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There are lots of ways to use cannabidiol (CBD), but if you’re looking for relief from aches and pains or help with skin conditions, a topical might be your best bet. A CBD topical is any cream, lotion, or salve that’s infused with CBD and can be applied directly to the skin.
While research on CBD is still in its early stages, the little we do know about CBD topicals is promising.
The American Academy of Dermatology even suggested using topical CBD products as an adjunct measure for acne, eczema, and psoriasis at their annual meeting last year.
CBD’s effectiveness, however, varies depending on a variety of factors, like the source, quality, and dosage.
So, how can you discern the CBD products that are the real deal from the fakes? We’ve gone ahead and done all the heavy lifting for you, listing 10 great options below.
These products have been closely evaluated in terms of their potency, CBD quality, and overall ingredients so you can lean back and shop with ease.
All of the products listed here are made from U.S.-grown cannabis — with less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), unless otherwise noted — and have been lab-tested.
You’ll see the following terms mentioned in the products below. Here’s what they mean:
- CBD isolate: pure CBD, with no other cannabinoids or THC
- Broad-spectrum CBD: contains most cannabinoids, but it generally doesn’t include THC
- Full-spectrum CBD: contains all of the plant’s cannabinoids, including THC
1937 Wellness CBD Comfort Cream
Price point: $$$
This cream packs 1,000 milligrams (mg) of CBD into a mere 8 ounces. That means it’s highly concentrated, which may make it more effective.
The CBD used is isolate rather than full- or broad-spectrum CBD, making this product a good choice for people who want to avoid THC altogether.
Peak Extracts Rescue Rub (high CBD version)
Price point: $
Antioxidant-rich, hypoallergenic coconut, shea, and jojoba oils are mixed with a secret blend of Chinese herbs and cannabis to yield a final product that’s free of any artificial scents or preservatives.
Created by licensed Chinese herbalist Katie Stem, this all-purpose rub can be used to help with aches, pains, inflammation, and more.
Two types of Rescue Rub are currently available, including a THC-only version and a high-CBD variety. At 90 milliliters (mL) of CBD and 29 mL of THC per container, the high-CBD version contains more than 0.3 percent THC, so it can only be purchased at dispensaries on the West Coast.
Use it cautiously around broken skin, as irritation may occur.
White Fox Repair Remedy Salve
Price point: $$
Unlike the Rescue Rub, White Fox’s Repair Remedy Salve doubles as an antimicrobial, meaning you can safely use it on cuts and scrapes.
This product has 200 mg of CBD contained within 3.38 ounces of product, so it’s less concentrated than the 1937 Wellness cream. Lab results are available by emailing the company.
Be sure to store this product in a cool place, as the coconut oil base can melt when it gets warm.
Vertly Hemp CBD-Infused Relief Lotion
Price point: $
Vertly’s CBD lotion contains 150 mg of full-spectrum CBD in each 2.9-ounce jar.
Other ingredients include anti-inflammatory lavender oil, magnesium for muscle recovery, and arnica flower for muscle tightness. The end result is a nongreasy lotion that keeps skin nourished all day long.
Because of the potent ingredients, this is another product that shouldn’t be used on broken skin.
Lord Jones High CBD Formula Body Oil
Price point: $$
Sleek, stylish, and available online or at Sephoras nationwide, each 1-ounce bottle contains 100 mg of broad-spectrum CBD.
The roller ball applicator is designed to help target pressure points and allows easy application on the go. Store at room temperature for best results.
Mary’s Nutritionals Muscle Freeze
Price point: $
Mary’s Nutritionals Muscle Freeze Cream harnesses the power of full-spectrum CBD along with mango butter and menthol to help relieve sore muscles, soothe irritated skin, and provide skin with hydration.
It’s designed to be fast-acting and is available for purchase in two sizes: a 42.5-gram bottle containing 75 mg of CBD, as well as a more potent 92.1-gram bottle containing 200 mg.
To use, apply to the affected area every 2 to 4 hours as needed. Don’t use on open wounds or broken skin.
Ildi Pekar Tissue Repair Serum
Price point: $$$
Created by celebrity facialist Ildi Pekar, this serum contains 250 mg of lab-tested CBD in each 1-ounce bottle.
This product is cruelty-free. The CBD is 100 percent organic and is sourced from one of two farms in California or Colorado.
Saint Jane Luxury CBD Serum
Price point: $$$
Another Sephora favorite, this serum contains 500 mg of full-spectrum CBD in each 1-ounce bottle, making it one of the most potent on this list.
Designed to treat dull, uneven skin, it contains a mixture of 20 different botanicals to reduce redness and even skin tone.
It’s also made with cold-pressed grapeseed oil, a powerful antioxidant that’s rich in healthy omega fats and vitamin E.
