The Beginner's Guide to Topical CBD

The Beginner's Guide to Topical CBD

Sabina King on Jun 18th 2019

Today, prevention is a bigger part of wellness than ever before. Healthcare professionals the world over are urging people to move towards better dietary practices, regular supplementation and a healthy amount of physical activity as a way to fight illness before it starts. Even though experts don’t agree on everything, those in both traditional medicine and holistic wellness are concluding that many of the most rampant and degenerative health conditions can be linked to one common factor: inflammation. Everything from arthritis, diabetes, chronic pain, and cognitive issues could be aggravated or even started by inflammation. But what exactly is that, and how could topical CBD be related to it? Let's dive in. 

Inflammation & Illness

For a very long time, inflammation has been considered a necessary, and even valuable bodily reaction to trauma and illness. The simplest example of the body’s inflammatory response would be swelling when you twist your ankle. Visible signs of inflammation include pain, redness, stiffness, and heat. While unpleasant, this response helps your ankle to heal. However, you can have too much of a good thing: prolonging inflammation causes more damage than benefit. High levels of prolonged inflammation in tissues increase the production of free radicals in the body, a process known as ‘oxidative stress’. Prolonged oxidative stress, in turn, can damage proteins, fats, and DNA. A number of conditions such as arthritis, skin flare-ups or general aches and pains have been linked to inflammation.

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It’s because inflammation highly correlates with so many common and serious health conditions that physicians are now building on the ‘inflammation theory of disease’ and focusing on risk reduction by combating inflammation.

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CBD and Inflammation

Research has recently put the endocannabinoid system (ECS) on the map as a major player in inflammatory responses. [1] This system is essentially responsible for bringing balance to all the major organ systems of the body. For instance, a well-functioning ECS can act upon the digestive system to support the production of stomach acids, but curb overproduction to prevent heartburn.

Since endocannabinoid receptors are present almost all over the body, it could support a balance in inflammatory responses of almost every sort: from IBS to skin conditions. What this translates to, is letting inflammation play out so that the concerned part can heal, but stopping it from going too far and causing harm to the body. In fact, an imbalanced ECS may even cause problems that seem chronic.  Yet, the real problem lies in the ECS because the body doesn’t produce enough of its own endocannabinoids.

CBD has a similar structure to those endocannabinoids naturally produced in the body. It’s no wonder then that cannabinoids are gaining so much popularity, even in the world of science. Researchers believe that endocannabinoids are a bridge between the body and mind that can provide holistic, mind-body wellness.

What is CBD?

With the rise of the medical cannabis movement, more and more research was being conducted into all the components of the cannabis plant, including CBD.

While all strains of cannabis contain CBD, it is usually derived from the hemp plant and not the marijuana plant, since hemp is high in CBD and low in THC (less than 0.3%). These naturally occurring cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant closely resemble endocannabinoids produced by the human body. Research is ongoing to find out whether taking these compounds can help support healthy inflammatory responses by supporting the endocannabinoid system. [2] [3]

In a research paper published by scientists at the University of Mississippi, the authors stated, “CBD would seem to be a promising starting point for further drug development given its anti-oxidant (although relatively modest) and anti-inflammatory actions on immune cells…”


Can CBD be used topically?

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CBD can be used in any number of ways: CBD Oil or capsules can be taken orally, CBD Vape can be vaped for quick relief, and CBD topicals can be used for targeted, localized relief.

However, this does not mean that CBD Oil can be applied to the skin for therapeutic purposes. Topical CBD is formulated – in ways that we will elaborate on – to ensure absorption and efficacy for the skin. Similarly, CBD Oil in a tincture is formulated keeping oral ingestion in mind.

Nevertheless, a CBD salve, cream, or balm can most definitely be used as a topical CBD treatment. Several users report that it has the ability to provide pain relief without the side effects of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).[5] Experts say that it could also be investigated for use in skin conditions.[6]

Many CBD users that seek pain relief tend to use CBD both internally and externally to maximize its effects. CBD Oils when ingested, can reach endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, digestive system, muscles and more, and provide support where inflammation is high. CBD when applied topically interacts with receptors in the skin, reducing inflammation (and possibly pain) right at the source. A great way to go about incorporating CBD into your pain relief arsenal is taking CBD Oil for daily support, and using a CBD cream or balm when urgently required.

