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In this practical guide you're learn what are CBD salves. We also discuss how they work, how they are made, and what they're commonly used for. Cannabinoids can provide targeted skin care relief​, but what exactly are the differences between CBD salves and a CBD creams? In this article, we’ll explore the difference between topical creams, lotions, and VBD oils – and help you choose the best items for your wellness goals.

CBD Salves: The Definitive Guide

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Salves, oils, tinctures, creams, butters, balms, lotions, and moisturizers. In the world of CBD, there are endless terminologies. What is a salve, and what’s the difference between a CBD salve and a CBD oil, or the difference between a salve and a cream?

These are honest and valid questions. We understand the confusion surrounding topical cannabis options and understand that the bevy of products available both online and in dispensaries can be overwhelming.

In this article, we explain everything you need to know about CBD salves. We talk about what they’re used for, how they’re made, and the conditions people use them for. We also explore how salves differ from other CBD products like oils and creams.

What Is a CBD Salve?

In the general sense of function, there is no real distinguishing between a salve, a balm, and an ointment. One can use all three terms more or less interchangeably.

The Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health officially defines an ointment as: “a semisolid preparation for external application to the skin or mucous membranes … [that] consists of medicinal substances incorporated in suitable vehicles. (Called also salves and unguents).”

In less clinical, easier-to-understand terms, a salve (or balm or ointment) is a medicine-infused concoction wherein one applies the medicine (in this case CBD) directly to the skin.

Salves are typically made with a fatty base such as beeswax, coconut oil, or Candelilla wax.

Regarding CBD creams and CBD lotions, the only real difference between them and salves/balms/ointments is that creams and lotions use water and moisturizing agents in their bases. Salves and balms only use fatty oils and wax as a base, with no water.

This accounts for a difference in texture more than anything else. The real functional differences, which we’ll talk about in just a moment, lie more in the specific ingredients used and the amount of CBD present in the salve.

CBD Salves: How Are They Made?

Salves are simple concoctions, even though companies can make them with various ingredients. Go online, and you’ll find dozens of ‘DIY CBD salve’ instructions. Most of them, though, are similar in that they include the following three ingredients:

  1. A natural wax (most commonly beeswax)
  2. A fatty oil base (this is the “vehicle” responsible for carrying the medicine)
  3. A medicinal or therapeutic compound

For the wax portion of the base, natural (non-enriched) beeswax is a common choice. If you’ve never handled beeswax before, it’s a sticky, dense, hard material that one must melt down to garner usability.

Vegetable waxes like Candelilla wax (which comes from the leaves of the Mexico-native Candelilla plant) also work well. However, Candelilla is mostly for vegan salves. Generally, pure beeswax is the better option.

Why Are Oils Used in CBD Salves?

The oil portion of the base is the part that’s responsible for “carrying” the medicine in the salve. Several different oils are effective for making CBD salves, but many consider coconut oil the best option. This is due to its high content of fatty acids. Fatty acids are the molecular devices responsible for carrying the CBD compound.

Generally, the more fatty acids an oil has, the more CBD it can carry. Fortunately, there are other options if you’re sensitive to coconut oil.

Weighing in on CBD cream as a …

To infuse the oil with CBD, a cannabis plant is ground into fine particles. The ground flower is then steeped for several hours at 200+ degrees Fahrenheit in the oil. The heat decarboxylates the cannabidiol into its active molecular form. This is the point at which the fatty acids in the oil latch onto the CBD.

After the heating process, the oil is mixed with melted-down wax to create the topical CBD salve. Other essential oils, like lavender and peppermint, are often added as well. Manufacturers can add fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins E, A, and D too.

Check the label!

Any good CBD salve will have a full list of ingredients on the tub it comes in. When browsing for options, keep an eye out for the wax used, the oil base, and other ingredients.

If you’re unsure where the CBD comes from, contact the manufacturer. Most brands use hemp as the cannabidiol source (industrial hemp is legal and contains CBD), but others use marijuana strains with a higher THC content. These are illegal in some parts of the U.S. without a medical marijuana card.

Why Use a CBD Salve?

The primary reason for applying CBD in this way is to combat aches and pains in the body. Most people use topical CBD products for musculoskeletal complaints such as carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, or tendinitis.

A study in the European Journal of Pain in 2016 looked at the effect of CBD gel on rats. The researchers found that doses of 6.2mg and 62.3mg of CBD a day effectively reduced joint swelling and limb posture scores. However, this research looked at transdermal CBD, which has a more detailed effect than standard CBD salves.

