Can CBD be absorbed through skin?

Can CBD be absorbed through skin?

Drops and sprays used under the tongue are still the most popular way to take CBD oil, but did you also know that it can be absorbed through the skin? 

Cannabidiol (CBD) works by interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system - a complex network of receptors that helps to maintain your internal chemical balance, also known as homeostasis. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors: 

  • CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) 
  • CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system, such as your organs

Some CBD products penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, while others remain in the upper dermis and interact with the skin's receptors (CB2) - this is the difference between transdermal products and topical forms of CBD. 

Topical application of CBD

Skin is your body's largest organ, and it contains CB2 receptors that can interact locally with cannabinoids like CBD. Topical products like creams, ointments, and balms are designed to work with these receptors in the outermost layers of skin. 

Studies have shown that CBD has many therapeutic properties, for example, it's considered to be an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. This makes it particularly popular with sportspeople and gym goers for treating sore muscles after a heavy workout.

Its benefits also extend to treating inflammatory skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema, and some researchers have also found that it works to counter the over-production of sebum, which is one of the major causes of acne. Topical CBD is absorbed through the skin, but it doesn't make it as far as the blood stream, so it's ideal for targeting a problem that is contained to one area.

Transdermal CBD products

CBD that penetrates the skin cells to reach the blood stream is known as transdermal. 

Once it enters the blood stream, it can be transported around the body, and its therapeutic effects are felt more widely. Taken this way, CBD has the potential to:  

  • Lower stress levels by reducing cortisol in the body 
  • Contribute to a better night's sleep 
  • Help with chronic pain 
  • Add to an overall feeling of wellness 

To reach the blood stream, transdermal products include a mix of CBD with several other substances to make something that is capable of penetrating the layers of skin. It's usually applied in a gel or as a patch for a slow and steady release. 

A study looking at the effect of CBD on rats with arthritis successfully used a transdermal gel for four days to reduce inflammation and signs of pain¹. 

The results of the study published in the European Journal of Pain also noted that the rats showed no additional side effects after taking CBD. 

Alternative ways to take CBD 

CBD topicals are just one way of taking cannabidiol - there are a range of alternative products to suit different people.  

Oils and sprays are taken under the tongue - a capillary rich area - so they reach the blood stream quickly and efficiently. While vaping has a high bio-availability, which means that a significant amount of CBD makes it into the blood stream. 

When you're choosing a product, consider why you're using it and what you’re trying to achieve. Topical products are great for localised, on-the-spot relief but for a more general, widespread effect you'll need a product that can be inhaled or ingested. 

Is CBD safe to use? 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), CBD has a good safety profile and is well tolerated by most people. It has relatively few side effects, and because CBD is non-psychoactive, it won't give you the 'high sensation' associated with cannabis plants. 

The products you see in the UK are regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.  

When you're buying CBD for the first time or from a retailer you've never used before, check to make sure that they can prove the ingredients listed on the packaging are what's really in the product. 

Origin'40, has a 'certificate of analysis' for every product they sell. This proves that the CBD has been extracted from organically grown, industrial hemp plants, free from pesticides and other contaminants. 

The key takeaway 

We're often asked, 'how does CBD work if not ingested?' and the answer is that it can be absorbed through the skin, but how it works depends on the product. 

Topical CBD works on the receptors in the upper dermis and doesn't penetrate further than these outer layers of skin. While transdermal CBD products enter the blood stream and are transported to different areas of the body where they can take effect. 

When you're choosing a product, we recommend thinking about why you're using CBD and what you'd like the outcome to be. Topical products work best on localised areas of the body for on-the-spot relief, which makes them ideal for treating stiff, painful, and swollen muscles, and inflammatory skin conditions, like acne and psoriasis. 

If you're undergoing treatment for something else, we recommend seeking medical advice from your doctor or consultant before you start taking CBD. For help finding the right product to suit your needs and establishing a CBD routine, speak to our wellness experts in store or online.


  1. Johnson, Jon, Medical News Today [online] Does CBD oil work for chronic pain management? [updated 4 Nov 2020; cited 12 Oct 2021] Available from: