CBD has been shown to possess potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antioxidant properties that have been successfully applied to treatment protocols for many diverse conditions, from arthritis to dementia to diabetes to high blood pressure. Research also indicates that CBD may be effective at promoting wound healing, making it a natural choice for wound care applications as well. Topical CBD products can be used to care for wounds like burns, cuts, scrapes, bites, and broken skin, but [not all CBD topicals are created equal].
While CBD itself can be highly beneficial when applied to wounds, those benefits can be reduced (or potentially even negated) by the wrong supporting ingredients. Quality carrier oils and botanicals absolutely have a place in CBD wound care products, but since CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA the way that pharmaceutical medicines are, a few extra precautions are necessary.
There are many balms, salves, ointments, creams, and gels formulated with CBD available, designed to help treat everything from sunburns to cuts to abrasions to fresh tattoos. While many can be used effectively, some may contain questionable ingredients or potential allergens. Your skin works pretty hard to keep you healthy, and a break in the barrier can be a major stressor for the integumentary system. Using inflammatory ingredients can inadvertently add to that stress and prolong healing time.
Here, we’ll dissect the science behind effective wound care and the role CBD topicals can play in staving off infection and promoting healing. Next, we’ll discuss the role of supporting ingredients (beginning with carrier compounds, followed by botanicals and a cursory examination of common additives) individually, noting the potential benefits and risks of each. We’ll close with a couple of notes concerning sanitary practices for wound care and sustainability in wound healing, providing a bit of guidance to help you choose products that reflect your values and ethics.
How Does Wound Healing Work?
Wound healing is a highly intricate and complex process involving collaboration between many different types of cells and different body systems. While it’s impossible to convey every detail of the process here, there are a few key principles to know. Wound healing tends to happen in stages: inflammation, proliferation, and maturation. Each of these phases marks a focus on different cellular activities.
The inflammation phase is the most well-known, as it’s a phase that’s often quite painful. Inflammation is the body’s immediate response to a wound: raising the alarm, heightening sensitivity, sending lots of immune cells to the site of the wound, and setting off frequent (and sometimes intense) pain signals.
After a few days of inflammation, the proliferation phase begins. This is the time when the body begins to close the wound and is usually marked by wound contraction. During this important period, the body is building a matrix of new cells, collagen, and other tissues to replace the damaged or destroyed cells. Blood vessels and nerve connections re-establish themselves at the wound site during this time, making it more likely that [neuropathic pain] will arise during this period (though it may not be permanent).
Finally, when it has closed fully and the supporting tissues have regenerated beneath the new skin, a wound is considered mature. At this point, there may be considerable scarring, but the wound will continue to mature for many weeks after closure. Over time, the scar tissue will soften and become less visible, itching and tingling tend to diminish, and discoloration starts to fade.
The main goal of most wound healing technology is centered around accelerating the healing process, which can be accomplished in a number of ways. Reducing inflammation at the site helps the skin to move from the inflammatory to the proliferation stage more quickly, yielding faster wound closures and improved appearance of scarring. Promoting cellular movement and activity is also key to successful wound healing, as the healing process depends on high levels of oxygen.
Wound care also requires ingredients to keep the area clean and free of harmful bacteria and other microbes. Finally, most topical wound care products also typically include some ingredients intended for pain management, reducing the alarm signals sent by damaged nerves at the site of an injury.
The Role of CBD In Wound Care & Healing
CBD, the common name for cannabidiol, has been shown to have many medical applications across a wide variety of conditions. The compound possesses potent anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antimicrobial properties (among many others) that make it especially beneficial for wound healing. It acts as a vasodilator, helping to improve oxygen supply to the wound and accelerating healing time. Together, these properties make CBD a promising therapeutic ingredient in wound care and healing products.
As with most CBD science, more research is necessary to determine the exact mechanisms that make CBD a good promoter of healing activity. However, emerging research is sufficiently compelling that many people are opting for CBD over old standbys from the pharmacy. While minor wounds likely do not present a safety concern for most people, more severe injuries may demand special consideration in product choice to avoid inadvertently causing additional inflammation and delaying healing.
If you prefer to use CBD alone (a completely respectable position that may be necessary for people with serious allergies or sensitivities), we recommend using a CBD tincture with no flavorings or additives. You could also dissolve some pure CBD isolate into the carrier oil of your choice (just be sure everything is clean!) to accomplish the same goal: CBD and oil, the end. However, if you are interested in using botanical ingredients and other bioactive compounds to accelerate wound healing, we invite you to consider the ingredients listed below.
Topical CBD Carrier Oils for Wound Care
Carrier oils determine the consistency of the product and help to amplify its skin-protecting properties. We highly recommend opting for ointments, balms, or salves for wound care over roll-on or lotion products. This is for two primary reasons. Firstly, roll-ons and lotions are often formulated with alcohols that can damage the bonds between skin cells — pretty counterproductive when you’re trying to support your skin’s healing processes. Secondly, roll-on products in particular are not possible to use in a sanitary way on broken skin. If you really need something formulated with an alcohol, try to reach for sprays over roll-ons.
