How CBD Topicals Work

How CBD Topicals Work

There are many ways for your body to absorb the CBD (cannabidiol) in hemp-derived health and wellness products. Although many CBD users find CBD oil tinctures, capsules, and other ingestible products best suited to their needs, there are plenty who prefer using CBD topicals. Once you know how CBD works and some of the many possible benefits of topical application, it’s easy to see why you might want to add a CBD sports stick, balm, serum, or moisturizer to your daily routine.

Why Are So Many People Applying CBD Topically?

There are many reasons so many people apply CBD to the surface of their skin, but not everyone uses topical CBD for the same reason. Some use topicals to soothe their body as they wait for the cannabinoids in their tincture, capsules, or gummies to begin circulating in their bloodstream. Others choose to use CBD topicals exclusively. According to the results of a CBDistillery® survey, most of the nearly 2000 respondents report using hemp-derived CBD products for relaxation, better sleep, and for pain, inflammation, or stiffness after physical activity.

How Does CBD Work?

CBD works by interacting with several molecular targets, including the receptors of the serotonin, dopamine, and GABA systems. However, it’s the impact of CBD and other plant-sourced cannabinoids on a relatively recent discovery that has people talking, the endocannabinoid system (ECS).1

Endocannabinoid system function helps regulate nearly every crucial function in your body, from your moods, emotions, and stress responses to muscle movement and organ function. When you swallow a CBD capsule, savor a CBD gummy, or add a serving of a CBD oil tincture to your morning latte, the cannabinoids in your ingestible product mimic the effects of the ECS messengers produced in your body to help relay urgent signals to receptors found throughout your system. When you apply a balm, cream, or lotion topically, the CBD in your product interacts with the ECS receptors in your skin.2,3

Why Does CBD Seem to Affect Everyone Differently?

All living organisms need a consistent internal environment, a stability resistant to change. When internal or external forces threaten that balance, the chemical composition of the ECS messengers initiates a response that helps restore equilibrium.4 Ideally, your body would make all the ECS messengers (endocannabinoids) needed to keep all processes working together harmoniously. But life isn’t always ideal.

Several factors, including stress, illness, and injury, can increase the demand for ECS messengers. When the demand exceeds production, communication slows, and essential balance is easily compromised. That’s where hemp-derived CBD (and other cannabinoids) fit into the ECS equation.

Researchers credit CBD’s apparent analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and neuroprotective potential on the cannabinoid’s ability to help support ECS function.5 Since no two CBD users are exactly the same, individual results largely depend on which critical functions might be restored to balance (homeostasis) through ECS support. That’s why so many people are using hemp-derived CBD products for so many seemingly unrelated concerns.

What Are Some of the Benefits of Topical Application? What Does the Research Show?

There was a time most researchers believed the outermost layer of the skin created a nearly impenetrable barrier that kept environmental contaminants, potentially harmful chemicals, and most skincare ingredients from penetrating the surface. But as technology advances, so does our understanding of how things work.

Today, we know that skin absorbs about 60% of the substances applied topically, including CBD.6 Although CBD is not a cure or treatment for any known health concern, lab results, clinical trials, and user testimonials suggest several distinct advantages of topical application.

Fast-Acting Relief

When you use any CBD product you need to swallow, the cannabinoid needs to make its way from your stomach to your liver. That’s where CBD is broken down into more than 100 different metabolites. Because of the way ingestible CBD products are processed, it can take 1-2 hours for the cannabinoids to begin interacting with your ECS receptors. CBD-infused creams, lotions, and serums can work much faster. Although the only way to know how well any CBD product might work for you is to try it, many people report favorable results within 15-20 minutes of topical application.7

Even Lower Risk of Side Effects

CBD products are generally well-tolerated and have an impressively low risk of side effects. But tinctures, capsules, and gummies can cause digestive upset or fatigue for some people. Most often, symptoms resolve with smaller serving sizes. However, the risk of side effects is greatly reduced when CBD is applied topically. Instead of circulating throughout the body, the impact is localized because the cannabinoids don’t enter the bloodstream.7