A study published in Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in 2020 found that CBD could help reduce pain for peripheral neuropathy patients. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage with symptoms such as weakening in the hands and feet and numbness.

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Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in 2019 showed that transdermal CBD improved the condition of patients with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). TMD can cause stiffening and pain in an individual’s jaw.

Photo Credit: Euphoric Grounds

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) suggests that CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties could help with common skin conditions like acne or psoriasis.

Moreover, there is little evidence of adverse side effects. While the AAD acknowledges that CBD creams could cause contact dermatitis, it is a possible side effect with almost any topical cream, not just CBD products.

Individuals with skin conditions or body pain find that CBD salve can provide a faster effect than orally consumed products. This is due to how such products function.

How Does a CBD Salve Work?

In general, CBD works by activating the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which impacts many important functions in the body. The ECS consists of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) present on the surface of cells. CB receptors are available throughout the body and are associated with:

  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Pain sensation
  • Immune function

The chemicals produced by the body that interact with the ECS are called endocannabinoids. Like CBD and THC, they interact with CB receptors. There is a high concentration of CB receptors on the skin.

The skin is an incredibly active and functional organ – it’s the largest in the human body. While it is a barrier to potentially harmful substances, it also acts as a useful molecular passageway. It is quick, for instance, to absorb lipid-based oils (such as the ones that comprise CBD salves).

When you apply a CBD salve topically, the lipids in the oil base transport phytochemicals across skin cell membranes. At this point, the CBD can initiate its physiological mechanisms on surrounding cell and tissue layers. Rather than masking pain or inflammation, a CBD salve could ensure pain goes away for a certain period.

This is why salves are a good choice for things like joint pain and skin-specific conditions. The CBD activity directly targets acute regions and gets to work at the source of pain or discomfort.

Nonetheless, users should note that CBD salves don’t spread to deeper tissues and the bloodstream. Therefore, they are best used if you have surface-level pain symptoms. Those seeking relief from aches and pains deeper in the body should look into transdermal CBD products such as patches.

Absorption Rate

There is also the question of bioavailability, the amount of a drug that has a potential therapeutic effect. Orally consumed CBD must go through the digestive system and is subject to the ‘first pass’ effect. This is a phenomenon where a drug gets metabolized at a certain location in the body, resulting in a far lower absorption rate.

What are the benefits? …

Estimates vary but orally consumed CBD’s bioavailability rate is somewhere between 6% and 20%. This means that if someone consumes 100mg of CBD oil, a maximum of 20mg affects the body.

The bioavailability of CBD topicals is unknown. However, since cannabinoids only need to penetrate the skin, they could provide a greater absorption rate than their orally consumed counterparts.

How to Choose a Cannabidiol Salve

When choosing the right CBD salve, we recommend paying close attention to the following factors.

CBD Concentration

Look at the amount of CBD in a container of salve, not to mention the level of CBD per ml. The CBD concentration of salves can vary significantly, so don’t lose out by choosing a weaker option. For instance, CBDfx now has a topical with 60mg of cannabidiol per ml of cream.

Third-Party Lab Testing

Don’t purchase any product that lacks a certificate of analysis (COA). Without a COA, you have no idea whether the product contains the CBD content claimed on the label. These third-party lab reports should also prove the absence of THC, pesticides, insecticides, heavy metals, and other toxins.


Always opt for organic ingredients and stay away from any CBD salves containing things you’ve never heard of! The best topicals tend to have shea butter, aloe vera, and other high-quality moisturizing ingredients found in standard skin creams.

Type of CBD

Does the salve use full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate CBD? Isolate products contain nothing but cannabidiol. Full-spectrum CBD contains an array of cannabinoids and terpenes. It is believed to provide more benefits due to the entourage effect. This phenomenon suggests that cannabinoids work better together than in isolation. The main difference between full-spectrum and broad-spectrum is that the latter contains practically 0% THC.

Quality Control

  • What do you know about the brand?
  • Where does it source its hemp?
  • Is the hemp non-GMO?
  • How does the brand extract its cannabinoid?

These are some of the questions you need to address before parting with your money. Ideally, you will buy CBD salves from top-rated brands that use hemp cultivated in licensed American or EU farms. They will use organic hemp with a maximum of 0.3% THC and solventless CO2 extraction.

Final Thoughts on CBD Salves

While CBD salves work well for many individuals, they don’t have the same effect on everyone. It’s important to do your own research, try out different products, and explore various natural ingredients to find a salve that’s suitable for you and your needs.

Be wary of the specific product you’re buying if or when you decide to try a CBD salve or other topical CBD product. While there are some very well-made products out there, there are plenty of poor-quality ones as well.

