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CBD Topicals vs Oils: What’s The Difference?

Written by Lisa Rennie

Derived from the hemp plant, cannabidiol (CBD) can provide a host of benefits to the mind and body, all without inducing intoxicating effects.

But with all the different CBD products available on the market, how do you know which one to use? More specifically, CBD oil and topicals may be applied similarly. How do they compare to each other? How do they differ? And more importantly, which one should you use to target whatever ailment you’re experiencing?


Oil can be applied topically to specific areas that are experiencing discomfort. It’s also an ideal substance to use for a massage, as oils help to lubricate the skin and minimize any friction while a massage is being performed.

The use of CBD oils during a massage also provides the opportunity to add essential oils to help both nourish the skin and provide an aromatic experience.

But CBD is also often taken orally, usually under the tongue using a dropper. By consuming CBD oil orally, it can have a more systemic effect on the entire body. [1]

CBD Topicals

Topicals can be further broken down into different formats, including tinctures, creams, salves, and ointments, each of which has a different texture, consistency, and base.

The different CBD topical formats may also differ in CBD potency, much like CBD oils. These types of products tend to be more commonly used to target specific areas of the body. [1]

Which Should You Use?

The decision between oils and topicals ultimately depends on the reason why you’re using CBD and what your comfort level and preference is. Generally speaking, both topicals and oils can work for pain management.

That said, topicals may be more effective for alleviating acute pain, inflammation, and headaches in a more targeted manner. They may also be more effective for treating skin issues, including eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. Further, topicals may be included in a regular skin care regimen to promote healthier skin.

But for those looking to manage chronic stress, anxiety, or insomnia, CBD oils that can be ingested orally may be optimal, as the effects will be more long lasting and impact the body as a whole. It is also easier to control dosing with the oral route. [1]

Having said all that, combining both topical CBD along with oral CBD may provide the best of both worlds. We always recommend speaking to your doctor before initiating CBD use. And it’s also important to test out different products to see which might work best for your body.

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  1. Bruni N, et al. Cannabinoid delivery systems for pain and inflammation treatment. Molecules. 2018;23(10):2478.

About the author

Lisa Rennie

Lisa Simoneli Rennie has been working as a freelance writer for more than a decade, creating unique content dedicated to informing consumers. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with others, and in her spare time, Lisa enjoys trying funky new recipes, spending time with her dog, and of course, reveling in the joy of family.