The CBD market is booming right now and legislation has finally caught up with the public interest in what the cannabis plant has to offer. Many people are now weighing up the benefits of using CBD oil.

CBD topicals provide an excellent entry point into CBD products, as they offer a low-impact, everyday way of discovering the advantages of CBD. Though they don’t offer systemic benefits in the same way as ingestible CBD, topicals can still provide targeted pain relief and help with localized problems.

As with any booming market, it can sometimes be hard to filter out the signal from the noise. In this guide, we break down the complicated topic of CBD, as we look at what it is and how it can help. We’ll also give you some info on CBD topicals and our top picks for the best CBD topicals available.

Our Top Picks: Summary

The Best CBD Topicals: Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Spruce
Spruce

Spruce keeps things simple with this quality CBD topical.

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Why We Picked It

Sometimes, too much choice can be a bad thing. There’s a huge range of CBD products on the market, which can make narrowing things down difficult. We’ve chosen Spruce as our Best Overall partly because the brand keeps things simple.

Spruce offers a single variety of 300mg full-spectrum CBD topical cream. It’s made in the US using hemp grown without pesticides, and the product is third-party lab tested. The water-based cream is also simple, with only a small list of ingredients relative to its competitors. The price is about average for CBD topicals, which means the product is affordable for shoppers on a budget.

Keep in Mind

Keeping things simple does lead to a lack of choice in the product line.

In a Nutshell

  • Full-spectrum CBD cream
  • US-grown
  • Affordable price
Best Value: CBDistillery
CBDistillery

Affordable but quality CBD topical options.

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Why We Picked It

Finding CBD products on a budget can be tough, as cheaper products often correlate to poor quality, while expensive ones can be out of reach. We established CBDistillery as our Best Value product for its combination of quality and affordable cost.

CBDistillery offers three topicals: a 500mg salve, a 25mg lip balm, and a 500mg skincare cream. Each topical is made from non-GMO US-grown industrial hemp and contains lab-tested CBD. The salve and cream both contain full-spectrum CBD along with ingredients like coconut oil, olive oil, and beeswax to create a skin-nourishing formula.

The thicker salve is designed to remain in situ for longer and provide lasting relief, while the cream is designed for quick absorption into the skin to nourish and protect.

CBDistillery topicals include a range of nourishing ingredients and high-quality CBD while maintaining an affordable price, making this a strong choice for budget CBD shoppers.

Keep in Mind

While the products are affordable, there’s no returns policy in place.

In a Nutshell

  • Available as salve, cream, or lip balm.
  • Non-GMO, US-grown hemp
  • Established brand
Best Cooling: CBDfx
CBDfx

Cooling topicals for quick relief.

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Why We Picked It

CBD topicals are a great way to go if you’re in desperate need of some cooling relief and we’ve chosen CBDfx topicals as the best in this category.

CBDfx offers an unparalleled variety of topicals, from balms, creams, and massage oils to masks of aloe vera, cucumber, and others. Each contains organic, US-grown CBD and non-GMO ingredients. These topicals are made with broad-spectrum CBD.

CBDfx has so many varieties on offer that we don’t have the space to go into them here, so be sure to check out its website for the full range. You can try out a selection by purchasing one of its two bundles: the balm bundle or the face mask bundle. It also offers a CBD Snooze Set, which includes a balm, mask, and CBD gummies.

CBDfx has an edge in cooling, as many of its topicals are formulated with cooling agents, featuring astringents like activated charcoal and white willow bark extract. Many also feature menthol.

Keep in Mind

An excellent range of options, but can be overwhelming for the CBD newcomer.

In a Nutshell

  • Huge variety of products
  • Balm/cream-based topicals, masks, and massage oils
  • Non-GMO, US-grown CBD
Best THC-Free: Medterra
Medterra

A THC-free topical for peace of mind.

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Why We Picked It

While it’s very unlikely that CBD topicals containing THC will show up in a drug test, some people would still rather avoid THC products. Medterra’s products take this category by offering high-quality CBD without THC.

