If you know anything about CBD, you've heard the tales about the infamous endocannabinoid system, the regulatory system that controls almost every crucial process in your body. Of course, you usually hear about CBD’s potential ability to regulate pain, appetite, energy, and more in relation to oral doses, but how do CBD topicals work?
To put it briefly, the same endocannabinoid receptors are present in your skin, and CBD can have many of the same benefits when applied topically. There may even be some increased benefits to using CBD topicals because of the way your skin absorbs CBD. Before we can really explain, though, let's dig into some basics:
CBD is a hemp-derived cannabinoid that interacts with the body’s Endocannabinoid System, a regulatory system that controls the body’s appetite, metabolism, sleep cycles, inflammation and pain signaling (and much, much more). CBD may help to regulate many of these responses, which is why so many sources point to CBD as a potential solution for managing pain, nausea, sleep disorders and various other conditions that may be linked to clinical endocannabinoid deficiency.
Plus, CBD’s side effect profile may be much less risky than that of various prescription medications, which may make it a better option for managing some conditions that require daily maintenance. Most CBD is taken orally in order to provide systemic effects, but topical CBD is becoming more and more popular because it provides some benefits that you don't get from oral doses and may carry less risk.
CBD-rich hemp extract can be added to many different topical formulations alongside carrier oils to create many different forms of CBD topicals. The CBD topical market features a wide array of unique, CBD-infused lotions, skin serums, balms, bath products, and other topicals that you can find to target the areas where you need the most relief.
When used topically, CBD may interact with the endocannabinoid receptors in a localized area, which may help to target specific points of inflammation or pain. We'll dig deeper into how CBD topicals work down below, but it's important to note that this function makes CBD topicals ideal for dealing with location-specific issues, such as a sore muscle or a skin irritation.
Moreover, CBD topicals won’t interfere with most medications, so you can use it in addition to your regular systemic treatments (with your doctor’s approval, of course). This is because CBD (and other cannabinoids) do not reach the bloodstream when applied topically.
Because you can safely use CBD topicals without a systemic impact, it is more accessible to those taking certain medications that interact with CBD or those who need to avoid the trace amounts of THC found in full spectrum CBD products. This also means that you can double up on CBD doses without taking too much by using a systemic dose and a topical dose at the same time.
The question is–how exactly do CBD topicals work once you apply them to your skin? And what benefits can they provide? Let’s dig into this below:
Once applied topically, CBD penetrates the dermal and subdermal skin layers. That means that CBD dives deeper than the skin’s surface level where it can interact with Endocannabinoid receptors that lie deep in the body’s tissues. Depending on the CBD product’s formulation, it may interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors, both of which help to moderate the body’s pain and inflammation response.
A topical product may also interact with TRPV receptors, which control the way the body interprets temperature and related pain, like pain from a burn. Some research suggests that CBD can also impact the body’s PPAR-gamma factor, an insulin resistance receptor that plays a role in energy and metabolism regulation.
The way that CBD topicals work within the skin is complicated and not yet fully understood, but the general mechanism is the same as the way that CBD interacts with these receptors in the brain. Because it can bind with different nerve receptors, CBD can send signals to the brain that may help to soothe the pain response or lower inflammation. When CBD binds with the receptor site, it also blocks other nerve signals from binding, so it may be able to block pain and inflammatory signals.
Now that you understand the basic function of CBD once it enters the skin, let’s talk about some of the potential benefits of CBD topicals:
Research surrounding CBD mostly concerns systemic use, either by oral dosing or intravenous injection. Research regarding the benefits of CBD topicals is much more limited, but we still have some evidence to help us understand what we may expect when using topicals. Some purported benefits include:
Some of these potential benefits are evidence-based. For instance, there is a great deal of interest surrounding topical CBD’s potential benefits for soothing inflammation and pain. One 2016 study investigated the use of topical CBD for arthritis and found that it may have long lasting benefits for reducing inflammation and pain in animal models.
A 2020 study found that CBD may help to reduce pain related to neuropathy, a condition characterized by nerve damage that causes numbness and weakness in the hands and feet. Neuropathy can be difficult to treat, but some evidence has also found CBD to be potentially useful for treating related conditions when taken orally, meaning an ingestible and topical dose could be paired to help manage extreme cases.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), topical CBD could also be useful for managing certain inflammatory skin conditions, like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. One studyeven confirms that CBD could be useful for treating pruritus, or unexplained itching of the skin, another condition that’s poorly understood and difficult to treat.
Of course, CBD is not yet approved as a treatment for any skin conditions or pain conditions by the FDA, but future efforts aim at uncovering the many clinical uses of CBD topicals.
Now that you understand how CBD topicals work, consider this–unique formulas may work differently across different applications. There are two primary uses for CBD topicals–relieving pain and inflammation beneath the surface (in the muscles), and managing ailments on the surface of the skin.
A general purpose CBD topical may work for both, but you may want to look for targeted formulas that are boosted with other cannabinoids and botanicals intended to meet your specific needs.
There are two common options available:
CBD skin cream or balm is typically intended to treat topical ailments, like skin issues, and may include mild botanicals or other plant derivatives designed to moisturize the skin without further irritating a rash, cut, or blemish. They typically avoid any ingredients that may penetrate deeper or irritate sensitive skin.
Our CBD Skin Balm is designed to soothe topical scrapes, cuts, burns, and more. The functional formula combines nourishing rosehip oil and shea nut butter with rejuvenating essential oils to help support optimal skin health and healing.
A CBD muscle cream may be a balm or a lotion, but usually includes potent doses of CBD alongside essential oils or other pain-relieving ingredients.
Our CBD Muscle Rub, for instance, combines a potent CBD extract with hand selected botanicals, including cooling menthol, soothing arnica, and a powerful dose of turmeric oil. The combination is designed to support blood flow, lower inflammation, and offer a synergy that helps to calm pain and discomfort in the joints and muscles.
Although CBD has not yet been approved by the FDA as a topical treatment for any condition, many people are eager to give it a shot for managing inflammation. Luckily, because it’s derived from hemp, it’s much more accessible than other cannabis products. In fact, you can order federally legal hemp products online and have them shipped right to your door from almost anywhere in the country.
There’s one drawback–the hemp industry is still poorly regulated, so you’ll need to take care to choose a high-quality, well-formulated CBD cream. At Vida Optima, we follow the same stringent quality standards for all of our CBD products, whether they are meant to be ingested or applied topically.
Our VidaDerm CBD Skin Care line is carefully formulated with premium CBD extract, hand chosen botanicals, and nourishing plant oils to offer a gentle and effective option for combating skin concerns at the surface and aches and pains deep in the joints. Pair it with a systemic CBD dose from our Vitality Collection for a full-coverage CBD wellness routine.
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