One benefit that salve and ointment formulas offer over their high-alcohol counterparts is their ability to create a physical barrier over skin. This helps to keep bacteria and other microscopic irritants out of your bloodstream while also protecting your skin from damage and moisture loss as it works to heal itself. We prefer to use products made with ingredients that specifically confer skin barrier benefits.
These might include beeswax (which possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties), shea or cocoa butter (both yield anti-inflammatory benefits to healing skin), coconut oil (another anti-inflammatory oil popular in CBD formulas), and lanolin (a compound beloved for its skin-protecting properties that may also help promote healing). Olive, safflower, pumpkin seed, and grapeseed oils may also help to promote healing, though they do not offer the same skin barrier benefits as heavier oils and plant butters.
Ointments are sometimes formulated with compounds like petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum), which is derived from fossil fuels. Because petroleum is a nonrenewable resource and its processing has some pretty detrimental effects on the environment, we prefer to steer clear of petroleum-based formulas. That doesn’t mean you have to, of course, but it might be something worth considering.
Supporting Topical CBD Ingredients for Wound Care
Because the skin is broken or damaged in the case of a wound or burn, wound care products have a special potential to contribute to the inflammation they’re meant to fight, especially in people with sensitive skin. If you have any skin sensitivities or allergies, please take special care to avoid ingredients that could cause an adverse reaction. If you aren’t aware of any allergies but find a product causes itching or redness, listen to your body and seek out a gentler alternative.
A few common culprits of inflammation include ingredients like capsaicin, cinnamon oil, and menthol, which can cause pain and discomfort when applied to wounds. Though these compounds all act as anti-inflammatories on the skin’s surface, they behave a bit differently when applied to broken skin. Even seemingly innocuous ingredients like goldenrod or chamomile may trigger a reaction in some people when applied to wounds, so we advise being very picky about your wound care topicals, CBD and otherwise.
- Aloe Vera – Aloe vera (sometimes called aloe barbadensis on product labels) is a desert-dwelling succulent with well-known healing properties. The gel contained within its elongated leaves has been used by many cultures throughout human history to soothe burns and speed skin repair. The plant has been demonstrated to yield antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties that help it to heal skin damage, soothe pain, and reduce inflammation in injured skin. Clinical studies have shown aloe vera to be well-tolerated and hypoallergenic, making it an excellent healing option for many people. It is especially helpful for minor thermal burns and sunburns, reducing pain with a gentle cooling sensation and rehydrating damaged skin.
- Chamomile – Chamomile is a staple of soothing teas and aromatherapy products, but studies have demonstrated that it can confer significant benefits for wound healing as well. Chamomile flower extract acts as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antimicrobial when applied to broken or damaged skin. This allows it to help to reduce pain and inflammation while protecting skin and underlying tissues from harmful bacteria and microbes that can hamper the healing process and cause infection. A potential caveat: chamomile is a member of the family Asteraeceae, which includes ragweed and other common allergens, and can cross-react in those with ragweed allergies. However, the benefits likely outweigh the risks for most people without significant ragweed sensitivity.
- Goldenrod – Goldenrod is a bit tricky to discuss, as it’s quite a common allergen and wreaks seasonal havoc on sinuses from coast to coast. This is because it belongs to the same family as ragweed and therefore frequently cross-reacts in people with ragweed allergies. However, in people without ragweed allergies, goldenrod has been shown to promote healing by acting as a powerful anti-inflammatory, reducing pain, swelling, and redness in the wake of an injury. This effect may make goldenrod particularly useful in the first few days of wound healing, when inflammation is at its peak. Goldenrod may also help to reduce pain and soreness as skin heals, including the nerve pain and discomfort that often arises as the healing nerves form new connections.
- Lavender – Lavender carries many different therapeutic applications, inducing relaxation and reducing inflammation throughout the body. These properties also extend to wound care — when applied to broken or damaged skin, lavender reduces inflammation, dulls pain, and improves circulation to the affected area. It also possesses powerful antimicrobial properties that can be especially beneficial for people or wounds prone to infections. While it’s no replacement for a rabies or tetanus vaccine, lavender contains compounds that neutralize many types of bacteria and fungi that can hamper wound healing or cause infection. Lavender may also be applied to wounds in the proliferation stage to help address the pain and tingling that results from mending nerve cells.
- Marigold – Also labeled as calendula, marigold flowers are an autumnal favorite with an abundance of beneficial bioactive compounds. Extracts of the plant and its blooms can contribute to wound healing, acting as an anti-inflammatory agent to soothe damaged skin and reduce pain. The plant also possesses antimicrobial properties that can protect skin from harmful bacteria and other microbes, preventing infection and further damage to the affected tissues. It is generally well-tolerated, but may trigger a reaction in people with an allergy to marigold or calendula.
