CBD Topicals And What To-Look For On Their Labels

CBD: it’s the molecule of the year. From seemingly out of nowhere, CBD has found its way into health food stores, gas stations (yes, really), doctor’s offices, and mainstream media outlets.

In a very real sense, CBD’s popularity has outpaced our collective understanding of it. With the proliferation of CBD in the US and Europe, the biggest challenge for the industry and its consumers is education. Just take the issue of labeling. Reading CBD labels can be confusing, even assuming a brand’s CBD is labeled correctly!

Yes, you read that right — according to a 2017 study from the University of Pennsylvania, up to 70% of CBD products are mislabeled. And things don’t seem to be getting any better as we approach 2020.

At CBD Research Laboratories we take a decidedly different approach; we make every effort to ensure our products are meticulously labeled. But more on our brand and our mission later…first, let’s take a brief look at what the average consumer is up against when trying to find the right CBD product…

More often than not, someone will purchase a CBD topical to see if the hype is all that is it cracked up to be. Maybe they heard about CBD from a friend who described seeing great results; maybe they read about it online and became intrigued. As The Rolling Stone has reported, CBD’s popularity has spread “mostly through word of mouth.”

Desperate for relief — from chronic pain, maybe — this consumer goes shopping. But where?
Perhaps they buy from a larger brand online, or maybe they shop from whatever topicals are available at their favorite health food store. Sometimes the options are scant, and oftentimes they’re pricey. But it’s worth it for the relief…right?

Unfortunately, it’s rare that a CBD topical lives up to its flashy marketing and hype. There may be hundreds of brands of CBD products to choose from…but because the industry is so new, quantity doesn’t always equate to quality.

The truth is that many brands have no experience in topical formulation — and/or have simply hired a private label factory to whip up a basic formula and claim it will heal all your aches and pains.
Topical Ingredients That Work

But there’s much, much more to it than that. In the spirit of education and transparency, let’s break down some of the most common ingredient types found in topical pain relief gels to see what’s just fluff…and what actually works:


Every topical pain relief gel in the CBD space will contain actual CBD (hopefully). Keep in mind that Hemp Seed Oil has zero CBD in it, so avoid any product that lists this as its source of CBD. Instead you should see CBD, CBD Isolate, Full Spectrum CBD, or Broad Spectrum CBD in your topical’s ingredient list. Different types of CBD may be better than others for your specific needs; for more info on that topic just click here!


We all know the smell and skin-feel of menthol. Menthol comes from compounds like Spearmint, Camphor and Green Tea Oil. Our Cryo Pain Relief formula uses a custom combination of these sources to provide that instant cooling feel.


Ingredients that claim to have an antioxidant benefit (like Vitamin E, for example) actually have no benefits whatsoever in a topical pain relief gel. Consumers beware: this is a marketing tactic used to capitalize on the buzzworthy nature of vitamin E and other antioxidants.


There are a variety of healing agents used in topical formulations. Most often we see Licorice root, Comfrey extract, or Aloe Vera. Aloe is our choice because it reduces redness and inflammation thanks to its natural healing properties.


Compounds designed to relieve pain are a must in a pain relief gel for obvious reasons — and there are many choices. Some good, some not so good. Make sure the pain relief topical you are buying contains at least one of the following: • Citronella oil • • Magnesium stearate • • Histamine dihydrochloride of natural camphor • Camphor is commonly found in pain relief topicals like IcyHot and BioFreeze; it’s also a prominent ingredient in Vicks Vaporub. Studies show that camphor may stimulate nerve endings en route to powerfully relieving pain, which makes it our formula’s first choice for pain relief.


In addition to CBD, there are natural ingredients that can be added to pain relief gels to further reduce inflammation. We use a custom Ilex compound for ours. Ilex is a natural anti-inflammatory from the holly family of plants and has been used in South America for generations.


Pain Relief gels will often feature calming agents; these also reduce inflammation by promoting blood flow. Common ‘calming agents’ include chamomile, cypress oil, lavender flower oil, and arnica. Arnica (also known as Montana Flower) is what we opt for in our formulas. Proven in studies to relieve symptoms of arthritis, joint swelling, and muscle pain, our Arnica is gently harvested from select European sources.


When it comes to topical absorption, all is not what it seems! Placing a compound on the skin isn’t enough to guarantee its absorption; to really target pain-sensing nerve receptors, you have to reach the dermis well below the surface of the skin. And to do that, you need a delivery agent. Yet very few pain relief gels use one...and no other brand features our custom delivery compound XcellaD. CBD has a unique ability to block pain, but it must get to the nerve receptors to do this. Only XcellaD has what it takes to do the job.


Moisturizers are the most common ingredient in pain relief gels. That’s because they give the product a smooth and silky feel when being applied. But some moisturizers actually work against you by creating a barrier to the absorption of CBD. Based on my 25 years of experience in the cosmeceutical industry, I can say this: any moisturizer that isn’t water or alcohol-based hinders the maximum effectiveness of CBD.


Every topical will feature some sort of thickening agent on its ingredient label, from beeswax and Isoparaffin to cocoa butter and xanthan gum. Because some of these can prevent absorption, we opt for a special thickener called Carbomer as our thickening agent. Carbomer offers the best absorption rate for our specific formula, which means your body can enjoy the benefits of maximal CBD.

We hope this article helps you determine what pain relief gels have the best chance of actually relieving your pain. Not all pain relief products in the CBD space are created equal. In time, the market will naturally flush out products that deliver little-to-no results — but until then, customers like you need to be as knowledgeable as possible. We’re always here to help.

For those that have specific questions, feel free to drop me a line directly.

[email protected]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chief Research Officer and CEO of CBD Research Laboratories, Andrew Bryden founded Newport Cosmeceuticals in 1996. His twenty-five plus years as a research scientist has always been focused on his moral approach to help those that are in need. Andrew continues to push the envelope of medical advancement and only develops products that deliver lasting results.

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