In all its forms from CBD oil to cream, CBD is a welcome change for some people previously using medical cannabis (which usually contains THC) to treat their inflammatory conditions. THC when ingested and if applied transdermally is detectable in drug tests, which is problematic for people in professions with regular checks. On the other hand, you can enjoy the effects of CBD without those legal concerns. 

How do you apply CBD topically?

When applying CBD topically for soreness or pain, there are a few best practices you can follow:

1. Clean the area of concern: any residue or natural oils may reduce the amount of CBD that is absorbed.

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2. Take a generous amount of your cream or balm and massage it into the area.

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3. You don't need to apply CBD balms all over the body to be effective – just at the source of pain.

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4. Use daily to feel the best results.

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If you’re dealing with a skin condition by using CBD balm, it might take longer for you to see change, but consistency is key. It might be days or even a week or two of regular application.

On the other hand, you might find CBD applied topically for pain relief takes effect much sooner. This makes it popular for post-workout recovery, sore joints, and stiff muscles. It’s also why athletes are ditching ibuprofen for CBD for muscle recovery.

CBD for Skincare

In recent times, cannabis has been flooding beauty aisles because of its soothing effects on the skin. Proponents of cannabis-based beauty believe that its anti-inflammatory actions not only help with pain relief but also help reduce signs of stress on the surface of the skin, such as puffiness, redness and other age-related swellings. Inflammation causes some types of acne. Theoretically, a reduction in inflammation could bring relief to sufferers. CBD is also an antioxidant. Many lotions and moisturizers include antioxidants to contribute to healthy, radiant skin. While more research is definitely needed, the future of cannabis beauty is looking bright.

It’s helpful to note that when CBD is an additive to lotions, oils and general beauty products, you can use those over larger areas of the body as opposed to pain relief balms, which as mentioned earlier, should only be applied on the area of concern.

CBD in your routine

If you don’t have any health concerns but are already using CBD oil or capsules as part of your wellness regimen, you could consider adding a balm or cream too. Use it to wind down after a tiring day by massaging it into specific sore spots – temples, neck, joints, shoulders, and feet. It will take care of any mild tension you might be carrying over from the day, to make sure your sleep is truly restorative and you wake up ready to take on the day.

When to use topical CBD

Even with CBDs growing popularity, newcomers might be nervous about ingesting a new compound. Topical CBD is an ideal choice for those looking for quick pain relief without ingestion since topical CBD never actually enters the bloodstream.

You can take CBD in the form of tinctures, capsules, vape oils or edibles. However, most of these tend to provide support to the entire body, and can’t be targeted to a particular area. This is why topical CBD products are so popular. They provide localized relief that is also much quicker since the CBD does not need to be metabolized. For those prone to unexpected aches and pains, a CBD balm in the bag could be a lifesaver.

When not to use topical CBD

Topical CBD may not be able to provide much support for stress, digestion, and cognition. While it’s possible that a nighttime massage with CBD balm will promote more restful sleep, this will likely be due to reduced muscle soreness while sleeping and not because of the CBD reaching your brain. For overall system support, you’d be better off with a tincture, capsule or vape oil. For immediate localized relief, you want topical CBD.

What are the best topical CBD products?

To understand why a particular topical CBD product is better than another, you must first understand the way topical CBD works. Below are the factors to consider so you make sure you go home with the best topical CBD product:


When using topicals for aching muscles and joints, or for irritated skin, the thickness of the product is important. As compared to a CBD oil or CBD lotion, the consistency of a rich cream, balm or salve works much better. This is because the permeability of the skin is particularly low, and the CBD molecule is also a hydrophobic substance that won’t pass through your pores and reach the target area easily. When emulsified in balm or cream form, it is much easier for the skin to absorb it. However, if one wanted to use CBD for skincare, lotion or oil would work just fine.


Again, because the skin isn’t permeable, some amount of the CBD you apply will be lost. The effectiveness of topical CBD depends on its potency. Quality CBD manufacturers combat this by making their balms highly concentrated. For example, Hempure CBD balm comes in 2 very potent strengths: 750mg and 1400mg. This is more than enough CBD to make it past the skin and make a difference.

