In the last few years, cannabidiol (CBD) has become a darling of alternative health aficionados. And as its popularity grows, it’s gaining acceptance with mainstream consumers. 

In March CVS announced plans to sell certain CBD products in some stores. Saks Fifth Avenue is selling CBD beauty products at its flagship New York City location. And chains like Seventh Sense CBD and Your CBD Store are setting up shop in malls and downtowns nationwide. 

A shortcut via the skin

A lot of interest in CBD centers around edibles. “People have the tendency to think of CBD and cannabis as things which have to be smoked or eaten,” says Samantha Morrison, a cannabis researcher for Glacial Wellness.

“People have the tendency to think of CBD and cannabis as things which have to be smoked or eaten”
Samantha Morrison
Glacial Wellness

But skin oils, creams, and lotions are attracting people looking for targeted treatments, especially for pain and inflammation.

That makes sense, explains Ceppie Merry, a doctor based in Ireland who also holds a PhD in pharmacology. That’s because when you eat or drink products containing CBD, the liver breaks down a lot of it, she says.

When you apply CBD products directly to the skin, the CBD bypasses the liver and reaches the blood without being broken down, she says.

With demand growing, spas and massage therapists are offering CBD massages and treatments designed to treat pain and inflammation. But do they work? 

What can CBD skin treatments do for you?

Some research seems to indicate that applying CBD to the skin might be effective. A study of mice with arthritis found that CBD gel reduced joint swelling, and may relieve pain and inflammation. 

And research focused on rheumatic diseases says that using cannabis to treat joint pain should be taken seriously. 

Many massage therapists are convinced that CBD-based treatments bring pain relief to their clients, and a long list of spas are adding the service to their offerings. 

Sharon Farber, a licensed massage therapist and founder of Dragonfly Healing Arts in Connecticut, says, “I can tell you from experience that the CBDs help many of my clients and friends.”

She points out that massage alone also brings pain relief, so it’s tough to sort out what’s making the difference. But she says, “Many of my clients now use CBD on their own and tell me it helps. One client purchased CBDs to relieve his shoulder pain and no longer gets massage.”

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Stephanie Mayhew, a licensed massage therapist for Soothe based in Warrenton, Virginia, treats fibromyalgia with massage therapy. She works on problem spots by rubbing in CBD oil, applying a hot towel, and massaging the area. 

“CBD has both anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, and can penetrate through the skin for isolated pain management”
Maya Page
Oilly

Athletes are also turning to CBD for pain relief. “CBD has both anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, and can penetrate through the skin for isolated pain management. CBD massage could also help with sports massages and possibly help to lower healing time, allowing an athlete a lower recovery time,” says Maya Page, owner of CBD retailer Oilly.

With interest in CBD’s benefits skyrocketing, brands are adding it to beauty products such as anti-aging creams, lip balms, moisturizers, and muscle rubs, Morrison says.

But CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA, so it’s important to find a retailer and brand that you trust. 

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