How Do CBD Topical Creams Work?

How Do CBD Topical Creams Work?
CBD is all around us these days. You can eat, chew, drink, vape, or spread CBD on your toast and no one will bat an eyelid. It even comes in topical cream form. But how exactly can CBD work as a topical cream? And how effective is it really when used as your moisturizer?

Don’t mistake hemp oil cream for CBD oil cream  

A lot of people confuse hemp seed creams and CBD creams. This is hardly surprising, as some products add to the confusion by using the terms almost interchangeably. However, hemp oil and CBD are two very different products. While they are produced from the same plant, their benefits and potential healing qualities vary significantly.

What is hemp oil?

Picture hemp seed cream as an equivalent to jojoba oil cream. As the name suggests, hemp seed oil comes from the seeds of industrial hemp.

Hemp seeds are full of beneficial fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 and vitamin E. All these help keep your skin moisturised and soft and may even alleviate skin irritations such as eczema.

Many beauty products contain hemp seed oil for its hydrating qualities. However, it lacks the cannabinoids found in CBD.

What is CBD oil?

CBD Oil and Hemp Oil are very different.

While hemp seed oil is produced from the seeds of the plant, CBD oil is made from the flowers of the hemp plant, which contain all of a plant’s cannabinoids. It is rich in CBD, which is believed to possess several beneficial qualities.

CBD is hardly the only cannabinoid found in hemp. Hemp flowers contain hundreds of cannabinoids; the two major ones are CBD and THC.

THC is the cannabinoid that gives people the sense of ‘high,’ and is illegal. CBD products are required, by law, to contain less than 0.2% of CBD, therefore making them non-psychotropic.

It is good to remember that hemp includes all the strains of the cannabis plant that contain less than 0.2% of THC. Marijuana, which is illegal for recreational use in the UK, refers to all the strains that contain more than 0.2% of THC.

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What is CBD and what does it do?

CBD is a natural compound with many potential beneficial qualities. There is plenty of evidence concerning the beneficial uses of CBD. However, its effectiveness has not been yet proven on a large scale and medical studies and research have only recently started exploring CBD’s health benefits.

CBD is of particular interest to the medical community mainly because of the way CBD pairs with our own endocannabinoid system.

Since the 1990s, the medical community has known that our body contains an endocannabinoid system. This naturally produces two human cannabinoids, one of which is a very close match to CBD. Moreover, our body produces receptors that carry our endocannabinoids around.

CBD is believed to interact with these receptors, although researchers are still exploring the exact way this happens.

Our endocannabinoid system controls things such as mood, appetite, fertility, temperature perception, and inflammation among other things. Naturally, researchers have focused on exploring how CBD can help our own endocannabinoid system work better, hence their interest in CBD and its benefits.

CBD might be a good way to help our bodies reach the homeostasis state.

When our endocannabinoid system fails, our body loses its homeostasis—its natural state of balance. Several studies are exploring how CBD could make our body recover its homeostasis.

So far, CBD has shown promising results in helping the treatment of very diverse ailments such as pain management, inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and muscle pain. It is the anti-inflammatory qualities of CBD that have driven producers to put it into topical creams.

Can CBD fight inflammation and pain?

Because of CBD’s anti-inflammatory qualities, topical creams with CBD have become more common.

Since research suggests that CBD nudges our endocannabinoid system to work better and fix inflammations, producers of topical cream reasoned that it might alleviate muscle pains, painful joints, skin disorders, or any other inflammation-related problem.

Our body uses inflammation to fix problems: inflammation is the signal for the body to send its repair agents. The problem is that inflammation also causes pain, especially when it becomes chronic.

Could CBD be an answer to relieving the pain related to inflammation?

Initial research suggests so. CBD seems to stop some inflammatory signals from reaching the problematic area, hence reducing pain. Research links CBD and chronic pain management. And several studies show that CBD affects the pain receptors and reduces pain and inflammation.

CBD in topical creams: does it work?

While it seems that CBD can be effective, crucial questions remain: how much CBD should you take? And, does CBD cream help with inflammation?

Research has shown that CBD in creams has some effect in treating joint inflammation in rats. Further studies show that topical creams have some success in treating inflammation and pain in animals.

Even more impressively, some studies have shown that topical application of CBD had the potential to alleviate pain related to arthritis.

The consensus, then, is that CBD in topical creams can help reduce inflammation and pain.

However, more research is needed, especially on humans rather than animals.

CBD and skin conditions

Skin conditions might have in CBD a true saviour!

Many studies also explore CBD and skin conditions. People suffering from psoriasis and eczema are particularly keen on using CBD in topical creams to alleviate their skin symptoms.