Other Ingredients

Manufacturers often add ingredients to CBD topicals that compound its effects. Make sure the ingredients added to your CBD topical will add to its value, and not cause more harm than good. This will depend on what the purpose of the topical product is. For instance, people choose to use CBD facial oils and lotions to help with acne, but if it contains ingredients that are comedogenic (pore blocking), using the oil will be counterproductive.

On the other hand, Hempure CBD balms contain beeswax, MCT Oil, eucalyptus oil and lavender oil. Beeswax works to make the balm more emollient and MCT Oil can increase the amount of CBD absorbed by the body. Eucalyptus and lavender contribute to anti-inflammatory and pain managing properties. An additional bonus: the smell can be relaxing too!

THC Content

Whether the product you’re using should contain THC or not is a personal choice. Both THC and CBD have shown anti-inflammatory effects. If you’re looking for pain relief using transdermal CBD but don’t want to run the risk of testing positive for marijuana on an occupational drug test, it’s best to opt for products that have no THC.


It’s always a good idea to have a look at the company’s manufacturing process. For example, learn about the plant and growing methods. Although hemp and marijuana are both strains of the cannabis plant, the hemp plant contains less than 0.3% THC, which means there’s a good chance your product will have little to no THC.

Take a second to research anything labeled as a cannabis topical, especially ones sold at cannabis dispensaries – they will most likely be THC rich.

It could also help to know whether your cream contains broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate. Broad spectrum CBD is CBD that also contains other beneficial compounds from the hemp plant that may actually work to increase the amount of CBD absorbed by the system, known as ‘the entourage effect’.


Insist upon third-party test results from your provider when purchasing any CBD product. This ensures that your balm contains no solvents, heavy metals, microbes, etc. that could actually worsen inflammation.

How does topical CBD match up to other methods of consumption?

The consumption method you use determines absorption by the body. In other words, the bioavailability. 

Oral Consumption

CBD oil can be ingested orally by mixing [3] [4] [5] a drop of tincture in food/drink or by taking a capsule. When ingested orally, CBD oils work from within: they enter the bloodstream after passing through the digestive system. By the end of this process, the system absorbs about 4-20% of CBD. Use CBD capsules or softgels to support healthy inflammatory responses in the body.


Sublingual ingestion of CBD oil (commonly referred to as CBD tincture) is marginally more bioavailable than oral ingestion since it enters the bloodstream directly through mucous membranes under the tongue. This works in the same way as orally ingested CBD, but the effects will be slightly stronger.


Vaping CBD oil is the most bioavailable since it enters the bloodstream directly through the lungs, similar to the way we absorb oxygen. Inhaling enables the CBD to get in the bloodstream almost instantly. And guess what? When you vape, your body metabolizes almost 50% of the CBD. This is a really high percentage of bioavailability. People tend to use these for stress or pain relief that is urgent, and other inflammatory conditions that need quick action.


Topical CBD, unless it is transdermal topical CBD, never actually enters the bloodstream. Instead, it interacts with endocannabinoid receptors under the surface of the skin. These receptors in turn work to calm inflammation in the skin, or in joints and muscles in surrounding areas. CBD balm works great after a workout

These methods are just one factor when considering bioavailability. The quality and molecule size also impact absorption. The body absorbs a higher percentage of nano-emulsified CBD, like Hempure CBD.

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The effectiveness of topical CBD

If following the best practices listed above for both buying CBD balms and using them, it’s very likely that you will achieve your desired results from your product. A good CBD balm, when applied to irritated skin, will not only work under the skin but also provide rich moisturization to the surface. This can be extremely soothing for people suffering from itchy, raw skin.

As compared to pharmaceutical drugs with side effects like heartburn, headaches and high blood pressure, topical CBD is unlikely to cause any. With regular use, you might experience pain relief, increased flexibility and shorter recovery periods between workouts. Other beneficial oils may bolster the effectiveness of CBD. For example, added eucalyptus, thyme, and clove can increase anti-inflammatory properties.

The ongoing study into the efficacy of topical CBD is exciting for anyone whose needs haven’t been fulfilled by traditional pharmaceuticals. With simple interventions, CBD researchers are hoping that they can provide some relief to those that have been suffering from disruptive skin or bodily conditions that interfere with daily life. Already, CBD is revolutionizing the way that pro athletes recover, which hopefully brings more attention to this already pressing cause. CBD is a great option for anyone who wants to live a more natural life full of wellness benefits.








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