A Guide to CBD Topicals

CBD Topical Benefits and How do They Work

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen CBD infused balms, salves and hand creams make their way onto the shelves of pharmacies and beauty stores. There’s no denying that the market for CBD topicals is booming. And still, many people are ignorant of the ways in which applying CBD to the skin could help with their medical conditions. Far from being a simple phase of the CBD trend, CBD topicals are actually some of the most effective remedies for skin diseases and inflammatory conditions like arthritis.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about CBD topicals. From how they work to who can use them; from choosing a good product to using it correctly— find out everything you should know before applying CBD to your skin. 

What is CBD?

To understand how CBD topicals work and why they can be so effective, you need to understand a bit more about what is CBD. CBD is a molecule that belongs to a class called “cannabinoid compounds.” These compounds are found in the cannabis plant and can have strong effects on the mind and body.

What is CBD

The most famous cannabinoid in cannabis is probably THC, the molecule which makes it psychoactive. THC makes us high because it binds to receptors which control things like our mood and perception.

CBD binds to the same receptors as THC but in different ways. As a result, CBD is not psychoactive, but it can still affect our minds and bodies. For example, it is credited with:

  • Preventing seizures
  • Lowering inflammation
  • Lowering anxiety
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Alleviating neuropathic and inflammatory pain
  • Regulating mood

When we take CBD, the receptors it binds to give a boost to something called the endocannabinoid system. This biological system runs through our whole body and controls our mood, appetite, pain and inflammation. What’s interesting is that there are lots of ways for CBD to reach those receptors because they are located everywhere. For example, we can ingest CBD orally, smoke it, vape it, use it in a suppository and even simply apply it on the skin. 

CBD products that contain trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) are now legal on a federal level in the United States. However, they are not FDA-approved, and may still be illegal in certain states. Check your local laws before making a purchase. 

Why CBD topicals?

Using CBD as a topical is a great method with a lot of advantages. To start, it helps CBD to enter our body faster than other methods, such as taking CBD edibles. It also makes CBD more bioavailable: 20 mg of CBD taken through the skin is more effective than 20 mg of CBD taken in capsule form. Finally, it provides the best relief for people with health problems located on the skin or directly under it. Here are some of the pros and cons of using CBD topicals.


  • Healthy: topicals don’t require you to smoke, vape, or ingest products that could contain harmful additives.
  • Easy: you can use a CBD topical as you would a hand cream or massage oil. 
  • Affordable: CBD salves and balms tend to be cheaper than oils for the same number of milligrams. 
  • High bioavailability: when you apply CBD on your skin, more of it reaches your system than with methods like eating CBD edibles and capsules or placing CBD drops under the tongue.
  • Fast relief: by applying CBD on the skin, you can get relief from pain or inflammation in a matter of minutes. 



  • Less bioavailable than smoking or vaping.
  • Availability: it’s much harder to find a high-quality CBD topical than to find a good edible or oil.
  • Quality: many so-called “CBD topicals” contain very little of the active ingredient, so you have to be particularly careful about what you buy. 
a guide to cbd topicals - the cbd magazine

CBD topicals: who are they for?

When you apply CBD onto the skin, it penetrates the first layer of the epidermis and binds to receptors located directly underneath. Its action on these receptors provides relief from pain and inflammation in that area, but also in the rest of the body. So while topical CBD is best suited for certain conditions, technically, anyone can benefit from it.

Type of CBD Topical

Skin conditions

CBD topicals are the first line of treatment for people with eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis or acne who want to give CBD a try. When applied on the skin, CBD calms down rashes and inflammation. In fact, some people even find that CBD helps them deal with their skin condition when nothing else works. 


Topical CBD can also be useful to people with arthritis and other conditions that affect the joints and cartilage. By massaging CBD into painful areas (for example the hands or hips), people who suffer from arthritis can lower inflammation and pain in their joints, which provides effective relief

Sore muscles

CBD topicals are also used by athletes to treat and prevent sore muscles. By calming down inflammation and lowering pain, CBD makes it easier for muscles to recover from exercise. 

And because people with fibromyalgia also feel pain in their muscles, topical CBD can work very well for them. By applying CBD creams or salves onto painful areas, they are able to ease pain locally as well as throughout the whole body.


CBD topicals can be very useful for people who suffer from cramps or muscle spasms. When massaged onto the skin, CBD provides direct relief to the muscles located underneath. 

Nowadays, some CBD topical products are marketed at women who suffer from painful menstrual cramps. By massaging a CBD cream onto their lower belly, they can get relief from pain while relaxing the muscles that are contracting too much. 

