A showcase of CBD salve creams.

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Here’s everything you need to know about CBD topicals

From CBD creams to hemp salves and CBD lotions, we're discussing it all.


Marisa Losciale


Posted on Apr 29, 2021   Updated on Apr 14, 2022, 4:01 am CDT

CBD salves, hemp oils, creams, and CBD lotions are the OG mainstream Cannabidiol products. But since the market for CBD has exploded, the trend of products containing the hemp-derived compound went from sensible to absurd fast. Now, not only can you find products with a purpose (like hemp salves and CBD lube) but you can find some rather ridiculous infusions, too.

So in an effort to clear up any confusion, let me just say that yes, CBD topicals are the real deal. But not just any CBD cream will do. Read on to learn why not all CBD products are to be trusted and which brands are making the creams worth your coins. I’ll even link you to my personal faves because besties don’t gatekeep!

Benefits of using CBD topicals

CBD has a huge range of potential benefits from relieving inflammation, irritation, and nausea to increasing the activity of serotonin receptors. There’s still a lot that science hasn’t explained yet, but for the most part, it seems as though CBD topicals have multiple uses. So to keep things succinct, I’m only going to discuss the most popular uses that have science to back them up.

The most popular use is likely for relieving pain caused by inflammation. It’s like the most versatile Icy Hot ever to exist (just without the icky menthol smell)! Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, CBD topicals can provide localized near-immediate relief. From migraines to joint pain and even menstrual cramps, CBD has the power to knock them out minutes after application.

Another use for these types of CBD products is to relieve itchy or irritated skin. Whether you’re battling something on a whim like heat rash or have a chronic skin condition like rosacea or eczema, CBD can help.

CBD salves VS. CBD lotions and creams: What are their best uses?

The CBD topicals themselves vary by their recipe, so to speak. Creams, gels, lotions, balms, and salves are all options when shopping for CBD topicals. Just like many other skincare products, how it’s formulated ultimately decides its best uses.

CBD salves

Salves, which can also be referred to as balms, require the simplest formulation. A mix of beeswax and oils will eventually result in the solid consistency we know and love (until our body heat melts it). CBD salves are the easiest to use since they require no preservatives or refrigeration. This is due to the fact that beeswax can actually work as a protective agent–for both the product and your skin! And if you’re using the salve for more than just its CBD benefits, look for one that has other moisturizers (like Vitamin E) added to it.

Personally, I recommend looking at CBD salves as the Aquaphor of CBD topicals. Overly dry, irritated, and cracked skin doesn’t stand a chance. But since salves don’t contain any water, they are on the slow end of the absorption rate scale. So if you choose to use a salve, give your skin a moment to drink it all in or apply it somewhere you have thinner skin. Otherwise, you may end up transferring the product onto your clothes, which negates any benefits and risks damaging your wardrobe.

CBD salves are my go-to for topical migraine or period pain relief as well as rosacea relief. Their long shelf life helps to reserve these products for the moment I need a heavy hitter in a pinch. You can find my go-to picks below.

Foria’s CBD Balm with Kava

This particular cannabis salve is one of my favorites for a few reasons, the first being its ingredients. It’s jam-packed with 100% organically-grown kava, ginger, St. John’s wort, and eucalyptus. Plus a full-spectrum extract from organically-grown hemp, in a base of coconut MCT, castor oil, and beeswax makes this one of the most effective balms I’ve ever tried. The additional herbs almost amplify the entourage effect of the full-spectrum CBD. The eucalyptus does double duty by easing joint pain and giving off a soothing scent.

Price: $58

Extract Labs’ CBD Face Cream

Whenever I have a migraine, this is my salvation. Apply Extract Labs’ full-spectrum CBD face cream directly on your forehead, temples, and bridge of the nose to melt your pain away. It isn’t so much a cream as it is a salve, but it’s still great for your face! Its simple organic ingredients are unlikely to break you out (I do recommend patch testing before trying it out though) and thanks to its fatty oils, this is incredibly healing for the skin. Formulated with shea butter, jojoba oil, beeswax, lavender, rosemary, and full-spectrum CBD hemp oil, this product gives you the double-whammy benefits of both CBD and hemp oil.

Price: $90 $67.50

CBD lotions

CBD lotions are formulated with a higher water to oil ratio and an emulsifying agent. Since these products contain water, they either need to have preservatives added to them or be stored in a fridge to prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria.

Thanks to the high water concentration, lotions are quick to absorb. This makes them great for everyday application in areas you either cover up or need the use of immediately (hands, back, booty, etc.).

I love applying CBD lotions after I get out of the shower while my body is still damp. The formula works with the water droplets instead of against them, adding an extra bit of moisture. It’s like a regular body lotion fortified with the power of CBD. I’ve got some suggestions listed for you below.

