CBD for skin: why you should incorporate CBD into your skincare regimen
CBD based beauty products are taking the cosmetic industry by storm; but what about the benefits of CBD for medical skincare? We wanted to explore how CBD can help with a wide variety of skin related health concerns.
Very rarely does a single ingredient come along and cause waves across a wide range of industries. Yet that is exactly what the cannabinoid known as CBD is currently doing.
As humans in the modern world, our concerns are many and varied. A few of our more pressing preoccupations include mental health, wellness, and beauty. It is the intersection between wellness and beauty that led us to examine why the skincare market is being flooded with CBD based products.
High street chains, and well-loved brands are jumping on the CBD bandwagon; which leads us to question… Is CBD yet another here-today-gone-tomorrow cure-all? Or is there actual truth to its skin-related beneficial properties? What makes CBD the perfect ingredient for our skincare regimen? We took to the currently available research to find out more.
First and foremost, let’s get a couple of FAQs out of the way...
What can CBD oil do?
In our popular guide to cannabidiol (CBD) we outlined the science behind cannabinoids, how they interact with our bodies, and the benefits that are being reported for various conditions including anxiety disorders, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.
In this article we want to specifically explore the benefits for skin conditions as that is one of the growing reasons that our customers turn to CBD oil for assistance.
What can CBD oil NOT do?
As long as the CBD oil you purchase is from a reputable source (like us), and contains below the legal limit of THC, then it won’t get you arrested, and it won’t get you high!
In our guides we clear up some of the misinformation surrounding the legality of CBD oil, as well as the common misconception that vaping CBD oil will get you stoned. If the idea of using cannabis related products makes you uneasy, read this guide first to put your mind at rest. If not, read on...
How much research has been done into CBD oil?
A great deal of the available research into the benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids has focused on the use of medical marijuana rather than the CBD component as a standalone entity. That’s why it’s important to separate the research that specifically looks at cannabidiol (CBD) and its skin curative properties - and the initial research is extremely positive.
How does CBD work?
All animals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Unless you’re a scientist, or have particular knowledge of medical cannabis, you probably haven’t heard of it. Yet it is has been referred to as “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
The ECS was discovered when scientists were trying to better understand how tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC - the psychoactive substance in cannabis plants) affected the body.
What they found was a complex and far-reaching network of cannabinoid receptors (CB-1 and CB-2) within every system of the body - including the skin. These receptors are responsible for processing cannabinoids. This means that your body is always ready to absorb the benefits of cannabinoids like CBD.
The ECS promotes homeostasis which is the body’s balancing mechanism. Homeostasis affects everything from sleep, appetite, memory, pain, mood, and inflammation. By modulating homeostasis, the ECS ensures that all of our systems are working in harmony.
Homeostasis and the skin
Our skin undergoes constant renewal because of homeostasis. Stem cells in the epidermis maintain homeostasis by providing new cells to replace those lost by tissue turnover or following an injury. Different types of stem cells populate the epidermis and have different functions within homeostasis, such as hair follicle stem cells for hair growth, and sebaceous gland stem cells for sebum production.
Skin functions in homeostasis include protection from the external environment, temperature regulation, balancing hydration; synthesis of vitamins and hormones, and sensory reception.
When endocannabinoid levels in our ECS change, homeostasis is disrupted. Scientists have observed that these changes in ECS activity result in a number of diseases and health conditions. This tells us that targeting the ECS, using cannabinoids such as CBD, could be effective for restoring homeostasis and promoting wellness.
Let’s look at the potential benefits of CBD for specific skin conditions in more detail.
CBD for acne
Acne is the most common skin condition - most people will deal with acne at some point in their lives. It can be a real problem for people of all ages; whilst not life-threatening, persistent acne can have serious psychosocial effects such as depression and social withdrawal. Having large areas of pus filled, inflamed spots can be painful and lead to permanent scarring.
Many factors contribute to acne including genetics, certain medications, smoking, stress, hormone levels, and excess sebum production.
Sebum is an oily substance that is produced in the sebaceous glands within the epidermis. The function of sebum is to protect our skin from the outside world. When sebum mixes with dead skin cells and pollutants, it can block and infect the sebaceous gland and become a pimple. However, the disruption of homeostasis can cause excess sebum to be created. This abnormal sebum changes the activity of a normally harmless skin bacterium called P. acnes which becomes aggressive causing inflammation and pus.
The good news is that CBD can help sufferers of acne in several ways.
