion on Skin
Applying CBD Lotion

After washing and drying the area, massage the topical into the skin. Test a small area first to ensure that no redness appears, especially if you have sensitive skin. For ideal absorption, rub the topical on thin skin, such as on a wrist or ankle, or directly onto the area where you’re experiencing pain. Wrap the skin in a gauze pad or bandage to keep the topical from rubbing off.

The amount of topical to apply depends on where, why and how often you use it, as well as the amount of CBD in the topical. It’s best to follow the directions on the product as a guide. Start with a small amount and slowly increase over time until you reach a desired effect. A topical may take 20 or more minutes to begin working, and it can last from one to three hours or even longer. A transdermal patch might be effective over a couple of days. Just remember that the duration of beneficial effects, if any, can differ from one person to another. However, you’ll need to keep with the regimen for a few weeks before you decide that CBD just isn’t right for you.

Before you begin taking a CBD topical, consult with a doctor or a dermatologist to determine if it will help you, what the starting amount should be and what interactions it might have with other medications you’re currently taking (such as blood thinners or anti-seizure drugs). Never use CBD instead of or in addition to any current treatment without first getting approval your doctor.

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