Medterra sells three topical CBD products: rapid cooling cream in 250mg or 750mg, a CBD + Manuka cream combo in 125mg and 250mg, and a 250mg CBD roll-on. All products are non-GMO and made in the USA using zero-THC CBD isolate. Third-party lab test results are available on the website.

Both the rapid cooling cream and roll-on are well-suited for providing joint and muscle support on demand, which makes it a good choice for an active lifestyle. The CBD + Manuka cream is better for general use as part of a skin-care regimen or to relieve the symptoms of skin conditions.

All products come with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so unsatisfied customers can return the product for a full refund in that time.

Keep in Mind

Zero-THC formulation means Medterra lacks the full-spectrum cannabinoids of other products.

In a Nutshell

  • Cooling cream, CBD + Manuka cream, roll-on
  • Non-GMO, US-grown CBD
  • Zero THC

How We Chose the Best CBD Topicals

To choose the best CBD topicals, we look at a range of considerations to provide a complete view of the product’s quality and user experience.

Here are some of the categories we use to rate CBD topical products:

Quality

The quality of CBD oil on the market ranges widely, from dedicated brands who offer quality CBD oil to dubious pop-up merchants who take shortcuts. We look at where each brand grows its hemp, the method it uses for CBD oil extraction, and other considerations such as whether the product is non-GMO and vegan-friendly.

Independent Testing

The commercial CBD industry is still young, which means that regulation of CBD hasn’t quite caught up to its burgeoning popularity. As always, some are happy to exploit this situation to scam customers.

Independent lab testing is a crucial step that allows legitimate sellers of quality CBD oil to build consumer confidence. In our view, third-party lab testing is an essential part of selling CBD oil, so all of our top picks are independently tested.

Reputable Brand

In a new industry, it can be hard to sift the get-rich-quick sellers from the brands that care about their customers. This makes it difficult for customers to buy with confidence, too. In our reviews, we look at the brand behind the product to establish its reputation and CBD credentials. By doing so, we can help you make a confident choice.

Price

CBD oil can be a costly investment, particularly given that most users plan to use it regularly. For customers who aren’t lucky enough to buy with an infinite budget, that means price becomes a factor. Finding a brand that can offer both quality and a budget-friendly product is key.

We look at the price of the various CBD topicals we review to establish whether it’s a good investment and to let you know where you might have to make compromises.

Customer Satisfaction

Customers are the final test of any product, which is why customer feedback can tell us a lot. We look at customer feedback on the products we review to find the most common points of praise or criticism. That way, we can give you a complete picture of a product, including its drawbacks.

What is CBD?

Cannabis is a loaded social topic, so it’s no surprise that all this talk of CBD has left some people confused. Let’s get into what CBD is and what it does.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in the cannabis plant. Most people are more familiar with CBD’s sister compound, though perhaps not by name: THC, the compound which produces the iconic cannabis “high.”

Yet CBD is almost a diametric opposite to THC. Its effects are subtle and it doesn’t produce a noticeable psychoactive effect like THC. Instead, CBD works with the body’s endocannabinoid system to offer a variety of potential benefits. You read that right: there’s something resembling CBD in your body even now.

Research suggests that CBD can activate the chemical triggers usually associated with the endocannabinoid system to ease pain, alleviate the symptoms of conditions like epilepsy, and promote general well-being.

CBD oil can be purchased from a wide range of retailers both online and in physical stores. The CBD sold by reputable vendors is extracted from the hemp plant, which is the variety of cannabis with only low levels of THC.

Benefits of CBD

CBD’s interaction with the human endocannabinoid system hasn’t yet been studied to its full potential, but some of the benefits of CBD have already been made clear by research and anecdotal experience. However, it can be tough to separate CBD’s tangible benefits from the claims made by sellers.

Below, we look at some common reported benefits of CBD. When taking any new supplement or medication, it’s important to speak to your doctor before using CBD, even in topical form.

Note that not all of these benefits apply to CBD topicals, as these aren’t circulated through the bloodstream like other forms of CBD.

