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The Essential Guide to CBD Topicals

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Our skin is by far the largest organ in the human body. It has a surface area of 22 square feet and comprises 16% of our entire body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, your skin accounts for 32 pounds! It interfaces with the environment, so it plays a crucial role in protecting us from pathogens.

Given the importance of the skin, it seems remarkable that we pay so little attention to it. Those who claim to live healthily try to eat and drink ‘clean,’ a process that undoubtedly helps the skin. However, do you pay much attention to finding the right creams and lotions to nourish and soothe the skin? 

For many people, the answer is ‘no.’ The cosmetics industry is riddled with products containing harmful chemicals. That lipstick you use might contain lead! 

Those looking for a more beneficial skincare product should consider CBD topicals. It is a range that includes a variety of creams and lotions infused with cannabidiol. Aside from providing no intoxicating high, early research suggests CBD is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

Interested in learning more? Let’s find out how a CBD topical works and the options available on the market.

What is CBD topical?

It is a substance that you apply directly to a part of the body in the hope that it affects. There are many CBD topicals on the market, including: 

  • Lotions
  • Balms
  • Creams
  • Salves
  • Ointments
  • Patches
  • Gels
  • Butters 

Using a CBD topical is as easy as rubbing it into your skin, so it absorbs and has the desired effect. Many of the above are terms used interchangeably, though there are a few subtle differences: 

  • Balm: Usually has a smooth and oily consistency. Balms often have purported medicinal properties. They are generally thicker than salves because they contain a higher ratio of wax.
  • Salve: This is an oil-based substance made without the use of water (anhydrous). Ingredients may include wax, herbal-infused oil, and herbs.
  • Ointment: This product is usually a softer and thinner product than the others. It is like salves and balms but uses much less wax. Ointments are generally like a lotion in texture.

Does it make a difference?

It is easy to be dismissive and say ‘no,’ that all CBD topicals are the same. In reality, however, the potential differences in the consistency of a product may affect how your skin absorbs the compound. For example, lotions and creams typically have a higher water concentration. As a result, it is easier to spread it across the skin, a process that aids absorption.

Balms and ointments, on the other hand, usually have a higher oil concentration. This means they remain on the skin longer, allowing for slower absorption for a more extended period. In theory, then, people seeking long-lasting relief may choose a balm over a cream. However, you would want a lotion instead of an ointment for a faster effect. 

How does topical CBD work?

All humans have receptors in their bodies that interact with cannabinoids (CB1 and CB2 are the best-known receptor groups at present.) We produce endocannabinoids naturally. These compounds work with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS helps regulate things such as appetite, mood, memory, pain, and the immune system. 

Without going into too much detail, CBD has an indirect effect on the CB1 and CB2 receptors. These actions include activation of TRPV1 receptors, which help control many of the body’s most vital functions. There is also evidence that CBD could increase the level of the bliss molecule, anandamide, in our bodies. Elevated levels of anandamide increase the feelings of motivation and pleasure we feel. 

When we use products such as oils and gummies, the cannabinoids make their way through the body until they reach the bloodstream. It is at this point where the user feels the effects. Things work a little differently when you use a CBD topical. It absorbs into the body via the pores in our skin. 

When you use a CBD cream, for instance, it doesn’t enter the bloodstream unless it is formulated with compounds that help the cannabinoid cross the skin barrier. Instead, it affects human sebocytes, cells that make up the sebaceous gland. This gland produces sebum, an oily secretion that ensures the skin stays supple. When you apply CBD topicals to the skin, it collects in the sebaceous gland.

What CBD Topical Product Should I Use?

If you aim to look after a specific part of the body, try a topical cream or ointment. Many individuals try such products if they have a sore body part, such as an aching back or knee. If you want a product that penetrates the skin, a transdermal CBD patch is ideal. It is designed to last for several days and slowly releases the cannabidiol into the body. You will find such patches, along with balms, ointments, and much more, at PureKana


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Peter Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.

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