First and foremost, by targeting and binding to CB-2 receptors in the ECS, CBD can regulate the sebaceous glands and prevent the cells from creating too much sebum. Hormonal imbalances are also caused by a breakdown in homeostasis; by targeting the ECS with CBD, hormonal imbalances could be stabilised.
CBD also triggers an anti-inflammatory reaction in the cells and prevents inflammatory cytokines from activating. As cytokines can trigger acne, reducing them can help prevent further breakouts.
Furthermore, CBD has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties which can help reduce infections from pollutants on the skin.
CBD for seborrhoea / seborrheic dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis is a fairly common chronic inflammatory skin disease that mainly affects greasy (sebaceous) skin zones such as the face and scalp. It presents as red, scaly skin in skin folds (such as around the nose, under the breasts, behind the knees) and around the hairline. There is a non-inflammatory version of seborrheic dermatitis - you’ll probably know it as dandruff.
Areas of skin affected by seborrheic dermatitis can be itchy, sore, and sensitive. The flaky skin can be particularly bothersome and embarrassing. It mainly affects men, and the recent trend for lumbersexual facial hair has given rise to instances of the condition (or maybe it’s just become more noticeable).
It is thought to be triggered by a combination of excessive sebum production and an overgrowth of a harmless yeast called Malassezia that lives on our skin. The rapid reproduction of skin cells, caused by the yeast, mix with the excessive secretion of sebum leading to inflammation and greasy scales.
At the risk of being repetitive, the reasons (listed above) why CBD is showing such positive results with acne sufferers are the same reasons that people with seborrheic dermatitis should give CBD a go.
CBD for eczema / atopic dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a chronic condition that makes your skin dry, red and itchy. Outbreaks can range from mildly bothersome to severely debilitating. The itchy reddy-brown patches can be embarrassing as they can leak fluid and crust over when they are scratched.
The constant need to scratch is distracting and leads to raw and sensitive skin. The chronic itchiness can also lead to a skin condition called neurodermatitis. When you scratch an itchy area of skin it becomes even more itchy - eventually you are scratching out of habit which can make the affected skin permanently discoloured, thick and leathery.
Atopic dermatitis can be caused by a breakdown in the skin’s homeostasis. Healthy skin retains the correct amount of moisture and protects you from irritants and allergens. When homeostasis is disrupted, the skin loses moisture and becomes susceptible to irritants making it dry and itchy.
We have suspected for a long time that cannabinoids possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-itch properties, but only recently has proper research been published to better understand the physiological effects underlying the anecdotes.
In fact, we now know that cannabinoids have a very powerful anti-itch effect. There are receptors in the skin that interact with cannabinoids that could reduce the symptoms and appearance of atopic dermatitis. These effects happen through the interactions between phytocannabinoids like CBD and our endocannabinoid system.
According to the National Eczema Association, a human trial for patients with atopic dermatitis using topical cannabinoid cream delivered improvements of severity of itch and loss of sleep by an average of 60%. By the end of the trial, 38% of subjects had stopped taking oral antihistamines, and 34% no longer needed to keep applying topical steroids.
Furthermore, a separate study demonstrated that a molecule interacting with the endocannabinoid system inhibited mast cell activation. Mast cells are immune cells that release histamine when activated, which leads to intense itching and inflammation.
CBD for psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes skin cells to grow and divide far more rapidly than they can be shed. This overgrowth leads to thick, itchy, scaly plaques. It affects up to 5% of the population and presents in several forms. The most common (around 80% of psoriasis cases) is plaque psoriasis which presents as raised, inflamed red lesions covered in silvery scales. Plaque psoriasis is most often found on elbows and knees.
As well as the pain and itching, the unsightly skin lesions can lead to mental health and psychosocial issues. Further complications include psoriatic arthritis which affects around 30% of psoriasis sufferers and causes joint inflammation and damage.
As an autoimmune disease, psoriasis doesn’t yet have a cure. As their name suggests, autoimmune diseases affect the immune system. Our immune system is designed to produce T cells to protect us against infectious agents. With autoimmune conditions, the immune system targets the wrong cells. In people with psoriasis, it targets skin cells called keratinocytes. The immune system sends constant signals that the cells are infected which causes the keratinocytes to regenerate at an accelerated rate. Typically, skin cells replace themselves every 21-28 days. In people with psoriasis, the process of replication takes 2-6 days.
Once again, homeostasis is a major player in the cause of psoriasis; which means that CBD can help our immune system find balance again. By suppressing the development of keratinocyte cells, and targeting the faulty immune cells, skin cell regeneration can slow to a more normal rate. Plus, the anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties of CBD can help to deal with the pain of psoriasis.
