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CBD Creams, Salves, and Balms: A Beginner’s Guide

As CBD continues to grow in popularity as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments, so do the available methods of CBD consumption. But did you know that CBD is effective when applied directly to the skin? That’s right, CBD is a natural analgesic (or pain reliever) and anti-inflammatory aid. And applying CBD cream, salve, or balm can provide targeted relief.

So, if you suffer from muscle or joint pain, or if you’re looking for relief from a skin condition, listen up. This one’s for you.

What are CBD Creams, Salves, and Balms?

CBD oils, lotions, salves, and creams made for topical application are designed to be directly applied and absorbed through the skin. For many people, they offer localized relief from pain, soreness, and inflammation.

And CBD is non-intoxicating, which means it will never get you high, not even if consumed in large doses.

This is especially true for topicals. That’s because when you apply it to your skin, CBD never reaches the bloodstream and, thus, never delivers a mind-altering effect.

As more people experience firsthand how effective CBD creams can be for a variety of issues and ailments, the demand for accessibility to CBD in the mainstream marketplace continues to rise. This is true not only in the medical community, but in the beauty community as well.

Using CBD Cream or Salve

When applied directly to the skin, CBD is capable of relieving pain and soreness in joints and muscles, reducing inflammation, and soothing skin conditions.

So, just how does it do all of that? Well, CBD increases the natural levels of pain-relieving endocannabinoids, decreases inflammatory responses, and desensitizes pain receptors.

Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an integral role in maintaining health through balanced internal conditions, or homeostasis. When someone has an endocannabinoid deficiency, they are more susceptible to a range of conditions and ailments including chronic pain and inflammation.

But we have good news: Supplementing your ECS with cannabinoids such as CBD boosts your body’s natural ability to maintain its equilibrium.

CBD Cream for Arthritis Pain

Arthritis is a general term for pain in the joints and in the connective tissue surrounding the joints. It causes swelling and stiffness in the joints and can decrease one’s range of motion.

It can occur at any time, but is most common in women and is more likely to develop as you age. Arthritis is often mild at first, but it can increase in severity over time depending on the type of arthritis and lifestyle. In severe cases, arthritis can render someone unable to walk or climb stairs.

There are many different types of arthritis. The most common form is osteoarthritis (OA), which affects more than three million people in the United States every year.

There are prescription medications for OA, but these often come with a plethora of negative side effects. These can include headaches, fatigue, nausea, weight gain, and high blood pressure. And they can even cause permanent damage to your internal organs.

Because of these potentially severe side effects, doctors recommend using some medications, such as steroids, only for short-term use.

But in a 2015 study, researchers at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Department of Physiology at the University of Kentucky tested CBD on 54 rats. Their conclusion: “topical CBD application has therapeutic potential for relief of arthritis pain-related behaviors and inflammation without evident side-effects.”

CBD Cream for Inflammation

My skin looks and feels amazing. It’s like the hemp extract, combined with carefully selected lipids, has rolled back the clock on my skin by about 10 years.
— Liz Zucco, EsseCann
As mentioned above, CBD—and cannabis in general—is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. But its anti-inflammatory properties don’t stop with treating arthritis pain.

Inflammation is “a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection” and can occur all over the body, both internally and externally.

Externally, a CBD topical can provide fast relief when you apply it to the point of inflammation. This could mean applying a CBD ointment to a sore muscle after a hard workout. It could mean applying a CBD cream to a fresh tattoo as part of your aftercare routine. Or it could mean applying CBD oil to the site of an inflammatory skin condition such as psoriasis.

In all of these cases, CBD kickstarts homeostasis to help you heal naturally.

CBD is also beginning to show up in beauty and anti-aging products for its natural healing and anti-inflammatory features. Liz Zucco, co-owner of EsseCann, recently began experimenting with CBD facial serums (made at home) twice a day.

Liz told us, “My skin looks and feels amazing. It’s like the hemp extract, combined with carefully selected lipids, has rolled back the clock on my skin by about 10 years.”

Seriously, is there anything cannabis can’t do?

How Effective are CBD Creams For Pain?