Possible Benefits for Distressed Skin

As CBD penetrates the surface of the skin, it interacts with the numerous receptors involved in healthy skin function. That includes the receptors involved in inflammatory responses, skin cell formation, and barrier function. Although the research investigating the possible skin benefits of CBD is ongoing, the evidence gathered so far is quite compelling. In an article posted by The National Eczema Association, CBD (and several other cannabinoids) are credited as an “exciting” prospect for future therapies.8

Anti-Aging Potential

Numerous sources suggest CBD could also help prevent premature skin aging through several molecular channels. Most often, researchers credit the cannabinoid’s considerable anti-aging potential on its ability to interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors found on nearly every type of skin cell. Current investigations suggest that activating CB1 receptors with CBD helps improve skin elasticity and firmness. Similar studies credit the activation of CB2 receptors for the cannabinoids reported ability to help keep skin looking and feeling smoother.9,10

How Long Does It Take CBD to Work?

Although you’ll find numerous reports suggesting that CBD topicals work in as little as 15 minutes, it’s important to keep in mind that every CBD user is different. How long it might take any CBD product to work depends on several factors, including your reason for using CBD, what you hope to achieve, and your unique chemistry. But don’t let that deter you.

Based on the feedback of our survey respondents, most people achieve favorable results for activity-related issues within 7-14 days of consistent use. However, it can take up to 30 days before you might notice skin benefits. That’s how long it takes healthy new skin cells to make their way to the surface.

Are You Ready to Try a CBD Topical?

There are many reasons to consider adding a CBD topical to your daily routine. But before committing to a purchase, it’s important to know that the quality of the CBD creams, lotions, and serums you select can have a significant impact on your overall experience. That’s why it’s so important to choose high-quality products from a reputable name you can trust.

CBDistillery® and BOTA™ hemp-derived CBD products are sourced from non-GMO, naturally cultivated, domestic hemp. Our products are made in a cGMP certified facility, and every product we offer is tested by an accredited cannabis lab to ensure product purity and potency. You can verify our commitment to offering high-quality hemp-derived products by viewing the certificate of analysis on our product pages or scanning the QR code on your product label.

To learn more about some of the many possible skin benefits of CBD topicals, visit BOTA™ to read the Complete Guide to Natural Skin Care. For more information about the possible benefits of supporting ECS function with CBD, visit CBDistillery® to download The Ultimate CBD User Guide. Then take a moment to browse our selection of CBD relief sticks, topical salve, and BOTA™ plant-powered CBD skincare products.



1. CBD Insider. (2019 October 24) How CBD Works: CBD and Neurotransmitters.

2. CBD Beauty Tips. (2021 February 22) Topical Application vs Ingestion of CBD: Which is Best?

3. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. S Baswan et al. Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD) of Skin Health and Disorders.

4. Journal of Young Investigators. C Sallaberry, L Astern. (2018 June 01) The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator.

5. A Ligresti et al. (2016 September 14) From Phytocannabinoids to Cannabinoid Receptors and Endocannabinoids: Pleiotropic Physiological and Pathological Roles Through Complex Pharmacology.

6. Treehugger. (2014 June 23) Everything You Need to Know About Natural Skin Care.

7. CBD Facilitator. J Murdoch. (2021 November 21) Does Topical CBD Enter Your Bloodstream?

8. National Eczema Association. P Lio. (2021 July 15). Can Marijuana Hemp Eczema?

9. ACS Chemical Neuroscience. M Caterina. (2014 November 19). TPR Channael Cannabinoid Receptors in Skin Sensation, Homeostasis, and Inflammation.

10. BOTA. (2021). 8 Best Skincare Products To Calm, Protect, and Revitalize Sensitive Skin.


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