What is the Difference Between Topical and Transdermal CBD?

topical vs transdermal

One of the most common ways of taking CBD is by applying products topically, and allowing the CBD to absorb through your skin. But how do these products actually work – does topical CBD reach your bloodstream? The answer lies in looking more closely at the type of external CBD product you are using; is it topical or transdermal?

What is the difference between topical and transdermal CBD products?

If you’ve been aware of CBD for a while, you probably will have heard of topical CBD products, such as muscle creams & balms, and possibly even been recommended to try them for pain and inflammation. However, you may not have heard of the slightly less common category of transdermal CBD products, which covers products such as CBD patches. These two types of product are very closely linked – in both cases, you apply CBD to your skin, and after around half an hour, you begin to feel the effects of the product.

In fact there is only one major difference between topical and transdermal CBD products – topical CBD does not reach the bloodstream, while transdermal CBD does. What this means is that topical CBD products such as muscle balms will only be effective on the area in which they are applied. If you have tried these products before you will have realised this very quickly – if you are looking to try CBD to help reduce stress, applying a cream to your knee in the mornings is not going to be effective for you! This is due to the fact that the CBD in a topical product absorbs through the skin, but not deeply enough to reach your bloodstream. However, this is not the case for transdermal products – applying a CBD patch to your arm will allow CBD to absorb into your bloodstream and therefore reach your brain, which will be much more effective at helping to reduce your stress throughout the day.

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Why don’t topical CBD products reach the bloodstream?

Okay, so it’s clear that topical products don’t allow CBD to absorb into the bloodstream, but why is that the case – and why are transdermal products able to do this? The answer lies in some lesser-known properties of CBD – it is hydrophobic and lipophilic; it fails to mix with water, and dissolves in lipids/fats. When used in skincare/topical products, the result is that CBD struggles to absorb past the outer layer of skin. Without additional ingredients (which are not suitable for use in all types of products), the only way to get further absorption from CBD is to increase the concentration of the product – this has proven to be successful in rats, but has generally had limited success in humans.

Additionally, there are more practical issues with increasing the amount of CBD in a product; the more CBD you add to a cream, the more expensive it’s going to get. While this might seem okay for someone needing extreme pain relief, if your optimal dose is a 500mg muscle balm you’re probably not going to want to pay potentially several times the cost when you don’t need the extra CBD – it doesn’t make sense to increase the dosage enough to reach your bloodstream.

cbd patches 50mg

Why do transdermal CBD products reach the bloodstream?

Topical CBD products are great for localised use – they absorb just far enough to reach the cells and tissues required to alleviate pain and inflammation. However, they have no effectiveness in helping with any non-localized issues, such as anxiety or sleep. This is because, in order for CBD to have this type of effect, it needs to reach the brain, and this is only achieved by moving through the bloodstream. Products such as oils are therefore great for these uses, as oil is taken sublingually directly under the tongue and into the bloodstream.

Some people prefer an external way of taking CBD for non-pain related reasons, and this is where transdermal products come in – topical products which reach your bloodstream. One of the most common examples of this is CBD patches, which you can apply anywhere on your body (although we recommend a fleshy area so that it is easier to reach the bloodstream) & leave to absorb. These will release CBD into your system throughout the day providing relief from stress, anxiety, and various other ailments. These are different from topical products because they generally contain permeation enhancers which help the CBD to absorb into the bloodstream. For example, Hemp Well’s CBD-infused patches contain propylene glycol, which absorbs water and increases moisture retention.

Should I use topical or transdermal CBD products?

It depends on what you want to use CBD for! If you are looking for something to help you with localized pain, such as arthritis, it’s probably a good idea to stick with topical products such as our specialized Deep Relief CBD Cream for the best effect. However, if you are looking for relief from anxiety/stress, non-localized pain, or other issues, but still want a topical product, you’ll want to try a transdermal product such as CBD Patches.

Of course, you don’t have to stick to just topical/transdermal products – some of the most popular CBD products are oils and capsules. If you have any questions, don’t know where to start, or just want to have a chat about CBD, please feel free to message us in the chat box below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.