The FDA has issued warning letters to several companies for manufacturing CBD products with inaccurately labeled bottles. As Dr. Adam Friedman (Assistant Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University) puts it, “Cannabinoids haven’t really emerged [yet] within mainstream dermatology, but there’s going to be an exponential increase in the [amount of] attention paid to them.”

Do your homework, spend some time researching quality brands, and read plenty of reviews (like those below) before you go and buy CBD salve – whether it’s online or in a store.

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CBD Salves vs CBD Creams: What’s the difference?

Thanks to the ever-growing number of studies showing CBD’s effectiveness when applied to the skin, topical methods of CBD application like balms, salves and lotions are becoming more popular. Known to have anti-inflammatory effects, cannabinoids can provide targeted relief for ​dry skin​, arthritis and even ​acne when used in skincare. But what exactly are the differences between CBD salves and a CBD creams?

CBD Salves

CBD-infused salves are healing and long lasting

Use of salves can be dated as far back as ancient Egypt. Back then, their primary uses were to treat infection, inflammation and pain. Salves are created by combining a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil with beeswax (or vegetable wax in vegan formulas), herbs and sometimes essential oils.

For more medical cannabis updates and other important stories, make sure to subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter, the top source for cannabis news.

In CBD salves, the ‘herbal’ part of the formula is replaced by cannabidiol and the fatty acids in the oil act as the ‘vehicle’ for carrying the cannabinoids. Beeswax acts as a preservative and because they contain no water, CBD salves last much longer than products which contain a water base such as lotions or creams.

CBD Creams

The difference with CBD creams lies in the water content of the formula. Creams are a combination of oil, emulsifying agents (e.g. beeswax) and water, allowing them to easily absorb into the skin. The CBD is administered in the same way as in a salve – through the fat content within the oil base.

CBD creams are hydrating and easily absorbed into the skin

Typically, water in skincare equals a need for some kind of preservative, due to water’s ability to harbor bacteria. So for those with sensitive skin, it’s worth considering looking for creams with natural ingredients to avoid preservatives which may further irritate the skin. Bear in mind that products with water also usually carry a shorter shelf life in comparison to those with a wax base.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to CBD creams and CBD salves, the real differences between the two lies in the fact that creams use a percentage of water in their bases. On the other hand, salves use only oil and wax, resulting in a longer product shelf life.

Critically, it’s down to the individual to determine which product is better suited for their condition. Though it’s safe to say that whether you’re suffering from muscle aches, ​dry skin, arthritis or pain in general, topical CBD application is a great alternative when it comes to localized relief.

For more medical cannabis updates and other important stories, make sure to subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter, the top source for cannabis news.
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About the author

Sophie Smith

Sophie Smith is a writer and natural health enthusiast. Founder of a green beauty blog, her knowledge of natural remedies and plant-based cosmetics has lead Sophie to become an advocate for the many benefits of cannabis as an alternative medicine. Her mission is to help combat the stigma associated with ‘cannabis’ by writing factual content that empowers your CBD choices.

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Psychedelics & Cannabis News:
Sophie Smith

Sophie Smith is a writer and natural health enthusiast. Founder of a green beauty blog, her knowledge of natural remedies and plant-based cosmetics has lead Sophie to become an advocate for the many benefits of cannabis as an alternative medicine. Her mission is to help combat the stigma associated with ‘cannabis’ by writing factual content that empowers your CBD choices.


About Us:
Cannadelics’ mission is to lead the way in providing information that is accurate, effective, and reliable. We aim to empower people who want to learn about better solutions for their specific mental and physical difficulties, as well as for those seeking wellness and a healthy lifestyle alternative.

Cannadelics shall not be held liable for the medical claims made by cannabis or psychedelics companies, opinions and personal experiences documented by our writers/employees, or by testimonials made by our readers. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products and the testimonials made have not been confirmed by FDA- approved research. These products, nor the content on Cannadelics, are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or ailment.

All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for, or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product.
As the legality of cannabinoids and psychedelics compounds falls in a gray area, and is constantly changing, you should always check your state and local guidelines/regulations before buying or using any product.
Our articles are written by researchers/journalists; not doctors, lawyers, or businesspersons. All information is sourced, referenced, and/or based on personal experience. To learn more about a topic, you will need to seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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We work hard to find and verify the best products, so we may include affiliate links to support the maintenance and development of this site.

CBD Oil vs. Cream: What You Should Consider

If you can drink it, put it on your skin, or take a bath in it, there’s likely a CBD-infused version of it. Two of the leading product categories in the CBD world are topicals like creams and lotions and CBD oil. While both may contain the cannabinoid, the two products have diverging use cases and end goals. In this article, we’ll explore the difference between the two categories and help you choose the best items for your wellness goals.

