CBD Topicals are products which allow you to put CBD directly onto your skin. Topicals are one of the fastest growing segments in the CBD industry.
When I first got into the CBD market, oils that were taken orally seemed like the only game in town. And while CBD oils are still the largest single category, as the entire CBD marketplace has grown dramatically over recent years, it’s really no surprise to see other categories such as topicals, edibles and vapes growing as well.
CBD And Your Skin
The obvious first question is: does CBD work when applied to the skin? It’s a great question; after all, there are many things that don’t have their intended effect when you put them on your skin. A glass of wine can have a pleasant and relaxing feeling, but only if you drink it.
The issue is how do our bodies actually use CBD? What needs to happen for CBD to be effectively utilized by our bodies?
In an earlier post I talked at length about something called the Endocannabinoid System or “ECS”. The ECS is the system which allows our bodies to “use” cannabinoids, of which CBD is one. Think of our nervous system. It allows us to sense and respond to stimuli in our environment as neurons send and receive neurotransmitters.
Just as the nervous system is located throughout our body, so too is the ECS. The ECS works when cannabinoids come into contact with specialized receptors within it. These receptors are called CB1 and CB2. When the CB receptors in the skin are activated, they modify the function of the cells in which they are located.
Research has shown that both types of receptors are present in nearly every part of our skin including keratinocytes, melanocytes, mast cells, sebocytes, sweat glands and some hair follicles. Importantly, keratinocytes represent 90% of the cells of the epidermis. This is important because topical applications don’t go much further than the epidermis.
Responses To CBD In The Skin
CB receptors are located in nearly all the various types of cells which make up our skin. Different cell types perform different functions and the ECS system is involved in modulating a range of various functions.
For this reason, it’s really not surprising that CBD can have a positive impact on more than just one aspect of our skin and the other bodily functions which are affected by the skin.
Here are some of the potential benefits of topical CBD which are supported by research.
CBD Topicals Research
- A preclinical study performed in 2020 showed that CBD can help to relieve the pain and damage associated with athletic performance by reducing inflammation which occurs after a workout. CBD caused an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines and a decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines.
- The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology recently said that clinical studies have shown CBD to result in a reduction in pruritus (itching) caused by conditions such as dermatitis, psoriasis and allergic contact dermatitis. The reduction in itching is due to a reduction in the productions and proliferation of the cells involved in the inflammatory response.
- CBD may also assist with skin rejuvenation through interaction with basal cells which are responsible for the production of new skin cells.
- A 2014 study suggested that CBD can prevent sebocytes from over producing sebum, a common cause of acne. The study also suggested that CBD can prevent inflammatory cytokines from activating, which is another cause of acne.
- Another study done in 2014 showed that topically applied CBD reduced pain and inflammation from arthritis in animal subjects.
More research is needed into all of these areas. One reason there has been relatively little research is the fact that hemp was considered a controlled substance up until very recently. With only one source of legal hemp in the US, The University of Mississippi, this made rigorous scientific research nearly impossible.
What Are CBD Topicals?
So topical CBD application appears to work. Now, which CBD topical do you choose?
As the name suggests, CBD topicals are CBD products that you apply topically, to your skin.
CBD topicals are traditional products that have CBD added to them.
The most common CBD topicals are lotions and balms. Not surprisingly, the CBD topical market largely resembles the market for traditional topicals.
It’s probably safe to say that many of us don’t know the difference between lotion, cream, balm, salve and ointment. Let’s define these products now, because it will help to choose the right CBD topical for you. As with most classifications, the lines are blurred at times, especially when it comes to naming retail products!
Classification of Topicals
Balms and Salves
Balms and salves are closely related products. In fact, you can find the terms used interchangeably without looking around too long. Generally speaking, balms are made with waxes and/or oils and without water. They are thicker than most topicals and allow for the creation of a protective barrier for your skin.
Balms are often, though not always, made with added essential oils.
Salves are also made with waxes and/or oils and without water. However, they typically have a lower wax ratio and so tend to be softer than balms.
Balms and salves are good for treating specific and generally smaller areas. Think of lip balm or a salve for particularly dry skin. They will stay in place and deliver relief to a specific area.
Ointments and Creams
Like balms and salves, ointments and creams are closely related products. The primary difference is that creams are made with equal parts oil and water while ointments are made with 80% oil to 20% water. As you would expect, these proportions aren’t hard and fast rules. However, the general difference is clear; ointments will feel more oily than creams.
Ointments and creams are “thinner” than balms and salves and so can be more easily used over larger areas.
Lotions have the highest water content, typically around 70% – 80% with the balance being oils. Because of the high water content, lotions are thinner and are quickly and easily absorbed into the skin. Due to the low oil content, they will feel less greasy. Since they are thinner, they are easier to apply and are more convenient for larger areas.
To sum it up, topicals exist on a range of thickness, oil or wax content and water content. These differences help determine which product would work best for your condition.
Finally, It’s also important to say what CBD topicals are not: they are not transdermal. While both topical and transdermal products are applied to the skin, transdermal products have formulations that are designed to penetrate deeper through the skin. This deeper penetration is achieved through items called penetration enhancers. A common penetration enhancer is alcohol. The most common method for transdermal application is the patch. Many products such as nicotine, contraceptives, and pain relievers, among others are all delivered using transdermal patches.
With an understanding of the potential benefits of CBD applied topically, and a better understanding of the qualities of different topicals, you can now make a smarter decision.
If you have a skin condition over a large area, you probably want to choose a lotion which would be easier to spread and feel less greasy on your skin. If you have a very specific area of concern, you probably want to go with a balm.