What’s The Difference Between Topical and Transdermal CBD Products?

With the introduction of some new products into the CBD world, the topic of transdermal products has become pretty popular. One of the most heavily debated topics currently is that of transdermal products and what sets them apart from topicals. Understandably, there is some confusion out there about the following question – “What is the difference between topical and transdermal CBD products?”

Topicals

CBDol – CBDistillery’s Topical

CBD lotions, salves and balms are available from many CBD companies. These topicals make up most of the market today. They are applied to the skin but they only work ON the skin. They generally work on the top 3 layers of the skin, it’s surrounding area, and that’s it. They do not penetrate THROUGH the skin, nor does any of the CBD get into the bloodstream. If you take your sublingual CBD oil and apply it to your skin, that is topical not transdermal. This is largely why you can apply THC topically as well, and not experience any psychoactive effects. Nor will it be likely to trigger a positive drug test.

Transdermals

Transdermals are different. These are products also applied to the skin, but they actually absorb into and penetrate through the skin into your bloodstream. This means it can not only work as a localized effect, but also throughout your whole body. It takes special emulsifiers and chemical compounds to make a CBD product transdermal which is also why they tend to be more expensive.

A More In-Depth Look

You’re probably thinking, “How do topicals work if they don’t absorb through the skin?” The short answer is that your skin has CB1 and CB2 receptors that the cannabinoids interact with when they are applied. Again, it’s important to note that the receptors in the general area are what will be activated when CBD is used topically. One should not expect CBD applied topically to their wrist to have any impact on, say, a migraine. This is a limitation of topical products.

Mary’s Nutritionals – Transdermal CBD Patch

So what if you do want the CBD or other cannabinoids applied on your skin to have a whole-body effect rather than local? That’s where transdermal comes in and takes superiority over topical products. Transdermal not only works locally on those receptors, it also gets into the bloodstream and is able to reach throughout the entire body. It’s not uncommon to apply some transdermal CBD to the back of the neck, for example, to get some relief for a migraine. One still wants to ideally apply the transdermal product directly where the pain is for some boosted targeted relief. But it’s not 100% essential like it is with topicals. In some cases, the transdermal products being used aren’t creams or lotions that can be applied directly over the area that hurts. Instead, they’re in the form of patches. A commonly sought out transdermal patch is that of the Mary’s Nutritionals/Mary’s Medicinals brand. These patches are applied to a veinous area such as the inner wrist and worn for around 8 hours. An example of the aforementioned transdermal creams or lotions is Myaderm, a transdermal cream produced with CBD isolate derived from hemp.

It’s also important to note that transdermal tends to be touted as extremely high in bioavailability. We’re on the hunt for a study to get exact numbers, but our discussions with the pharmacists at these companies producing the transdermal products claim it is in the 70% range. If accurate, this puts transdermal products well above sublingual or even vaping as far as bioavailability is concerned.

Which Should I Try? Which is Best?

Understandably, transdermal products tend to be on the more expensive side. They require special emulsifiers and permeability enhancers to get the cannabinoids at a point where you can absorb them through the skin. This costs much more than what it costs to make traditional topicals. The average consumer could easily make a DIY topical in their home with some crystalline isolate and coconut oil. The same cannot be said for transdermals, at least not safely.

To decide which to try, you also need to take drug testing into account. Since transdermal products do get the cannabinoids into your bloodstream, any potential THC in the products has the possibility to trigger a positive drug test result. Topicals, provided they are kept away from cuts and mucous membranes, pose no such risk.

How Do I Know if a Product is Transdermal or Topical?

As previously stated, the majority of the products out there currently are topicals. If it does not explicitly state on the labeling that the product is transdermal, chances are it is topical. Transdermal is technology that companies understandably want to advertise and likely would have labeled the product as such. However, if you are unsure, contact the company and ask directly. Take a look at the ingredients and see if it lists any permeability enhancers or emulsifiers. Do the instructions require you to apply the product near a veinous area, or clean the area with an alcohol wipe? Another indication may be the price, since transdermals are generally more expensive products.

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Sarah Jorczyk is an advocate for CBD products and one of the Administrators of the CBD Oil Users Group on Facebook. She strives to educate the public, and promotes the use of safe products while helping others throughout their CBD journey. You can also find a variety of her content, including reviews and educational videos, on the group's youtube page.

1 Comment
  1. I am so excited to hear that transdermal CBD is even available! I had no idea; chronic pain is compounded with fibromyalgia. I have suffered for years, so, I am excited to try this for long awaited relief!!!!!! I pray it works; because I am a young-hearted 73 year old with the desire to live life to the limit!!!😀😀

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