Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about the “best CBD oil for…” any number of issues. Sometimes, that’s exactly what they’re looking for—the best CBD oil for sleep or certain skin conditions.
But, in many cases, people are really looking for CBD creams and other topicals. For example, if you’re looking for the best CBD oil for acne, the best CBD oil for rosacea or eczema? You’re really looking for a CBD cream or similar CBD topical.
Most CBD oil is actually formulated to be taken orally. So what is the difference between topicals and CBD oil? That’s exactly what we’ll focus on here.
CBD Topicals vs CBD Oil
Although it is already massive, CBD and skin care are two growing markets that have merged to create a ton of new products. This means that while companies are still developing many new ways to use CBD, the basic CBD oil that is taken orally is still the most common way of administering the cannabinoid.
When you use a CBD tincture, you just place several drops or whatever your serving size is under your tongue. Hold it there for at least a minute, if you can, to hasten the benefits, which you can feel in minutes.
Still, especially for those with skin issues or joint and muscle pain, CBD topicals are often more effective and quicker. Topical CBD formulations typically include additional ingredients to enhance an analgesic, anti-inflammatory effect. So although there are many ways to try CBD, a topical may be your best bet if you need to treat skin issues or relieve aches and pains.
A CBD topical is any CBD-infused lotion, cream, or salve that can be applied directly to the skin. They don’t have enough tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, of course, to get you high.
However, many have other cannabinoids and terpenes and are therefore capable of producing the entourage effect–the effect that happens when all of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes work together to produce benefits.
Science on CBD topicals (and the cannabis plant as a whole) is in its infancy, but we do know some promising things:
We already know that cannabis sativa has anti-inflammatory properties. CBD topicals may help manage inflammation and pain associated with arthritis more effectively by avoiding the GI system, resulting in more constant plasma levels.
Experts from the American Academy of Dermatology have also suggested that topical CBD products might be used to treat eczema, acne, and psoriasis. As a bonus, these products don’t have the typical side effects of oral medications, and they provide additional skincare benefits.
Just like other forms of CBD, however, the effectiveness of topical CBD varies depending on things like dosage or serving size, quality, and source.
Unlike edibles, topicals serve a different and unique purpose. They are used mostly to target surface areas to treat muscle pain, spasms, and tension because topical CBD does not reach the bloodstream. Instead of treating your entire body or system, you’re just spot treating a place where you’re having chronic pain.
Can You Use Oral CBD Oil Topically?
What type of product will work best for you? There are pros and cons for both oral and topical CBD products—so if you apply a tincture or oil to your skin, do you get the same benefits of CBD you’re used to?
A lot of this is related to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a biological system all mammals share. The ECS is mostly composed of enzymes, endocannabinoids, and CB1 and CB2 receptors for the endocannabinoids. The ECS regulates many functions in humans, including memory, appetite, pain sensation, mood, reproduction, and sleep.
The ECS helps achieve and maintain homeostasis in the human body—or in some cases re-establish it. Homeostasis is the balanced, healthy zone within the bounds of which biological systems stay well-regulated. Imagine a human body with ideal blood pressure, blood sugar levels, etc.
What are cannabinoid receptors and why do we have them? Much like a thermostat, cannabinoid receptors collect data on conditions just outside the cell upon whose surface they sit, allowing them to then respond to changing conditions by “kick-starting” the correct cellular response.
For example, when bacteria attacks the body and causes infection, the immune system triggers inflammation to help battle the infection. This also triggers the ECS to release endocannabinoids which assist in signaling other immune cells and help limit the inflammatory response so it isn’t excessive. The receptors in turn help the body fight infection, and return to normal without damaging itself.
The skin also has its own endocannabinoid system, which helps keep the skin healthy and balanced. Just like for the rest of the endocannabinoid system throughout the human body, the goal is stasis. In fact, CBD topicals are useful and can also produce healthy skin because the root cause of most skin problems is usually some kind of an imbalance in the skin.
Either way, depending on the type of issue you’re trying to treat and pain management you’re seeking, it is possible to get the effects of CBD topically or orally—if what you’re taking is made for that kind of use. But you wouldn’t eat hand cream, right? So would you put CBD oil on your skin?
The best method will depend on all of the details.