This is a particular area of skin care that’s close to home. I personally suffer from palmoplantar psoriasis which affects the palms of my hands and soles of my feet. Until now my only methods of respite were steroid creams and phototherapy. I am delighted to report that, since using CBD, my psoriasis flare ups have slowed to the point where no medical intervention is required.
CBD for dry skin
If you have itchy skin, but a trip to a dermatologist has ruled out any underlying conditions, dry skin is the likely cause.
Although not a medical complaint, dry skin can cause its own problems. Cold weather, frequent washing, low humidity, and the use of central heating can cause our skin to dry out. When skin is dry, it becomes itchy and irritated; if left untreated it can also trigger conditions like eczema.
Ordinarily, a bout of dry skin would see us reaching for a soothing emollient. Interestingly, a terpene called bisabolol has been used in topical products for irritated skin for hundreds of years due to its potent anti-irritant properties. Bisabolol is one of the major terpenes in cannabis. Nowadays, the research into the effects of cannabinoids on our ECS has led to an additional ingredient from the cannabis family being added - namely CBD.
Part of homeostasis in the skin is moisture balance; dry skin is caused when homeostasis is disrupted and the delicate balance of moisture in the skin is affected. In the exact reverse scenario to acne and seborrheic dermatitis, CBD can target CB-2 receptors in the skin and stimulate the production of sebum in the sebaceous glands. Plus, the anti-itch and anti-inflammatory properties of CBD that we’ve discussed at length in this article can offer further relief from dry skin.
CBD for hives / urticaria
Hives (urticaria) are the red, raised itchy result of a skin reaction. Urticaria occurs when a trigger, such as an allergic reaction to an insect bite, causes high levels of histamine to be released into the skin.
Histamine is an essential part of your body’s defence system; it starts the process that gets the allergen out of your body, or off your skin. In the vast majority of urticaria cases, when the allergen has been dealt with, the hive disappears.
However, in rare cases, our immune system triggers histamine unnecessarily. When this happens, a condition called Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (CIU) can develop. Chronic = lasts longer than six weeks. Idiopathic = a condition that arises spontaneously for which the cause is unknown.
There is no specific research that I could find for the benefits of CBD for CIU. However, the positive results shown in other conditions where a breakdown in the homeostasis of the immune system is a factor mean that it is definitely worth a try. Also consider the eczema study mentioned above which demonstrated that a molecule interacting with the endocannabinoid system inhibited mast cell activation so no histamine was released. Logic would indicate that without the release of histamine there are no hives.
At the very least, the anti-itch and anti-inflammatory properties of CBD should offer you respite from the discomfort of hives.
CBD for skin care takeaways
If you’re looking for a beauty product that can lessen your wrinkles or ease your chapped lips, you’ll now be able to find a whole host that contain CBD as an active ingredient. And for very good reason. However, if your skin complaint is medical in nature, and you’re looking to find a more natural remedy, that’s where CBD really comes into its own.
CBD is proving to be effective in fighting skin problems because our skin has its own endocannabinoid system. This system ensures that our skin stays healthy and balanced. Topicals containing CBD bind directly to the endocannabinoid receptors in the skin, helping the skin find its balance quickly and effectively. Taking CBD into the body (via tinctures or vaping) tackles the endocannabinoid system from the inside which means that any other health complications that have arisen from your skin condition, such as mental health or joint pain, can be dealt with simultaneously.
Using CBD for skin care safely
There is currently no evidence to suggest that CBD oil is harmful to humans. It is a plant based cannabinoid, and cannabinoids are found naturally in our own bodies. Hence, if you decide to try CBD oil to find relief from your particular skin condition, even if you don’t find the positive results you were hoping for, you’re unlikely to find any negative ones.
This being said, it’s still recommended that you consult with a doctor before taking CBD oil if you are taking prescribed medication.
Check the ingredients carefully to ensure that your product of choice actually contains CBD and not just hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil in itself is a strong skincare ingredient as it is rich in fatty acids; however, if it’s the specific benefits of CBD you’re after, make sure you read the small print.
Furthermore, it’s really important that you purchase your CBD oil from reputable sources. The popularity of CBD is such that many less scrupulous vendors are jumping on the bandwagon. To be sure of the purity of the CBD, and that the advertised dose is the dose you’re getting, do your research and only buy certified products.
The research into CBD continues
As more studies are undertaken, and more research published, we will continue to update you with all the latest findings regarding CBD.
If you still have more questions, we are always happy to help. Just get in touch with any queries you have about CBD or vaping in general.
The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a particular medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
- Nicola Webster