Other conditions

While CBD topicals are most useful for people with health problems affecting the skin, bones, joints, tendons or muscles, anyone can use them. In fact, transdermal patches are sometimes used by people who want a high bioavailability alternative to smoking or vaping CBD. This method releases CBD through the skin and provides relief not just where the patch is applied, but throughout the whole body. 

So even if you’re using CBD for conditions as diverse as Crohn’s disease or chronic anxiety, you could benefit from using a CBD topical. 

Types of CBD topicals

There are a few different types of CBD topicals.

Topical CBD cream, lotions, salves and ointments are usually made by mixing together CBD oil with a wax (like beeswax), a fat (like shea butter) or an oil (like hemp oil.) Sometimes, manufacturers add other ingredients that can add fragrance (like essential oils), hydration (like aloe vera) or texture (including natural and synthetic cosmetic ingredients). 

When choosing this type of product, you need to be very careful about two things. First, you need to make sure that it contains a good amount of CBD, enough to be effective. If a product claims to be CBD infused or hemp based but doesn’t tell you how many milligrams of CBD it contains, it’s unlikely to be effective.

Second, have a careful look at the ingredient list. People who suffer from skin conditions like eczema often have very sensitive skin. Take the time to read through all the ingredients, and make sure that none of them might irritate your skin. 

Are creams, lotions, balms or salves more effective? As long as the product contains a good amount of CBD, the texture and ingredients are not very important. When choosing a CBD topical product, choose one that is easy to apply on your skin and appropriate for your condition. For example, a highly concentrated salve may be more useful if you suffer from pain in a very specific area (say, your temples) whereas a fluid lotion will be easier to apply on larger areas (if you feel pain in your whole back, for example).

Transdermal patches

Transdermal CBD patches work a little differently than other topical products. With a patch, the CBD that is contained is pushed directly through your skin into the bloodstream. This makes it useful for dealing with all sorts of conditions, and not just those concerning the skin or muscles. Transdermal patches release CBD to the bloodstream slowly and steadily over the course of 8 to 12 hours. 

Unfortunately, transdermal CBD patches are still hard to come by, and most CBD manufacturers don’t carry them. This is a shame, because transdermal patches are one of the most bioavailable ways of getting CBD into your system. As people develop a better awareness of bioavailability, we can hope to see more of them appearing on the market. 

How to find quality CBD topicals

The first thing you have to be aware of when choosing a CBD topical product is that not all hemp products contain CBD. As cannabis-based medicines and supplements are getting more popular, many manufacturers surf that wave and create products that can be misleading.

For example, you may find creams and salves that are cannabis-based and use green packaging with a cannabis leaf. But unless those products explicitly state that they contain CBD, they won’t help with your medical condition.

We recommend buying topical CBD products from CBD manufacturers, rather than from a cosmetics brand. In the majority of cases, they will be clearer about the amount of CBD contained in their products. Pay close attention to that number: a whole bottle of CBD cream that only contains 50 mg of the molecule is unlikely to be very effective. Ideally, you’ll want a much larger amount. 

And as with other CBD products, we recommend choosing an organic product that comes with a certificate of analysis (COA). 

How long does it take for a CBD topical to enter your system?

The effects of topical CBD are almost immediate. As soon as you start massaging the product into your skin, CBD reaches the endocannabinoid receptors located right under the first layer of skin. 

For conditions like sore muscles or sore joints, you can expect to feel the full effects of CBD just a couple of hours after using the product. With skin conditions, you may need to use a CBD product a couple of times before feeling the full effects. But even after just a few minutes, you may notice a decrease in itchiness and inflammation. 

Do you have to be careful when dosing CBD topicals? 

The great thing about using CBD topicals is that you don’t risk “overdosing.” Because the CBD is released straight to the endocannabinoid skin receptors, it doesn’t pass through the digestive tract. So you don’t have to worry about a large dose being hard to digest, or creating problems in the liver.

Of course, you may want to restrict the amount of a CBD topical you apply on your skin because these products are expensive. But if you use more than the recommended amount, there’s really nothing to worry about. 


CBD topicals are a great and largely underrated way of getting CBD into your system. They can provide fast and effective relief for people with conditions like eczema, psoriasis, arthritis or menstrual cramps. Be careful, though, as not every hemp-based cream or lotion actually qualifies as a CBD topical. So take your time to read labels and ingredient lists carefully. This could make the difference between finding a great treatment for your condition and spending your money in vain.

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