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What are CBD creams?

A CBD cream is any topical product infused with Cannabidiol (CBD). Creams are just one such topical; lotions, serums, and muscle rubs are a sampling of the many related products you’ll find. These creams are applied to calm skin and leave you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and glowing.

What is CBD oil?

This extract, which contains high levels of CBD, is taken from hemp plants and incorporated into other products. Harvested hemp goes through an extraction process that pulls out all the plant’s compounds, including CBD, minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and trace amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which occur naturally in hemp.

At Prima, we obtain our CBD using a supercritical CO2 extraction. We then gently refine this extract to remove THC and other undesired materials such as waxes. The result is a broad spectrum hemp extract, which retains all the desired substances and removes all the undesired components without subjecting the extract to heat or harsh alcohols.

In the marketplace, you may see CBD oil on the label of products that are actually CBD tinctures. Tinctures are CBD oil extract mixed with a carrier oil designed to be consumed orally. These tinctures are sometimes called oil because they take on the appearance of oil.

How these products are put to use

CBD creams are applied directly to your skin. Depending on the product you select, it may be specially-formulated for certain parts of your body or for time of day. For instance, our R&R cream can be applied all over your arms, legs, and glutes.

CBD oil is consumed orally. Typically, this product comes in a dropper bottle; to consume CBD oil, you’d fill the dropper with the desired amount and then dispense it into your mouth.

Advanced recovery rub for soothing comfort

Which other ingredients can you find in CBD creams?

At Prima, our CBD creams pair this cannabinoid with other complementary, beneficial ingredients that help boost hydration and help improve skin’s appearance. Oils, extracts, botanicals, and more can be found right alongside CBD in these formulations, identifying which natural compounds can elevate CBD’s effect on your skin.

  • Hemp seed oil: This extract from hemp seeds — which does not contain CBD — is a dream moisturizer, hydrating your skin without clogging your pores.
  • Tea tree oil: This oil can also combat the appearance of oily skin.
  • Avocado oil. Like its source fruit, avocado oil overflows with nutrients. We include it in our Night Magic facial oil so that your skin experiences the soothing properties associated with Vitamins A, D, and E, not to mention antioxidants, oleic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Prickly pear oil: Not only is this cactus-derived oil moisturizing, its significant volume of nutrients like Vitamin K and Vitamin E can support a bright and healthy glow.
  • Rose hip fruit extract: Phytosterols, tocopherols, minerals, essential fatty acids, and phenolic compounds can all be sourced from the seeds of the rose bush, and infused into products like our Night Magic face serum.
  • Rosemary extract: The carnosic acid in rosemary can help lock in moisture.
  • Peppermint oil. This essential oil certainly has a pleasant and calming scent, but it truly shines when folded in with a CBD cream, due to its cooling properties.

How to choose the right CBD product for you

No two CBD creams are alike. The variations in quality, source, and potency vary widely between the different tubes and jars on the shelf. When selecting the right new CBD product for your skincare or bodycare routine, be on the lookout for these markers of a good CBD cream:

  • Prioritize organic ingredients and processes. When looking for CBD products, you should prioritize hemp grown according to organic principles. This ensures that your CBD is sourced from hemp grown without synthetic or harsh additives. Our hemp is sustainably harvested without use of pesticides or herbicides. We test each batch to ensure that the final product is pesticide-free, too.
  • Look for potency. While two CBD product containers may be of the same volume or size, they may contain different amounts of CBD cream. Check the label for the number of milligrams of CBD per container, so you know you’re getting a significant amount of CBD in your product.
  • Seek out test results. All CBD products should include a batch number that you can use to determine where and when your product was made. Additionally, some CBD products – ours included – include QR codes on the packaging so that you can quickly look up your product’s test results. Our intensive testing processes check for multiple toxins in addition to verifying our CBD potency and our hemp extract’s terpene content.

CBD cream — and more — with Prima

When searching for the right CBD cream or topical, look for a formula that not only has CBD, but brings along with it an array of science-backed ingredients that support healthy and radiant skin from head to toe. It’s not enough to pair the right ingredients, either — those ingredients need to be ethically sourced and thoroughly tested for potency and purity. Whether a silky body butter pairs this cannabinoid and nourishing shea butter for ultra-hydration or a rejuvenating serum unites CBD with Vitamin B3 for an even skin tone, we at Prima have the right CBD cream or topical to restore balance and harmony to your body’s biggest organ.

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