It’s cruelty-free, and fans rave about its light, nongreasy feel and ability to combat blemishes.
CannaCeuticals CBD7 Rejuvenating Cream
Price point: $$
This daily anti-aging moisturizer is made to rejuvenate dull skin, repair sun damage, and lessen the appearance of fine lines.
Despite containing just 4.25 mg of CBD per 50 ml bottle, its unique combination of ingredients yields fantastic results — read: a post-facial like complexion — in terms of repairing weathered skin.
Other ingredients include peptides and green tea leaf extract to leave skin looking fresh, plump, and youthful.
Mineral Maison Salve
Price point: $$
Made to soothe inflamed, stressed skin, this lightweight salve is rife with woodsy smells like sandalwood and sage.
Each 2-ounce jar contains 300 mg of lab-tested CBD as well as cannabigerol (CBG), a cannabinoid that’s thought to help with pain management, according to a
The fact that this salve also contains terpenes — the aromatic compounds that give cannabis its unique properties — nets extra brownie points for this pick.
Of particular note is the addition of linalool, a terpene found in lavender that’s known for its calming, relaxing effects.
There’s a whole lot of information to keep in mind when shopping for a CBD topical. Let’s go over the basics.
The No. 1 thing to look for is potency. CBD doesn’t pass through skin easily, so it’s important to use a potent product for best results. Potent products tend to contain at least 200 mg of CBD per container, though some contain up to 1,000 mg.
Chances are you may have seen the terms isolate, full-spectrum, and broad-spectrum before. These terms refer to the ways in which CBD is extracted.
While isolates are ideal for consumers who want to be sure there’s no THC in their product, this extraction method strips away other cannabinoids and volatile organic compounds like terpenes, reducing the overall therapeutic benefits of the CBD.
Broad-spectrum products contain most cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, but don’t contain THC.
Full-spectrum products preserve all cannabinoids and terpenes in the final product. This is important because CBD and THC may work better together than they do alone, thanks to the entourage effect.
Note that any full-spectrum products made from hemp will still only contain 0.3 percent THC or less, so it’s still a relatively small amount.
Do you know where your hemp was grown? Reliable brands will often have this information readily available, with some brands even going as far as to provide a certificate of analysis (COA) that’ll allow you to view testing results with ease.
Ideally, you’ll want to look for products made from U.S.-grown, certified organic hemp, since cannabis grown in the United States is subject to agricultural regulations.
Be sure whatever you buy has been lab-tested, ideally by a third party, and is pesticide- and mold-free. Be wary of products that don’t provide this information, either on their website or by emailing the company.
It’s a good idea to opt for all-natural, organic ingredients whenever available — you’ll get all the benefits of the ingredients without the chemicals and pesticides.
Most CBD topicals fall in the $30–$60 range.
Pay close attention to products priced at over $100. You may decide they’re worth it, but do a little digging to be sure before you shell out the extra cash. Do they contain full-spectrum CBD? How potent are they? Do they contain other healing herbs or oils?
What to consider while shopping
- CBD source
- quality control
Topicals are meant to be massaged into the skin, so you’ll apply them directly to the affected area. Depending on other ingredients in the product, you might feel tingling, warming, or cooling sensations.
If you’re using the product for pain, you should start to feel effects relatively quickly. If you’re using it for a skin condition, like acne or eczema, you may have to apply it a few times to see results.
Always refer to the packaging for specific directions and recommendations from the manufacturer.
Most topicals are safe to reapply as needed. Pay special attention to the type of carrier oil your product is made with, since products based in coconut oil may melt when exposed to heat. These products should be kept in a cool, dark place.
Be sure to read the packaging, as most topicals are only meant for external use, and many are not meant to be used on broken skin.
CBD is nonintoxicating, meaning it won’t get you high. It’s generally recognized as safe, and there are few side effects, though they do occur occasionally.
Possible side effects
- changes in appetite
- changes in weight
While CBD doesn’t typically enter the bloodstream through topical application, it’s possible it may interact with some medications.
Some research suggests that CBD may interact with liver enzymes and temporarily stop the liver from metabolizing other drugs or breaking down toxins. Always consult your doctor before using products with CBD, even topicals.
Though there’s little information currently available about CBD’s effectiveness as a topical, many consumers report successfully using topicals to relieve a wide variety of ailments.
CBD topicals have the potential to help manage pain and skin conditions like eczema and acne. Those seeking the greatest therapeutic benefit possible should opt for potent, full-spectrum, organic ingredients whenever possible.
Is CBD Legal? Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
Janelle Lassalle is a writer and content creator that specializes in all things cannabis. She’s also insanely passionate about CBD and has been featured in The Huffington Post for baking with CBD. You can find her work featured in a variety of publications such as Leafly, Forbes, and High Times. Check out her portfolio here, or follow her on Instagram @jenkhari.