There are several promising results from studies and experiments regarding the treatment of eczema and psoriasis with CBD topical creams.

One particular study discovered that CBD was helpful with skin rashes related to psoriasis. Another study in 2019 showed a reduction of psoriatic symptoms when using CBD enriched creams on the skin. Finally, further research conducted in 2007 showed that CBD slowed the rapid skin cell reproduction associated with psoriasis.

However, as with most studies relating to CBD, they have problems like a small sample of patients and experiments conducted on animals instead of people. While we wait for further research, the evidence suggests that topical creams with CBD could alleviate skin irritation and rashes associated with eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

Can CBD oil be absorbed through the skin?

The problem with CBD topical creams is that they have to cross a formidable barrier before they reach the inflammation they need to treat: the human skin. Our skin will block anything that tries to enter the bloodstream, including creams and ointments.

Skin is the first line of defence against intruders. It is our largest organ and a great defence mechanism against anything unwanted entering our body. While very powerful at keeping intruders out, it also blocks compounds with potentially beneficial effects, such as CBD.

Several layers form our skin: epidermis, the dermis, and hypodermis among them. Their task is to protect our bloodstream and internal organs from outsiders. Bypassing these is a problem.

For CBD to be effective in topical creams it needs to reach the inflammation area. If the skin stops it from going deeper, CBD becomes inefficient.

Does topical CBD get into the bloodstream?

Topical CBD creams have a hard time to penetrate into the bloodstream.

The short answer is, rarely. When treating sore joints and muscles, topical creams usually enter the skin at a depth of about 1-cm. However, our muscles lie below the hypodermis, which is deeper than that. It is still under research whether CBD from topical creams can reach that deep.

A further question is how much CBD needs to be applied on the skin, for it to sip deep enough and reach the muscle or joint. Experiments on rats suggest a high concentrated quantity of CBD is necessary. It is yet unclear how much this means in terms of a topical cream applied to humans.

So far, research has shown that CBD remains on the outer layers of the skin. CBD is attracted to lipids like oil but isn’t water-soluble, which makes it stick to the fatty layers rather than going deep in the skin.

Transdermal CBD topical creams—i.e. creams able to cross the skin barrier and enter the bloodstream—would be more efficient. Substances that manage to reach the bloodstream (in a process called systemic administration) can reach their goal more effectively.

On the other hand, CBD topical creams have very few side effects since they rarely reach the bloodstream. While CBD in oil or pills may interact with certain medications and have mild side effects such as nausea or low blood pressure, topical creams with CBD display very few, if any, side effects.

What should I look for when buying a topical cream?

People looking to alleviate their muscle pains, skin conditions, or sore joints often choose to use CBD topical creams. Although the research is still ongoing and requires experiments on a large scale, topical creams with CBD may be helpful.

Reputable manufacturers is one of the points to remember when buying your topical CBD cream.

Here are a few pointers to remember when purchasing a CBD topical cream:

  • Don’t believe extraordinary claims. If a CBD cream promises to fix your psoriasis forever, do not trust it. There is no medical protocol involving CBD yet. Outrageous claims show that the manufacturer and/or producer are not serious.
  • Look for reputable sources. Ask around for a good, trustworthy brand of CBD products. Look around, read, ask questions, or even call the manufacturer if you have doubts.
  • Read the label. Make sure your CBD topical cream contains CBD oil and not hemp seed oil. Read about the other ingredients. Sometimes people experience allergies from the extra ingredients rather than the actual CBD.
  • Check if the CBD products are tested. Tests determine the purity of the CBD used as well as the absence of THC.  Tests also validate the exact amount of CBD in the product. Many reputable brands publish their test results online or issue Certificates of Analysis.
  • Batch numbers: a proper, trustworthy manufacturer will have batch numbers on their products. It shows professionalism.

For more tips on choosing the right CBD for you, click here.


Although topical creams with CBD have minimum—if any—interaction with other medication, it’s always advised to consult your doctor.

All we know at this stage is that CBD topical creams seem to have a beneficial effect in diminishing inflammation and alleviating pain. However, the exact dosage and how CBD works to do so are still unclear.

Clinical trials are a few years away. Without them, there is no clinical proof that CBD topical creams actively heal sore muscles, joint inflammation, or skin conditions. Therefore, it would be unwise for you to forgo your medical treatment, substituting it with CBD in any format.

On the other hand, if you’re suffering from a skin- or muscle-related problem, CBD may help. With CBD topical creams having few, if any, side-effects, you can experiment and see if they help you as an additional treatment to what your doctor has prescribed.

Related Article: CBD And THC Similarities Differences


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