BOTA CBD Hand lotion

If your face is suffering, this CBD lotion will help you get back to looking (and feeling) your best. Using CBD, essential minerals and antioxidants come together to deliver nutrient-rich moisture where you need it most. It’s fast-absorbing and never leaves your face feeling greasy, so you don’t have to disrupt your day just to moisturize.

Price: $30

JustCBD’s Aloe + CBD lotion

This is not only one of my top contenders in the realm of CBD lotion for pain and skin irritation, it’s one of my favorite CBD products of all time. After a hot shower, long workout, or even just a stressful day, nothing calms my skin quite like JustCBD’s Aloe + CBD lotion. I don’t know about you, but I wear my stress on my skin–hives and rashes are my body’s way of communicating it needs a break. JustCBD’s aloe lotion is my way of telling my skin to calm down and brighten up.

Price: $9.99-$19.99

CBD creams

The ingredients found in CBD creams are similar to those of lotions, the ratios are just flip-flopped. So instead of having a higher water concentration, creams contain more oil. The higher fat content makes them thicker and more moisturizing than a regular lotion.

CBD creams to me are what overnight face masks are to you (maybe). If you’re desperate for some TLC that’s out of your everyday lotion’s league but too thick for a salve to penetrate, go with a cream. This is the happiest middle ground between the two. For recommendations, see below.

CBDefine Skin Care Cream

This CBDefine skin care cream is the perfect solution for hydrating skin deeply. Not only that, but this is a great CBD cream for painful joints and sore feet. With 500mg of high-quality hemp-derived CBD, you’ll feel the relief almost immediately. For an added benefit instead of just rubbing it into your skin, use a massage technique! Its scent is sweet but not overwhelming, so feel free to apply liberally.

Price: $50 (regularly $60)

JustCBD Warming Gel

It’s got cinnamon, ginger, pepper, to create a natural warming sensation, and 1500mg of CBD per bottle. The roll-on effect let you target your acute pain without making a mess or using up extra product. We love that this product is vegan, fast-absorbing, and quick-drying. We think you will too!

Price: $39.99

CBD body butter

CBD body butters are developed using a combination of natural butters and oil. Shea, cocoa, and mango butter are usually the heaviest of hitters. But I’ve also seen formulas that use other fruits like apricot! In my opinion, body butters are easily the riskiest for sensitive skin so avoid putting this stuff on your face. However, despite its thickness and lack of water, body butters absorb deep into the skin relatively quickly.

I reserve body butters for the areas on my body that other skincare products have trouble penetrating. You know, when you have to bring out the big guns! Think your heels, elbows, knees, etc. Not sure what to buy? I’ve got some ideas for you below!

Saha Self-Care Coconut Vanilla CBD Body Butter

This is more than just CBD body butter, it’s an entire sensory experience. Which, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, the jar is branded with the phrase “An exotic, tropical-inspired CBD body butter.” And boy, did they hit the nail on the head with that one. As soon as you twist the cap off, scents of vanilla and coconut clear the room, scooping you away to a relaxing beach vacation that only you can dream of.

Fortified with a blend of almond oil, coconut oil, Moringa oil, Kokum butter, Cupuacu butter, cocoa butter, arrowroot powder, an emulsifying wax, and broad-spectrum CBD, this body butter will transform your skin (and maybe even your life). Consistency is part of what makes this my top pick for CBD body butters. The first finger in and you may think this is a relatively waxy product. But as you dip your finger further, you’ll be met with a silky and luxurious cream. And as you apply it to your skin, the body butter simply melts right in as the waxy layer gives your top layer of skin an almost unbelievable barrier of soft, sensational, protection.

I’ve used this to soothe irritated skin on my hands (it did a number on the discomfort from my painful hangnail), relax away menstrual cramps, ease chronic joint pain, and of course, just so I smell good! This just might be my favorite item on this entire list!

Price: $34.99

Happy Dance’s All Over CBD Body Butter

If your skin is desperate for some deep nourishment, Happy Dance has the product for you. The All Over CBD Body Butter is supercharged with shea butter, cocoa butter, and olive oil to quickly soothe eczema and dry skin. While the rosemary and rice bran extracts provide antioxidants that work to rewind time. I will say that this does have a somewhat hempy smell to it, so if that’s not something you’re into you may want to pass. That said, having no artificial ingredients or fragrances is a big win for sensitive skin!

Price: $30

Cloud 9 CBD Body Butter by Laguna Herbals

This CBD body butter is made for irritated and dry skin that won’t calm down. Blended using raw butters and oils known for healing skin from the inside out. The Kokum butter prevents skin from drying out, heals ulcers and raw skin, helps regenerate skin cells, and reduces degeneration of skin cells. It is also non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores.