  • Anxiety and Depression: Some research has shown that CBD could help to relieve anxiety and improve overall sleep quality. Over time, this could lead to better mood regulation and general wellbeing, which can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many CBD users use it for this purpose, but the body of research on this topic is far from complete.
  • Sleep and Insomnia: CBD helps to bring about feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, and may interact with the endocannabinoid system to help regulate sleep. In addition, anxiety and depression relief can also lead to better sleep, so this is a benefit of CBD often reported by users.
  • Chronic pain: There’s some good early evidence that CBD may be useful for easing painful, chronic conditions like arthritis. CBD topicals may be particularly useful for this, as they can target local areas of pain.
  • Epilepsy: The FDA has approved a specific brand of CBD oil as a treatment for the symptoms of epilepsy, and other high-profile cases of the same have helped to soften public perception of CBD.

What are CBD Topicals?

There are many different ways of using CBD. Topical CBD products are lotions containing CBD oil and are available in several forms, such as creams, salves, and oils. Like other everyday topicals, such as burn cream or facial scrubs, they’re applied directly to the targeted area.

The word “topical,” in this case, doesn’t mean “ripped from the headlines.” It means that the user applies the cream directly to the area and its effects remain within this area. This is in contrast to most methods of using CBD, in which CBD enters the bloodstream and has more systemic effects. In other words, it’s the difference between popping a pain relief pill and applying a numbing gel.

CBD topicals contain a wide range of other ingredients, usually including various oils and ingredients like beeswax, all of which helps to build the topical’s consistency and bolster its effects.

With this method, CBD oil is used to relieve several conditions, such as:

  • Aches and pains: Topical creams offer targeted pain relief for specific areas, making them popular for those with sports injuries or suffering from conditions like arthritis.
  • Muscle soreness: Through targeted application, CBD topicals can offer relief from deep aches and pains like muscle soreness. Many CBD topicals, especially creams, are marketed as post-workout solutions.
  • Inflammation: CBD has been shown to relieve inflammation caused by conditions like arthritis. As a topical, it can be applied to the affected area for fast relief.
  • Bug stings or bites: The swelling, tightness, and pain associated with bug stings or bites can be eased by applying a topical to the area. Along with the pain-relieving effects of CBD, most topicals also contain various other oils and moisturizers that will relieve the area.
  • Acne: Topical CBD can alleviate some of the tightness and “hot” sensations that accompany acne. There’s evidence that CBD can reduce oil build-up in the skin, which is the primary cause of regular forms of acne.
  • Burns: CBD can moisturize, relieve pain, and create a protective barrier on a burned area of skin, which relieves discomfort and promotes faster healing.
  • Eczema: There’s evidence that CBD can play a therapeutic role in chronic skin conditions like eczema, along with reducing long-term scarring.

How do CBD Topicals Work?

We mentioned earlier that there’s something resembling cannabis compounds in your body right now. If you’re still wondering how that can be, then it’s time to look at how CBD topicals work.

CBD has exploded into the public consciousness for its many reported benefits, which seem to come from CBD’s ability to trigger the human endocannabinoid system. That system is a complex one, but it’s tied into our nervous system and brain in ways that suggest the system plays a role in regulating our overall well-being.

Many CBD products work through ingestion, which allows the gut to absorb the CBD, transfer it into the bloodstream, and bind with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. CBD topicals are a little different, as they’re absorbed through the skin. This comes with the logical trade-off that topicals are better able to target local problems but don’t carry the same systemic benefits offered by CBD ingestibles.

It’s not as alien a concept as it sounds, as it’s pretty similar to pain medication. Painkillers in pill or liquid form are a common way to treat pain via the bloodstream, while topical painkillers can be used to numb and relieve pain in a specific area.

How do CBD Topicals Differ from Other CBD Products?

CBD topicals differ from other formulations in more than just their delivery system. Here are a few key differences in the experience, including their effects, dosage, and use.

Effects

The effects of CBD topicals are typically much milder and localized than other CBD products. They aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream, so they have little impact on overall wellness, but they can rapidly relieve pain, irritation, and inflammation in targeted areas. Unlike many creams and ointments, CBD topicals don’t just mask discomfort through numbing and moisturizing. The CBD activates receptors in the skin, working with the body to relieve pain.