- Neem – Neem oil is derived from the neem tree (also known colloquially as Indian lilac) and is a popular health and wellness ingredient in much of Southeast Asia. The oil is rich in bioactive compounds, conferring powerful antimicrobial and antifungal benefits. This allows neem to help protect wounds from infection by fending off harmful bacteria and microbes. Neem can also help to alleviate pain at the site of injury. That said, it is a very intense oil and should only ever be applied diluted. Even in its dilute form, neem may cause an adverse reaction in some people, so exercise caution and be mindful when using neem for wound care.
- Yarrow – Yarrow has been used as a supplement and wellness ingredient by many cultures throughout human history. It is shown to act as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, reducing pain and inflammation when used on broken skin. It may also help to reduce bleeding in wounds, making it especially helpful for cuts and gashes (though it is not a substitute for medical attention in the case of severe injuries).
Sanitary Use of CBD Salves & Balms for Wound Care
While there are a handful of ointments, creams, and other wound care products packaged in tubes, most of our favorite go-tos come in pots or tubs. This presents a bit of a dilemma, as it’s much more difficult to keep these products sanitary during regular use. Many products are sufficiently effective that we don’t mind taking a few extra precautions to use them for wound healing, but we hope to see more variety in packaging to make sanitary application of CBD topicals easier.
To ensure that a salve, balm, or other CBD topical packaged in a jar or pot remains free from contaminants during its usable life, we suggest using a cotton swab or other applicator tool to dispense the product, as opposed to a fingertip. Hands are wonderful for many things, but using a single-use applicator (or a recyclable equivalent if you’re about that low-waste life) instead of your hands for wound care helps reduce the chance of something undesirable ending up in your ointment — or in the wound, for that matter.
If your preferred product comes in a jar or pot, we suggest using a sanitary tool like a cotton swab or scoopula (which can be sanitized after use) to remove your desired amount of product from the container. Once you’ve taken what you need, you can apply the product to the wound using your chosen applicator tool and dispose of or sanitize the applicator accordingly after use. You could also apply the product to a sterile bandage or dressing, or — in the case of a sunburn, new tattoo, or thermal burn — distribute the product over the skin using clean fingertips.
Taking care to avoid contaminating your chosen wound care product(s) is important to supporting efficient and healthy wound healing. Salve and balm formulas can be just as effective as tube-packaged ointments, they just need a bit of extra finesse to function at their best from start to finish.
A Note On Sustainability & Supporting Ingredients
While there is a growing consciousness surrounding where the products we use come from, we collectively pay fairly little attention to the sustainability of our purchases. Part of our mission of consumer education includes helping people learn to discern sustainable ingredients that allow them to take control of their health while making buying choices that are better for the planet.
We also acknowledge that “better” doesn’t equate to “perfect,” and we aim to provide information in a way that educates without condescending — or worse, condemning — our readers for their decisions and lifestyles. Making conscious purchases can be difficult for many reasons, and we recognize the highly personal nature of those choices. No one is capable of single-handedly halting climate change or ecological damage by choosing one bottle over another, just as no one is the sole reason for habitat destruction or environmental pollution. Nonetheless, we believe that there is value in selecting sustainably sourced and manufactured products where possible.
We strongly prefer to reach for plant-based ingredients over animal products (and the same is doubly true for formulas made with petroleum products). This has to do with sustainability as well as concern for animal welfare, as sustainably-farmed plant products tend to have less of an environmental impact next to large-scale industrial animal husbandry. Plant-based ingredients are also generally well-tolerated and (with a couple of freaky exceptions like figs) vegan by default.
While we tend to prefer plant-based products, there are some animal-derived ingredients that can be hugely beneficial for therapeutic purposes (things like collagen, honey, beeswax, and lanolin). These ingredients are not vegan, but that does not mean that there aren’t ethical (or at least more ethical) ways to use them. Some people consider these ingredients an important component of their symptom management regimen, and that’s valid. Again, this stuff is very personal, so listen to your gut and do what is right for you.
We’ll close with a brief comment on the word “vegan.” A vegan product is one that is not derived from animal products in any way and includes non-food items like clothing, shoes, and cosmetics. Vegan products are becoming increasingly popular, with many brands choosing to make their entire product lines strictly vegan.
You may notice, however, that the above definition doesn’t include a requirement that the product’s components must be plant-based. This means that decidedly environmentally unfriendly products like plastics, petroleum products, and synthetic fabrics are considered vegan despite a demonstrably negative environmental impact. We don’t mean to imply that looking for vegan formulas is useless, just that it isn’t an automatic guarantee that the product in question is sustainable.
CBD is a promising ingredient for wound healing that can promote regeneration while reducing pain and inflammation in the skin and underlying tissues. However, because wound care products are applied to broken and damaged skin, it’s important to be choosy about the ingredients you incorporate into your medicine cabinet. Be conscious of any allergies or skin sensitivities you may have, use sanitary handling and dressing practices, and feel empowered to reach out to companies with questions before making a purchase. You can also consult with a medical professional about the safety of a particular product if you are unsure — it’s much better to play it safe with wound healing.