Consumers can now find many products that contain cannabidiol (CBD) ranging from ingestible oil and gummies to salves, lotions and face creams. As we’ve discussed previously, it not only matters what products actually contain, but also what processes were used in their development and what types of claims are made about them.
As the number of available products made with CBD continues to climb, we invite you to explore with us some of the evidence behind cannabinoids in a topical form.
How Do Cannabinoids Work on the Skin?
The amount of evidence-based data about the endocannabinoid system is both expansive and emerging along with scientific advancements in genomics, proteomics and the study of our body’s metabolome. What we do know are neurotransmitter receptors make up the endocannabinoid system (eCS) and are found throughout the entire body, each with unique characteristics.
These eCS receptors also help make up our skin including nerve structures and dermal layers along with hair follicles and sweat glands. It is for these reasons that researchers have identified, through using transdermal uptake agents, that CBD is a potential therapeutic treatment for peripheral neuropathy. The key mechanisms making this possible are the eCS receptors which plant-derived cannabinoids interact with, affecting multiple processes including pain.
Fortunately, multiple types of topical preparations have been evaluated. Italian researchers recently found that depending on the desired outcome, the composition of CBD vehicle agents is important so therapies can enter the bloodstream or reside within the dermal layers. With regards to cosmetics and lotions, it has also been established that products containing cannabinoids may be considered possible agents for treatment of psoriasis due to their suppression of angiogenesis and anti-inflammatory properties.
Source: Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Skin Health and Disorders, Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2020:13 927–942
While continuous research is needed for understanding any potential long-term side effects of CBD on these receptor sites, a recent study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found that “the therapeutic potential of CBD for skin conditions such as acne, seborrhea, eczema/dermatitis, and skin barrier function is promising.”
The following was stated about the unique potential for CBD to assist in skin functioning as a protective barrier:
In another in vitro study using human keratinocytes, researchers showed that CBD was able to penetrate the cells and balance the oxidative stress response resulting from UVB irradiation and hydrogen peroxide. They also demonstrated that CBD had a protective effect against the peroxide-induced reduction of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, helping to protect membrane integrity.
The recent dermatological review also identifies these as possible conditions and areas of study with specific peer-reviewed works cited for each:
- Pain and Muscle Relief
- Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis
- Itch (Pruritis)
- Wound Healing
- Modulation of Hair Growth
- Skin and Hair Pigmentation
- Potential Applications in Oral Care
- Skin Infections i.e. psoriatic plaques/cutaneous malignancies
In addition to major cannabinoids, other phytochemicals (some of which are naturally produced in cannabis) have been shown to have positive impacts on the endocannabinoid system. For example, these are noted as carrying the following supportive data on efficacy and safety:
CBD against Winter Dryness
One skin-related condition that can flare up especially during the dryer months is atopic dermatitis or eczema. Overall, while this can be the result of different causes ranging from dryness and genetic susceptibility to immune system issues or allergic reactions, it generally makes skin itchy, red and irritated. In a recent survey, twenty individuals agreed to participate and sixteen completed a 28-item online questionnaire about CBD and eczema. Researchers evaluated subjects’ condition severity using the Patient Oriented Eczema Measure (POEM), and the psychosocial burden of their disease using the emotional domain of Quality of Life Hand Eczema Questionnaire (QOLHEQ). Their outcomes showed positive results, demonstrating the following:
67% of subjects reported a decrease in itch and 50% perceived an improvement in their eczema by more than 60%. This observational study shed light on the potential clinical utility of topical CBD in the treatment of atopic dermatitis.
Another study analyzed hair treatment products containing CBD and is entitled, “Efficacy and Tolerability of a Shampoo Containing Broad-Spectrum Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Scalp Inflammation in Patients with Mild to Moderate Scalp Psoriasis or Seborrheic Dermatitis”
This research ultimately identified that CBD may “inhibit the enzyme 5-α-reductase, subsequently inhibiting excessive skin sebum secretion and improving skin elasticity and hydration.” What’s more, since cannabidiol is considered highly lipophilic which helps it to reach and accumulate in the skins’ sebaceous glands, it can have therapeutic effects hours after applying a product. Researchers concluded that:
…shampoo containing a broad-spectrum CBD was shown to be highly effective in reducing signs of scalp inflammation (arborizing vessels, twisted capillaries, and scales), as well as reducing symptoms of erythema and scaling, itching, and burning, following 2 weeks’ use. Baseline severity was similar in males and females, and there was no significant gender difference in terms of reduction in itching and burning, tolerability, or subject satisfaction in males or females…replacing current shampooing practices with a broad-spectrum cannabidiol-containing shampoo significantly reduces both severity and symptoms of scalp inflammation within 2 weeks, with excellent tolerability and treatment satisfaction in subjects with mild to moderate scalp psoriasis or SD.
A Final Thought
Despite the lack of a comprehensive regulation scheme in the US for cannabinoid-based products along with double-blinded and controlled clinical trials, this work is ongoing and in progress. There have been multiple pre- and full clinical trials conducted involving cannabinoids, and there are now at least six active clinical trials currently in process pertaining to cannabis and related areas of therapeutic research.
In the coming months and years we will continue to see an expansion of policies allowing these kinds of products as well as data about different preparations and evidence behind their utilization. At the same time, with the increasing number of available products on the market companies and producers have a responsibility to be transparent about manufactured goods in order to provide the safest and most effective therapies.