We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Medical News Today only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.

Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
  • Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
  • Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
  • Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.
Was this helpful?

CBD topicals offer a wide range of benefits, from pain management to improving skin health. Read more about our top picks and hands on review here.

Is CBD legal?The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC federally legal. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them federally illegal but legal under some state laws. Be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process.Learn more here. We choose products that meet the following criteria:

  • Ingredients: MNT chooses products containing safe and high quality ingredients that are clearly labeled. They should also confirm they are free from pesticides, heavy metals, and mold.
  • Dosage: MNT chooses products that must clearly state the CBD dosage.
  • Serving size: MNT selects products in which manufacturers recommend a dosage.
  • Third-party labs: MNT chooses products that undergo third-party testing for contaminants by an ISO 17025-compliant laboratory.
  • Available certificate of analysis: MNT chooses companies that demonstrate transparency and share a product’s certificate of analysis (COA) following receipt of its third-party lab results.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Was this helpful?

Best gel: Ojai Sports Gel

Best high-potency cream: Extract Labs Muscle Cream

The below table compares all the CBD topicals in this article on key points:

Joy Organics$54.95$79.95Salve1–2 oz500-1,000 mg
CBDistillery$60Salve1 oz500 mg
Cornbread Hemp$49.99Lotion2 oz500 mg
Ojai$46.95Gel1 oz100 mg
Aspen Green$90Balm2 oz1,000 mg
Extract Labs$89.99Cream 2.95 oz2,000 mg
Lazarus Naturals$12–$42Balm16–72 g800–3,600 mg

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound of the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD topicals are any CBD product that a person can rub directly into the skin.

Common types of CBD topicals include:

Individuals may choose to try CBD topicals to treat various conditions, such as acne, joint pain, and muscular soreness. Research into the effectiveness of CBD topicals is limited but ongoing.

Learn about the potential benefits of CBD here.

The following table contains some useful terms relating to CBD.

CBDA compound within the C. sativa plant that does not create the high sensation individuals commonly associate with cannabis use.
THCA compound in the C. sativa plant. It is the psychoactive compound that creates the high sensation from cannabis use.
Full-spectrumA full-spectrum product will contain all of the natural compounds in the cannabis plant, including THC. However, THC levels must be no more than 0.3% to comply with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation on full-spectrum CBD products.
Broad-spectrumBroad-spectrum products contain natural compounds of the cannabis plant. However, while manufacturers remove all or most of the THC in broad-spectrum CBD, it may still be present in trace amounts.
CBD isolateThis is the purest form of CBD and should contain 0% THC.
CannabinoidsThe compounds within the cannabis plant, of which there are over 120. CBD is the second richest compound in the plant after THC.
TerpenesAnother compound of the C. sativa plant, terpenes typically give plants their specific aromas. Some terpenes, such as limonene, may have specific health benefits.
Certificate of analysis (COA)Reputable manufacturers of CBD products should ensure a COA is available for inspection. A COA provides information on the third-party testing that independent labs conduct on a particular product. Sometimes, products have a scannable smartphone code directing people to the COA online.

Read more about terminology and other important CBD information here.

According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), CBD causes no dependency effects in humans.

However, to avoid unwanted drug interactions or side effects, a person should consult a doctor or healthcare professional before using CBD products.

For more information on CBD and how to shop for it, read our complete buyer’s guide to CBD here.

Humans have a high concentration of cannabinoid receptors in their skin. These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate several bodily functions. When a person applies CBD topically, it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the epidermal and dermal skin, where it acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps relieve pain.

A 2022 review that investigated the effects of CBD application on rheumatic conditions in dogs, concluded that CBD oil improved pain, activity scores, and improved the quality of life index in dogs with osteoarthritis.

However, there are limited studies on the use of topical cannabinoids in humans.

CBD is only one of the 100 cannabinoids identified in cannabis. It does not produce the “high” effects associated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and recreational cannabis consumption. However, CBD and other cannabinoids may help treat epilepsy, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms.

Learn more about the potential benefits of CBD here.

CBD’s potent antioxidant properties may help prevent skin inflammation or damage due to ultraviolet (UV) rays and environmental pollutants.

Topical CBD offers a more targeted form of treatment that may address musculoskeletal and joint pain, as well as chronic skin conditions. According to the Arthritis Foundation, CBD has been shown to also effectively treat arthritic pain.

A 2020 study found that CBD has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can help prevent the overproduction of sebum, which is a factor in acne.

In a small 2019 study, researchers from Italy asked 20 patients living with chronic skin diseases to administer an ointment containing CBD twice a day for 3 months. At the end of the study period, all the participants showed significant improvements in skin hydration and elasticity.

In one 2022 review of the literature, researchers examined the effects of topical CBD oil in dogs with osteoarthritis. The researchers found that CBD concentrations of 2 mg/kg of oral CBD oil given twice a day improved the dogs’ pain and activity scores.

Scientific research into the effects and health benefits of CBD topicals is still at a relatively early stage. However, there is increasing evidence that it may have numerous medicinal properties. That said, people should not use CBD as an alternative to other treatment options without discussing it with a doctor or another healthcare professional first.

CBD resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on CBD.

Was this helpful?

A person should contact a doctor before using any CBD products, particularly if they have known pre-existing medical conditions or are taking prescribed medications.

Individuals may also consider contacting a doctor or healthcare professional if they experience side effects from a CBD product. Though often well tolerated, side effects can include:

If side effects occur, a person should discontinue using the product immediately.

What is the most potent CBD salve?

Within this article, the Extract Labs Muscle Cream contains the most CBD per product.

Can CBD be absorbed through the skin?

Yes. CBD absorbs into the skin through receptors and penetrates through the epidermal and dermal levels.

How do I choose a CBD topical?

CBD topicals come in a variety of fragrances, ingredients, and doses.

People can look for additional ingredients they enjoy using, such as lavender oil. They should also look out for ingredients to which they may have an allergy or sensitivity.

Individuals may also consider whether the product contains THC and how much CBD is in it.

A person should also choose a topical that is within their budget.

Does CBD really work topically?

Yes, topical CBD does really work and has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.

Effects may vary depending on the dose a person uses. People should always start with the lowest possible dose and increase it gradually until they reach their desired effect.

Which form of CBD is most effective?

The most effective form of CBD may depend on what a person intends to use it for.

Topical CBD may be the best option for people with localized aches or pains, as they rub the CBD directly into the affected area.

Ingestible CBD, such as oils and gummies, may be most suitable for people who are looking for general wellness.

CBD topicals may help alleviate muscle soreness, joint inflammation, and chronic skin conditions.

CBD products can contain other cannabinoids and trace amounts of THC, depending on the extraction process.

High quality CBD products undergo third-party laboratory testing that checks for CBD concentration, product quality, and contaminants.