Taking CBD by mouth. You absorb CBD that you swallow in capsules, gummies, food, or liquid, through the digestive tract. This makes absorption slow and dosing a bit challenging due to several factors, including recent meals, unknown effects of stomach acids, the delayed onset of effect which is one to two hours, and other factors.
You can also take CBD using a tincture, oil, or spray by holding it under your tongue (sublingual) and allowing it to absorb directly into the bloodstream for 60 to 120 seconds. You can feel effects within 15 to 45 minutes, although you will also taste the preparation. Full-spectrum CBD oils in particular have a strong plant taste.
Taking CBD topically. Apply topical products such as balms, creams, lotions, and salves directly to the skin over a painful area. Simple! But do not apply CBD oils that are designed for taking orally to the skin; they have nothing to suspend them on the skin or make them work there, and they are intended to be in the bloodstream.
If you’re not sure if it would be better to use CBD orally or topically, you may need to refocus your question to decide which type best suits your needs. Using CBD topically works best if you have a targeted area where you need CBD the most because it allows the cannabidiol compounds to work with the cannabinoid receptors right where you apply the topical cream.
With CBD topicals, the effects are more concentrated because the cannabinoid compounds never get absorbed into the bloodstream and they aren’t spread thin throughout the entire body. This makes it a great choice for treating minor, local discomfort in muscles and joints, or soothing skin.
What CBD Products Can You Use On Your Skin?
CBD topicals are any CBD products you can use on your skin: lotions, creams, balms, roll-ons, and salves that have CBD in their formulations. CBD lotions, creams, and balms are typically not edible and are intended to be applied directly to specific affected areas of the skin.
CBD topicals generally can be used to provide localized relief by delivering CBD to the outer layer of the skin. They often have particular formulations, such as CBD creams for skin-related issues like eczema, acne, rosacea, and psoriasis, and for injuries and problems like insect bites and stings and burns.
Some of the most common types of CBD topicals that you might find on the market include these, and here are some of their applications:
Creams, lotions, and salves: These are typically used for inflammation and pain relief.
Oils, ointments, and serums: These are typically used to treat skin-related conditions such as burn ointments or ointments for eczema, acne, dry skin, and psoriasis; and in beauty applications, including anti-aging serums, beard creams, anti-aging products, tattoo ointments and other hair and skin products.
There are other miscellaneous CBD topicals, too, like CBD soap and CBD lip balm—all have specific uses.
In a CBD topical, the base, whether it is oil, cream, wax, or something similar, works as a carrier agent. If you recall our other discussions of how cannabinoids work, you remember that THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids bind with fatty acids. This is why carrier oils are so common.
The carrier agent works, usually alongside essential oils and other natural ingredients, to smoothly apply the CBD to skin conditions and other affected areas and help it cling there long enough to work.
What will happen if you use a CBD oil that isn’t a topical on your skin? For one thing, it won’t have the right carrier to hold it on your skin well enough to interact with the ECS locally. To be effective, CBD must interact with the endocannabinoid system in some way, either by entering the bloodstream or the skin’s layers. Simply placing oils on the skin won’t necessarily make that happen.
How to Apply CBD Topicals
Great CBD topicals aren’t exactly cheap, so start low and use as little as you can to achieve the results you need. The right amount of CBD cream will vary, depending on the severity of condition, body weight, CBD potency, and other factors.
Clean the specific area first to give the topical application a chance to work. Test a small area first, too, to make sure you’re not allergic. Remove clothing around the area you are treating, and only use CBD topicals on dry skin. Do not apply CBD cream directly to open wounds, sores, or cuts.
Remember, even the best pain-relieving CBD topicals do not work instantly; they may need some time to take effect. Apply a small amount and wait for it to absorb into the skin before re-applying.
Final Thoughts: Can CBD Oil Be Used Topically?
There are tons of topical CBD products out there waiting to be tried and lots of reasons you might want to experience the health benefits of CBD. But that doesn’t mean you should randomly put every CBD product you find on your skin. For one thing, it won’t work! And it’s expensive.
Instead, check out our guides on the best CBD topicals, CBD creams for pain, and other new CBD products to try. We’ve tried a ton of them, trust us, so you don’t have to.