Dosage

Dosage is typically less emphasized in topicals, as they’re a flexible and versatile way of delivering CBD. Some creams, like those designed for pain relief, are engineered to work on temporary conditions. Others typically give guidelines for daily use. It’s effectively impossible to overdose solely on CBD and this is even less likely for topicals as they don’t enter the bloodstream in measurable quantities.

Use

In contrast to other CBD products that may help to promote general well-being, CBD topicals are popular for their more direct applications. Topicals are effective at dealing with local problems, such as pain in specific areas of the body. Topicals aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream, so they’re less effective on a systemic, whole-body level.

Are CBD Topicals Safe?

The safety of a supplement is always a vital consideration, and CBD is new on the market, which has raised questions about its safety.

Although humans have used cannabis for thousands of years, its complex legal history means that medical data is still quite thin, making it hard to draw long-term conclusions. That said, studies show that CBD is safe for consumption in the short-term. For long-term use, it’s better to consult a medical professional to gain a complete picture of CBD’s risks as it relates to your circumstances.

There are some short-term side-effects sometimes reported by users of CBD. Though these tend to be rare and mild, they’re still worth knowing. Side effects from CBD topicals are much rarer as they don’t enter the bloodstream, so side effects arising from the use of topicals are more likely to be symptoms of an allergic skin reaction to certain ingredients.

Is CBD Legal?

The legal status of cannabis products has undergone some changes at the federal level in recent years. Chief among these changes is the 2018 “Farm Bill,” which removed hemp products from the list of DEA scheduled substances and allowed the cultivation of hemp for industrial and commercial purposes.

CBD is among the substances legalized by this move. CBD derived from low-THC hemp plants is legally saleable and can be transported across state lines. High-THC products like marijuana remain illegal.

This is complicated somewhat by the involvement of the FDA. While CBD has passed out of the DEA’s purview, the FDA retains its mandate on drugs and food supplements. The FDA is yet to approve any CBD products except the epilepsy medication Epidiolex for health-based marketing.

State laws complicate things further, as these don’t always line up with federal laws. If you’re buying and using CBD products, you’ll need to consult your state’s laws to ensure you’re buying legal CBD.

Considerations when Choosing CBD Topicals

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to help you choose the right CBD topicals for you. Here are some things to consider:

CBD Concentration

CBD concentration tells the user how much CBD they’re getting per dose of the product. This dose can be imprecise in topicals as it all comes down to how much is applied, but CBD topicals typically average around 200-500mg. However, much higher concentrations are available.

As CBD topicals are applied locally, bodyweight plays less of a role in choosing the right concentration. Instead, the severity of the problem is the main thing to keep in mind, as more severe conditions require stronger doses.

Other Ingredients

The primary active ingredient in CBD topicals is obviously CBD. But some topicals include other active ingredients to bolster the effects of the CBD.

Other ingredients are there to give the CBD topical its consistency or to provide secondary benefits. For instance, most CBD creams contain a mix of oils and many contain beeswax, all of which help to soothe skin, moisturize, and create oil-based barriers that can protect your skin. The vast array of ingredients that can be found in CBD topicals is too large to go into here, but topicals are typically much more complex than alternative methods of taking CBD.

Full-Spectrum vs. Isolate

Most CBD products are made from either full-spectrum or crystalline isolate CBD. These are both end products of the various extraction methods used to derive CBD from hemp, but their qualities differ slightly. One of the key considerations for consumers is that full-spectrum contains a complete cross-section of the compounds found in hemp, including trace amounts of THC, while isolate does not. This is relevant to anyone who might be subject to drug testing or would simply prefer to avoid THC at any dose.

Independent Testing

Regulations are still under discussion for the CBD industry, which means that customers need to do independent research to establish whether a brand’s claims about their CBD oil are true. One way they can evidence their claims, however, is through independent testing. Reputable CBD brands have their CBD oil tested by a third party and make the lab reports available to customers. Check for these reports when choosing your brand.

If topicals don’t seem like the right choice for you, then be sure to look into other ways of taking CBD oil, such as in capsule, tincture, or vape form.

Related Resources

If you’ve found this guide useful, take a look at some of our other in-depth CBD guides:

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Daniel James