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Can CBD Be Absorbed Through the Skin?

injured female leg during fitness exercise

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CBD products are flooding the market like never before in American history, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill which legalized the industrial production of hemp at the federal level. Though each state still has some regulatory powers over their local farmers, things have really opened up nationwide. 

You’re probably already familiar with products like CBD tinctures and CBD oil. These are the little bottles with dropper lids that contain a liquid that you can take sublingually (that means under the tongue) or incorporate CBD into your next culinary adventure

But as this multi-billion-dollar industry expands, so do the available products.

CBD topical creams are quickly gaining popularity, thanks to their promise to relieve sore muscles and aching joints. But many folks are asking — can CBD actually be absorbed through the skin? 

Great question! Let’s get to the bottom of it.

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How Does CBD Work?

Cannabidiol, or CBD as you know it, is a compound found in hemp plants. It’s one of over a hundred such compounds, which are collectively known as cannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids work by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This major system plays a vital role in regulating physiological processes to achieve a state of internal harmony, also known as homeostasis.

Cannabinoids do this by interacting with receptors in the ECS called CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the central nervous system, though they’ve been detected throughout the body. CB2 receptors are located on immune cells, but again, scattered throughout your body. 

The Bioavailability of CBD Topicals

Bioavailability refers to the amount of a supplement or other substance entering the body’s circulatory system, and when introduced, has an effect. 

Basically, what this means is how much of what you’re taking actually gets to work. 

When it comes to CBD topicals like creams, foams and roll-ons, it is most definitely possible for the CBD to absorb through your skin and have an effect. However, it will be a little different from using CBD oil or ingesting CBD gummies.

When using CBD products taken sublingually or ingested, the CBD will make its way into your bloodstream and be distributed around your body. This will allow it to interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in all parts of your body, including your brain, gastrointestinal system and more.

CBD topicals work a little differently. 

Your skin is designed to be a defense against outside elements and, as a result, has low permeability. That means it doesn’t let a lot through to your blood or internal systems. If it did, we’d have a big problem! 

CBD applied to your skin won’t enter your system in the same way as what we just described with tinctures or gummies. However, what happens is that CBD topicals enter local tissue and small blood vessels at the area of application and interact with receptors at those precise locations.

man applying hand cream

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This means that relief can be found when used liberally and consistently in target areas. Sore back muscles after a heavy day of lifting at the gym? Arthritis flaring up thanks to a few days of binging processed foods, salty snacks and a little too much beer? Slab on some CBD cream for relief!

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How Else Might CBD Topicals Help?

The ECS was only discovered in the early 1990s, and cannabinoid research, in general, is still in its early stages. But thanks to a changing legal landscape and broader societal acceptance of hemp cultivation and use, CBD continues to receive attention from medical researchers.


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A recently published article from the peer-reviewed journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology discussed the therapeutic potential of CBD for skin health and skin disorders. CBD is being examined for its potential in treating numerous skin disorders, such as eczema, psoriasis, pruritus and inflammatory conditions. Though more research is needed, we’re excited about CBD’s potential in these areas and await the results of further investigation.

Using CBD Topicals with Other CBD Products

Like other supplements, it’s important to note how much CBD you’re getting each day. Understanding the CBD dosage that’s right for you will allow you to best enjoy the benefits. 

When adding CBD topicals to your daily routine, you don’t need to include them in your calculations. Because they won’t be absorbed into your system the same way CBD tinctures and gummies would be, they don’t add to the total amount of CBD you’ve taken in a day. 

This is excellent news because it means you can continue to use your favorite CBD topicals as needed throughout the day, providing you with relief whenever and wherever necessary. 


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