Cocoa butter is a great source of antioxidants and saturated fats that are especially beneficial for healing dry, cracked skin. (It also leaves you smelling fabulous). While the added shea butter is high in vitamins A and E, so it helps cell regeneration and capillary circulation. It also softens and moisturizes the skin and helps heal scars, and cracked or damaged skin. To help skin retain moisture, as well as reduce pain and skin inflammation, this CBD cream contains these added healers: coconut and hemp seed oil.

Price: $48

CBD gels

Gels are more similar to lotions than they are creams, but they’re still their own beast. As you can tell by their light and airy texture, gels contain a higher water ratio than creams and lotions. Fortified with humectant ingredients, gels are capable of moisturizing skin by trapping water molecules, polysaccharides, and other natural moisturizing factors on the surface level of the skin. However, due to their lack of oil, they may not be as effective for hydrating those with dry skin. This makes them a popular choice for people with oily skin, those who want a matte finish, or someone opting for a lighter product.

CBD gels are a really great alternative to aloe vera–and I say that from experience. Unfortunately for me, the skin on my face is super sensitive and doesn’t get along with aloe. So I’ve supplemented pain relief from too much sun or windburn just by using a dab of CBD gel. It still provides a cooling sensation and the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD take the sting out of skin irritation.

If you’re looking for a lighter-weight product that doesn’t leave your skin feeling sticky or greasy, opt for a gel. I recommend trying the ones listed below.

JustCBD’s Ultra Relief CBD Gel

If you suffer from chronic pain, you need this. JustCBD’s Ultra Relief CBD Gel is a top competitor for the best CBD creams for arthritis and joint pain. It’s fast-absorbing and never sticky. Infused with CBD, tea tree oil, menthol, and rosemary extract, this gel’s analgesic properties are not to be understated. It smells pretty good too. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself!

Price: $39.99 (regularly $49.99)

KushQueen’s Soaked CBD Shower Gel

This is a different type of CBD gel but a powerful gel nonetheless! Using revolutionary Amplifi Nanotechnology, anyone who uses this shower gel will experience the benefits of CBD almost instantly. KushQueen recommends that you lather up really well in order to obtain the benefits, so definitely let this sit on your skin for a minute or two before rinsing. Which, that shouldn’t be a problem considering how delectable it smells! Once the hints of fresh citrus fill the air, you won’t want to wash it off!

Price: $39.99

At the end of the day, how you use these products is up to you. My suggestions are purely based on the science of formulation as well as my own experience, so by all means experiment! Find what works best for you and run with it. Just remember that it’s not recommended to any of these products on broken skin.

CBD VS hemp products: What’s the difference?

Whether you’re in your local homeopathic shop or a Marshall’s, you’ve likely come across both hemp and CBD topicals. I’m talking sheet masks, Tiger Balm alternatives, face moisturizers, haircare, you get the idea. Cannabis derivatives have found a way to permeate the market and your skin.

With all the different lingo out there, it’s easy to become flustered by a product’s packaging alone. Some cannabis-infused creams brand themselves as hemp moisturizers while others couldn’t fit the CBD initials on their label one more time even if they tried. So what’s the difference between the two?

Sourcing: It starts at the root

Despite hemp and CBD both being a byproduct of the same plant, how they’re derived is what sets them apart. CBD is drawn from the stems and leaves of hemp plants (which is where it is most concentrated). Hemp oil, on the other hand, comes from the seeds of the plant. Due to the different extraction processes, the elements found in CBD creams and hemp topicals are distinct.

Element(ary) goals: Chemically, they are not the same

Products that advertise as being infused with hemp won’t contain CBD, but they do host other benefits. Hemp oil is abundant with fatty acids and nutrients that have been proven to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as relieve pain caused by inflammation. But because of its effects on blood pressure, it’s important to discuss the potential side effects of ingesting hemp oil with your doctor before you start on a regimen.

CBD topicals, however, usually only contain the cannabinoid CBD. There are exceptions to this rule, which would be purchasing a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD product. Full-spectrum products will contain all of the cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant (CBD, CBG, CBN, and <0.3% THC). Broad-spectrum will contain all of the cannabinoids outside of THC, while CBD isolate contains just CBD.

The key takeaway here is that while hemp and CBD products come from the same plant, have similar uses, and can be formulated together, they are not the same and shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

One other thing to note before you buy is that any legitimate CBD company will include a certificate of analysis (CoA) as well as third-party lab results, ensuring the only ingredients in the products are what’s listed.

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*First Published: Apr 29, 2021, 4:11 pm CDT