Transdermal and Topical: What are the key differences for CBD

You’ve probably seen topical skin care products online and in retail locations for decades, but are they the best delivery method for cannabis?

Significant misunderstanding exists among consumers and even some medical professionals regarding topical and transdermal products. Often, they are thought to be one in the same, yet the “depth” of their effects on the body are quite different.

Transdermal and Topical Effect

Transdermal products leverage skin penetration enhancers to push CBD, terpenes and other compounds past the epidermis (first layer of skin) and into the dermis (second layer of skin), which includes blood vessels. This allows the CBD to more readily absorbed into the body (bioavailability) since it reaches the bloodstream. Topical products do not leverage skin penetration enhancers, and thus the majority of CBD remains in the epidermis with little to none making it to the bloodstream. Studies show transdermal products can enhance bioavailability of CBD to 20-40% or greater, whereas topical has bioavailability of 1-5%.

CBD Reaching the Bloodstream is Critical for Therapeutic Effect:

Topical formulations don’t penetrate beyond the skin. For some products such as sunscreen, which protects the skin from harmful UV rays, this is ideal and by design. However, for many medical patients and consumers looking to get the most out of their cannabis product, this isn’t the desired effect.

Cannabis topical products only enter the skin and do not spread to deeper tissues and into the bloodstream. Cannabinoids and terpenes entering the bloodstream is vital in reaching the therapeutic level of CBD or THC. While topicals can be ideal for site specific surface level pain symptoms, it does not help with aches, pains, and symptoms deeper within the body.

Human Skin Regions:

Transdermal formulations have been around for twenty plus years, generally found in patch, gel or lotion form. Human skin is comprised of three main regions; epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissues. Several appendages are associated with the skin, including hair follicles and eccrine and apocrine sweat glands. The outermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, provides the main barrier for skin permeation.

Chemical Penetration Enhancers:

Transdermal formulations leverage CPE’s (chemical penetration enhancers), which are inactive ingredients that diffuse and partition the skin and reversibly interact with the stratum corneum components (skin cellular arrangement). Penetration enhancers found in transdermal formulations can increase the bioavailability of a cannabinoid/full spectrum extract from 1-5% as found in topical products to 40% or greater. Transdermal delivery can offer significant advantages over oral administration due to minimal first-pass metabolism, avoidance of the gastrointestinal environment, and the ability to provide prolonged effect.

Medications intended to provide clinical effects at deeper tissue sites require a transdermal vehicle. These vehicles (gels, patches, lotions, etc.) often include chemical penetration enhancers to increase transdermal penetration and achieve the desired result. Consumers need to be aware that most cannabis creams, gels, ointments and patches are merely topical formulations with limited, if any, drug penetration to the tissues and circulatory system below the skin. Depending on your needs, understanding the differences between transdermal and topical products will allow for selection of the best option for your needs.

Get More Out of Your CBD with Transdermal Products:

If you need more out of your CBD cream, ditch the topical and go for the deeper penetrating transdermal relief. Unfortunately, there are not many transdermal cannabis product options currently available on the market. Be sure to check out Potter’s Transdermal CBD Relief Lotion. While many hemp companies are quick to produce products in demand by consumers, Potter takes a slower approach. By deeply researching delivery technologies, formulations, benefits and risks prior to releasing new products, we ensure consumer safety and maximum effectiveness across all of our lines.