Some Advice to Consider When Buying CBD Topicals

Just a few years ago, finding topical CBD would have been next to impossible. But type “CBD skincare” into Google now and brace yourself; you’ll get 72,500,000 results.

This is good news and bad news. On a positive note, it means more options, more competition, higher quality, and increased access to CBD. If you’re looking at the glass half empty, it means you now have to choose between 2,000 products instead of two. Ugh.

If you’re shopping around for a topical CBD product, there’s one mistake you really don’t want to make—and that’s buying a product that contains hemp seed oil when you’re really looking for hemp oil.  Hand covered in lotion on pink background

Here’s what you need to know to avoid this mistake:

What is Hemp oil?

If you didn’t know there was a difference between hemp oil and hemp seed oil, you’re not alone. They’re both extracted from the hemp plant, so it can get confusing. Hemp oil is extracted from the parts of the hemp plant with higher concentrations of cannabinoids and it’s typically rich in cannabidiol (CBD), which is why you’ll also see it referred to as “CBD oil” or even more specifically, “CBD-rich hemp oil.” Hemp oil is not made with the seeds of the plant, since, as the author of a 2016 study published in Epilepsy & Behavior explained: “Hemp seeds contain virtually no cannabinoids, which are in the flowers and (to a lesser extent) in the upper leaves.”

As we all know, CBD has become most known in recent years for its health benefits. We know it has potent anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and antioxidant properties (just to name a few). It’s also the compound that works to tame THC—the main psychoactive compound in cannabis— which is why it’s being added to THC-based pharmaceutical drugs to reduce side effects and psychoactive effects.

When it comes to the skin, topical CBD oils have shown promise for a wide range of skin conditions, including acne, which is why you’re now finding CBD in dozens of face serums, oils and other beauty products. And that’s not all it seems to do, either. According to a study published in 2018 in the Dermatology Online Journal, “cannabinoid products [which include cannabinoids like CBD and THC] have the “potential” to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne vulgaris, allergic contact dermatitis, asteatotic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, hidradenitis suppurativa, Kaposi sarcoma, pruritus, psoriasis, skin cancer, and the cutaneous manifestations of systemic sclerosis.” (Is that all?)

 What is Hemp seed oil?

As you might guess from the name, hemp seed oil is derived from the seeds of the hemp plant. As we learned earlier, this means it does not have significant levels of CBD. That’s why you’ve seen hemp seed oil at grocery stores for years, way before anyone was talking about CBD. 

But before you go assuming that anyone selling hemp seed oil is scamming you, you should know that hemp seed oil has an impressive nutritional profile and plenty of health benefits in its own right.  As Georgia Branch, co-founder of Hemple—an Australian brand that sells both hemp oil and hemp seed oil—explained: “Hemp seed oil is high in essential fatty acids, with an ideal ratio of omega 3 to 6.” According to her, these polyunsaturated fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which is why many people look to hemp seed oil to moisturize dry or irritated skin. Omegas have been shown to play an important role in healing psoriasis and another study, published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatments, concluded that dietary hemp seed oil could help with atopic dermatitis.

“Hemp seed oil is also a source of antioxidant vitamin E and completely non-comedogenic - meaning it won’t clog pores. This makes it ideal for hydrating and plumping even acne-prone skin,” Branch continued.

The take-home?

Hemp oil isn’t snake oil, but it’s not CBD, either. Unfortunately, even those hoping to educate consumers on the benefits of hemp make the mistake of confusing the two. In the Healthline article titled “Can Hemp Oil Help My Psoriasis?” they use the terms hemp oil and hemp seed oil interchangeably. They also link to research on both cannabidiol and hemp seed oil without distinguishing between them.

The consequence? A Lot of confusion and misunderstanding.

How to choose between Hemp oil and Hemp seed oil

Choosing between hemp oil and hemp seed oil is pretty simple. If you’re wanting to get the benefits of CBD, you’ll only find those in hemp oil. If you’re just looking for nice cooking oil or a hydrating oil for your skin, then hemp seed oil is a great option.

But here’s where it can get a little bit tricky. Sometimes, brands will use hemp seed oil as a carrier oil for CBD-rich hemp oil, which means your product will contain both. According to Branch, this can be a good thing. “Hemp oil and hemp seed oil are different but complementary in many ways—the benefits only increase when paired together,” she says.

To further complicate matters, many product manufacturers use the term Cannabis sativa seed oil for hemp seed oil. This isn’t untrue—since Cannabis sativa is the scientific name for the plant that includes both marijuana and hemp—but it’s confusing. “Whichever way it’s marketed, hemp seed oil or cannabis sativa oil doesn’t contain cannabinoids like CBD, without these being added in, so if you’re after a product containing CBD, always check the ingredients,” says Branch.

As a good rule of thumb, anytime you see the word seed, you’re dealing with hemp seed oil. If you’re still scratching your head, you can always ask the company for a certificate of analysis (COA), which will give a detailed description of everything that’s in the product. Once that’s in your hand, Svn Space’s guide to reading a COA which will help you decipher it like a pro.

Some of our favorite CBD topicals:

Humble Flower Soothing CBD Lotion

Plus CBD Oil Hemp Balm

Yuyo Botanics Turmeric Hemp Salve

LEEF Organics Revive CBD Balm

Some of our favorite Hemp Seed Oil topicals:

Native Atlas Luxe Body Oil

NOTO Agender Oil

Oshan ‘Ele face Wash

Olive + M Cleansing Oil


Written by Gretchen Lidicker

Senior Health Editor & CBD Expert or Contributing Health Editor and CBD Expert. Gretchen is a writer, researcher, and author of the book CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide To Hemp-Derived Health & Wellness. She has a masters degree in physiology and complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University and is the former health editor at mindbodygreen. She’s been featured in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Forbes, SELF, The Times, Huffington Post, and Travel + Leisure.

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