CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids are quickly becoming more well known and widespread. After the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal in the United States, researchers were finally able to more easily test the capabilities of the cannabis plant and the compounds it produces. From help with seizures 1 to powerful anti-inflammatory properties 2, medical science is uncovering the powerful components of a plant previously considered an illegal narcotic. Cannabis and CBD research is still new and ongoing, but studies have shown CBD to be helpful in the treatment of a variety of common skin conditions.
The Function of Skin
It is common knowledge that skin is the largest organ in the human body. Not only is it the largest, it’s also one of the most complex. Skin acts as a protective barrier against environmental elements, but is also a source of hormones, contains a number of sensory nerves, and even has its own immune system.
The skin is made of three layers:
Epidermis: The outermost layer of skin is made up of keratinocytes, cells that form together to make the epidermis waterproof and to provide protection against UV radiation, microbes, allergens, chemicals, and hot or cold temperatures.
Dermis: The second layer of skin is made of collagen and elastic fibers, giving skin its distinct elasticity and strength. Inside this layer of skin also reside hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and sweat glands. Assisting the epidermis, this layer also provides a waterproof barrier and regulates temperature. The dermis is responsible for producing hormonal steroids and vitamin D. This is also the layer where the skin’s immune system is located. Inside this layer of skin live immune cells that activate when the skin has been damaged. Along with the immune system, the dermis also houses a dense arrangement of nerve fibers.
Subcutis: The third layer of skin is made up of fats that hold the fuel, insulation, and cushion for the outer two layers.
How CBD Can Help
CBD interacts with the body via the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining the body’s state of homeostasis, meaning if some form of disruption is introduced in the body, the ECS will work quickly to stabilize and correct the system, maintaining optimal functions. All the internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium for the human body to work effectively.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
Endocannabinoids: These are compounds that are naturally produced by the body, but are very similar to the chemical compounds in cannabis, like CBD.
Cannabinoid Receptors: These receptors are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. The endocannabinoids the body produces, and any cannabinoids ingested will bind to these receptors. The action of binding allows them to communicate with different systems in the body.
Enzymes: After the endocannabinoids attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors and the ECS has achieved stabilization in the body, enzymes break down the endocannabinoids to avoid a possible overcorrection.
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating several of the most important bodily functions, including the skin system. The ECS works to maintain the balance of skin functions such as production, differentiation, and immunity. Hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and other cell types located in the epidermis create endocannabinoids, which affect all components of the skin and are responsible for its proper function.
Common Skin Conditions and CBD
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to grow and divide at an accelerated rate. The division of these cells causes skin to become inflamed and red, with scaly plaques forming around the irritation. The inflamed skin can be sore and itchy, and may crack and bleed. There is currently no cure for psoriasis, but there are a number of therapies that have shown positive results. Besides maintaining a balanced diet and reducing exposure to the sun, CBD has also become a popular natural remedy for psoriasis. Studies have shown that CBD can help contain the acceleration of skin cell division and also provide powerful anti-inflammatory benefits 3.
Acne is a skin condition that can affect any person at any age. Often thought of as just something suffered as a teenager, acne is also seen in adults and can be painful and embarrassing. Acne is caused by an increased secretion of sebum and a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes. While sebum is important for skin protection, if too much is produced it can cause acne. Studies have found that CBD helps reduce the formation of sebum in sebaceous tissues 4.
As an additional benefit, CBD has been shown to have antibacterial 5 and anti-inflammatory properties making it especially useful against the bacterium that causes acne. Acne is often inflamed and painful, so the additional anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD could be quite soothing to those who suffer.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
While this is a condition that usually occurs in children, it can be experienced in adults as well. Atopic dermatitis is more traditionally known as eczema and is more common in the colder months, resulting in red itchy rashes. Corticosteroid creams are prescribed for this condition, however steroids have some less than desired side effects and users often see the issue return after the corticosteroid treatment has ended.
Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory disease, so CBD and it’s apparent anti-inflammatory properties have the potential to be effective during treatment. And because the skin has its own ECS system, CBD creams applied topically to the skin can be quickly targeted and distributed to ease any discomfort.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition that usually affects the face and scalp area. It presents itself in the form of red scaly patches of skin around the hairline, often showing up behind the ears and sometimes in the elbows and knees. Seborrheic dermatitis is mainly caused by increased production of sebum in the sebaceous glands.
Much in the same way CBD can help with acne and psoriasis, it can also help seborrheic dermatitis by slowing the sebum secretion and slowing down the reproduction rate of the sebocytes, cells that make up the sebaceous glands 6.
Rosacea is a common skin condition with symptoms that cause facial redness accompanied by small pimples. It’s also responsible for causing red and watery eyes, dry and swollen skin, and even a burning or itching sensation. It’s also a highly visible condition, so it can be embarrassing to those who suffer. Like other skin conditions, rosacea has no cure and is typically controlled with oral or topical antibiotics and steroid creams.
Because of CBD’s potential to work as a powerful anti-inflammatory, it can be an essential addition to a treatment plan for rosacea. As an added bonus, CBD has been found to help with stress and anxiety 7, two known triggers for rosacea flare ups.
How to Use CBD
CBD for the skin is best used topically. While CBD does have other therapeutic benefits for the rest of the body, ingesting CBD with the intention of using it to assist in skin conditions is not an effective use of the product. Instead, find a quality topical product that can be applied directly to the affected area. As with any skin product, make sure to test it out first. Do a small skin test for a few days before applying the product to a larger area.
It’s also important to check the label on any potential product. Reputable companies will disclose how much CBD is found within their products and even provide a COA, or certificate of analysis, upon request, on the product packaging, or on their website.
As CBD gains popularity, so do other products trying to ride on its coattails. One such product is often called “cannabis sativa oil.” While it is a cannabis product, it is not CBD. It is actually just hemp oil, which contains only tiny amounts of CBD. Unless you’re just interested in it for moisturization, pass on this oil and look for CBD oil instead.
Finally, make sure to check state laws. While CBD is legal federally, there are some states that have imposed specific restrictions on the possession or transportation of cannabidiol. Check your local regulations before making a purchase.