I prefer not to take over-the-counter pain relievers due to side effects. I’d rather go with a natural remedy that helps the body heal itself instead of simply masking the root cause.
— Cathleen Mitchell, Kaya Hemp Company
Can CBD creams really replace over-the-counter pain relievers and other medications? According to many CBD users, the answer is yes.

Cathleen Mitchell is the owner of Kaya Hemp Company in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been clinically diagnosed with OA in her hip, as well as tendonitis, bursitis, and a torn labrum.

Mitchell was consulting for a medical marijuana dispensary in early 2017 when she tried CBD for the first time. She explains, “I prefer not to take over-the-counter pain relievers due to side effects. I’d rather go with a natural remedy that helps the body heal itself instead of simply masking the root cause.”

And on that first try, she was amazed by the efficacy of a CBD cream compared to the pain relievers she had been using. In fact, she experienced immediate relief from pain and inflammation. CBD was so helpful that she stopped relying on Aleve or Advil to control her pain.

“Over time, and with consistent application, the pain and tenderness from my conditions has been eliminated completely,” she said. “Now, I only apply as needed if I overdo it in the garden or at the gym.”

CBD Topicals vs. CBD Sublinguals, Vapes, and Capsules

A common misconception about CBD is that it is an immediate pain reliever for all aches and pains. But it’s not quite like over-the-counter medications such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol.

The truth is, while CBD is effective for pain management in some ways, oftentimes the relief is a result of using CBD as part of a consistent daily regimen.

Regular and consistent application is critical to achieve longer-term results.
— Cathleen Mitchell, Kaya Hemp Company
For example, if you have a headache, taking a dropper of CBD tincture (sublingual) may not relieve the headache in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, if you begin consistently including the CBD tincture in your daily routine, it’s likely that you will experience a boost in whole-body health and a decrease in general pain.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. Although CBD delivers healing benefits in all of its forms, topical CBD applications go directly to the source and tend to work faster. This is, in part, because they don’t have to travel through the digestive system first.

Vaping is another immediate application, as it delivers CBD directly to your bloodstream when inhaled. This method has a few downsides, though. For one thing, the effects don’t last long as other methods. And many people don’t enjoy inhaling smoke or vapor, as it can be harsh on the lungs.

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Things to Remember

So, what should you look for when you’re shopping for a CBD cream? And after you choose a product, how should you get started?

Mitchell and Zucco both offered a few pieces of advice.

Consumers should watch for when it’s not the hemp that’s doing the job, but a high dilution of menthol, wintergreen, or any other essential oil.
— Liz Zucco, EsseCann
Zucco advises paying close attention to the product’s ingredients: “Watch out for menthol and wintergreen. Menthol dilates the blood vessels in the skin, and so a low-dilution hemp product can seem like it’s working at first because of the menthol.

“Also, watch for methyl salicylate,” she said, referring to a substance which comes from wintergreen. “It’s similar to aspirin. Both menthol and wintergreen can be contraindicated in certain scenarios.

“And with essential oils, the dilution should ideally be no more than 1.5% of the total formulation. Consumers should watch for when it’s not the hemp that’s doing the job, but a high dilution of menthol, wintergreen, or any other essential oil. This simply is not an elegant formulation and does have risks.”

And Mitchell emphasizes a slow-but-steady approach for beginners. “Regular and consistent application is critical to achieve longer-term results. Once you have stabilized the pain and inflammation, you can reduce application to an as-needed basis,” she said.

Our advice: If you’re experiencing arthritis pain, inflammation, or any other condition that can be treated with a CBD topical, give it a try! Start with a small amount and increase as needed. Then, supplement your internal ECS with a CBD tincture or CBD capsules one to two times per day. If you’re consistent with this regimen, you should begin to see and feel an overall improvement in a matter of days.

As always, if you are living with any medical condition, it’s best to consult your physician before making changes to your treatment plan.

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The Author

Erin Cline

Erin Cline

Erin Cline is a freelance writer who lives in Phoenix, Arizona and enjoys covering topics such as cannabis, real estate, and content marketing. Erin is a proud dog mom and karaoke champion.