Health & Wellness

CBD Topicals—Your Guide to Balms, Salves, Lotions, and More

By Melena Gurganus

Cannabidiol, more often referred to as CBD, is changing the natural health space with its long list of wellness benefits. Taking the form of topicals, CBD has decreased localized pain and increased relaxation for many users. There is little to no THC in these cannabis extracted products, so you don’t have to worry about getting high from using a CBD topical—it’s literally impossible.

The Ins and Outs of CBD Topicals

Just as the term implies, CBD infused topicals are applied on top of the skin. To get the most out of a CBD topical, gently rub the product into your skin to ensure that it is absorbed. Let’s go over a couple of key variations between each type of topical before we get into the benefits of these products.

There are essentially three different consistencies when it comes to CBD topicals.

  • Lotions and creams—these tend to be very similar in terms of ingredients and texture, although CBD creams often feel slightly thicker than lotions. Products that fall under the cream and lotion category typically also include shea butter, aloe vera, and other nutrients to moisturize and restore the skin barrier. (Note that these ingredients can also be found in some other topicals as well, it just depends what kind you use).
  • Balms and salves—a little goes a long way with these products, and the terms are often used interchangeably so it’s hard to determine if there are any real differences between the two. You can expect both of these topicals to have beeswax and essential oils mixed in with CBD, and no water is used to make them. Salves are generally a little softer than balms, which can be quite thick.
  • Oils—naturally, these have the smoothest feeling and usually incorporate other ingredients like olive or coconut oil, as well as other essential oils, vitamins, and minerals. CBD oils may take longer to set into the skin since they are slick, but they work great when massaged into an area.

It’s convenient and easy to choose a product that works best for the results that you wish to see. For instance, you may select a thick balm or salve for targeted relief in a troublesome area, or if you want an all-over relaxing sensation for your skin, a CBD lotion may be the route to take.

Are topicals different than other CBD products?

Since CBD topicals only affect surface layers of the body, they are unlike any other application method. Other forms of CBD use require you to sublingually apply, ingest, or inhale the cannabis extracted compound, and each of these techniques allow CBD to enter the bloodstream. This means CBD will directly affect the endocannabinoid system, including receptors in the peripheral and central nervous system. However, this is not the case for topicals.

CBD infused balms, lotions, and salves do not enter the bloodstream when applied topically. The first layer of human skin (the epidermis) has low permeability, so the CBD in any topical products will not penetrate far enough past this barrier to reach the blood vessels. This characteristic appeals to many newcomers in the CBD realm, since direct methods of ingestion or inhalation can seem a bit daunting to those that are unsure of the effects that CBD may have on their body.

So how does CBD work if it isn’t actually in your body?

Although CBD doesn’t infiltrate your bloodstream through the use of topicals, they are effective in several other ways. Like the nervous system, your skin also has endocannabinoid receptors which can be activated by applying CBD infused products. This allows your skin to absorb the CBD and its anti-inflammatory properties, which many users say helps to reduce joint and muscle pain. Science supports  these claims. One study published in the European Journal of Pain showed that pain and joint swelling were significantly reduced in rats with arthritis.

Despite the fact that people praise its beneficial healing properties, it’s clear that more studies need to be done before CBD is a proven mode of pain relief in humans with arthritic conditions.

Relax After A Workout with CBD Topicals

Staying fit and frequently engaging in rigorous activity can take a toll on your joints and muscles. “Even though you may be getting stronger, it’s often painful to build muscle due to micro-tears in the muscle fibers that result from physical strain. Your body seeks to repair these tiny tears, which is often what causes aches and pains for a few days after an intense workout,” says Mike Schiemer of Frugal Fitness. CBD topicals pose a potential solution for soreness by reducing the effects of inflammation caused by the muscle repair process, without interrupting the way in which the muscle cells rebuild themselves.

CBD and Your Skin

Much like your muscles and joints, the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD offer great benefits to your skin as well. Some people that suffer from medical conditions like psoriasis or eczema have seen great improvement from using CBD topicals, as they help reduce redness and skin irritation. CBD face creams may also provide relief for acne, as it can reduce swelling and possibly regulate oil production in the sebaceous glands.

But the list of topical products doesn’t stop there—you can even get CBD bath bombs from some retailers. Your skin will absorb CBD just as it would from a lotion or balm, but you get the added benefit of relaxation while soaking in the tub.

[Learn more about other types of CBD products]

CBD Topicals Are Not A Cure-All

Before diving head-first into CBD, it’s important to mention that these products have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration (FDA). Because of this, there is little regulation on the production of CBD topicals, so you’ll need to do your own research on a product before putting it all over your body. CBD itself is considered to be a safe compound whether used inside or outside of your body, but it is not meant to replace other treatments provided by your doctor. As a final measure, consult with your physician and take their opinion into account.

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