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How CBD Oil Benefits the Skin When Applied Topically

Posted by Janna Champagne,RN on

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the main plant molecules from the hemp plant. CBD, a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid, has been touted to be one of the next popular skin care product ingredients. Skin care products that contain this popular plant molecule claim that CBD can give your skin a more youthful appearance, clear up problematic acne, and soothe the irritation of psoriasis and eczema. Does CBD really fulfill all of these claims, and if so, how does this wonder cannabinoid achieve all of this through topical application to the skin?

The answer lies in how the endocannabinoid system functions in the most external system of the body, the skin. The endocannabinoid system acts like a giant computer that directs the 11 body systems to maintain optimal health, at all times. All animals, except for insects, have an endocannabinoid system. The main function of the endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis. Homeostasis is a just right state of balance in the body. An example of homeostasis is the constant “surveillance” or looking for potential infections or imbalances in your body performed by your immune system.

There are several moving parts to the endocannabinoid system. The 4 main parts of the endocannabinoid system are the nervous and immune systems, CB 1 and CB 2 receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that breakdown the endocannabinoids. Let’s take a closer look at those moving parts. CB 1 receptors are located primarily in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. CB 2 Receptors are located primarily on immune organs such as the thymus and spleen and in the lymph system as well as immune cells. The skin and reproductive organs have CB 2 receptors. There are areas in your body that have a mix of CB 1 and CB 2 receptors, such as the liver. CB 2 receptors are located mostly in the immune tissues of the body and may play a role in controlling the immune system by controlling inflammation throughout the body.1 CB 1 and CB 2 receptors are the most abundant receptor type in your body.

There are many endocannabinoids. The two main endocannabinoids that do most of the work within the endocannabinoid system are Anandamide (AEA) and Arachidonoyl glycerol (2AG).  The endocannabinoid system is so large and vital that almost every cell in the body expresses endocannabinoid receptors. Anandamide and 2 AG bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Imagine a CB1 or CB2 receptor acting as a docking station. The endocannabinoids act as minicomputers. Once the endocannabinoids dock, they turn into neurotransmitters once inside the cell. Once they become a neurotransmitter, healing and homeostasis occur. CBD cannot bind to the CB 1 or CB 2 receptor. CBD prevents Anandamide from breaking down, and becoming inactive, by blocking the enzyme FAAH. FAAH breaks down Anandamide. As a result, your body will have more Anandamide to bind to CB 1 and CB 2 receptors, for a period of time, to create more homeostasis.

Plant molecules, called phytocannabinoids, are able to bind to the CB 1 and CB 2 receptors, as well as other receptors in the body to create healing and homeostasis. So our body’s own endocannabinoids, as well as phytocannabinoids from the hemp and cannabis plants, can bind to the CB 2 receptors in the skin. When CBD, a plant phytocannabinoid, is applied topically to an area of the skin, Anandamide binds to the CB 2 receptor, and inflammation and pain are reduced. Anandamide and CBD also bind to another receptor in the skin, the TRPV-1 receptor.2 As a result, pain, inflammation, itchiness, and irritation are relieved. With relief, comes healing of the skin. This explains how skin conditions like eczema and contact dermatitis gain symptomatic relief. Once the inflammation is gone, the broken skin affected by the irritation from the inflammation can close.

What about acne? Acne affects up to 50 million people annually. Acne is a skin condition where the sebaceous glands in the skin are overactive. Sebum, an oily secretion from the sebaceous glands in the skin, becomes built up in the hair follicles of the skin. The follicle becomes inflamed, swollen, painful, and sometimes infected. CBD has been found to produce an anti-inflammatory effect on the acne pimples and inhibit sebum production so that the sebaceous glands in the skin produce a lower amount of sebum.3 The skin becomes balanced, and not overly dry, which happens with a lot of other acne skin care products.

What about psoriasis? Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells build up and form scaly, dry, itchy patches. CBD, again, has anti-inflammatory properties against the symptoms of psoriasis. CBD also has anti-proliferative properties as well. CBD has demonstrated to slow down skin cell growth and bring the growth process back to a balanced level.4 As a result, CBD also slows down the accumulation of skin cells on the outermost layer of the skin. Through regulating the immune system, CBD and helps to bring the immune system to a less overactive level, back to homeostasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system becomes overactive.

How does CBD repair damaged skin? Our skin becomes damaged every day, as a result of being the first line of defense from invading organisms and free radical damage from UV rays and environmental pollutants. CBD helps to halt the aging process by reducing free radicals, and the damage they do to the skin. The anti-inflammatory benefits from CBD help to relax the skin, so that fine lines and wrinkles are not as noticeable. CBD is able to repair the symptoms of inflammation in the skin such as extreme dryness, redness, rashes, and sores.5 The natural healing occurs without the use of steroids or toxins found in common prescriptions for inflammatory skin conditions.

Choosing a good source of CBD is crucial to obtain adequate relief from inflammatory skin conditions as well as preventing premature aging of the skin. The best type of CBD oil for skin care is a full spectrum, hemp derived, CBD oil that includes many other beneficial phytocannabinoids, like Integrated Hemp Solutions’ RitualX CBD oil. Full spectrum, hemp derived, CBD oil produces what is known as the entourage effect. This effect is achieved when multiple phytocannabinoids, that are extracted together from the same hemp plant, act together synergistically to produce an effect more potent than the single phytocannabinoid, CBD, alone. There are multiple phytocannabinoids in the full spectrum CBD oil that produce anti-inflammatory effects together, that give the inflammation a “one-two” punch. Single molecule oils, CBD isolates, exert a mild slap on the wrist when it comes to inflammation in the skin.  

“CBD binds to a special set of receptors in the skin known as TRPV-1 receptors, where it can help feelings of heat, itch, and pain,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. “This explains why it has a soothing effect on the skin. Just as other natural oils are used in skin care, the natural fatty acids and antioxidants in hemp seed oil make it a good choice for people with dry skin and eczema.”

Research will continue on the beneficial and therapeutic benefits of the topical application of CBD. It will be exciting to witness the breakthroughs in dermatology as well as the cutting edge science of cannabinoid therapy.


  1. Caroline Turcotte. The CB2 receptor and its role as a regulator of inflammation. Cell Mol Life Sci J. 2016; 73(23)4449–4470.
  2. Patricia H. Reggio. Endocannabinoid binding to the cannabinoid receptors: What is known and what remains unknown. Curr Med Chem J. 2010; 17(14): 1468–1486.
  3. Attila, O., et al. Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and anti-inflammatory effects on human sebocytes. Journal of Clinical Investigation. The American Society for Clinical Investigation. 2014 Sept. 2; 124(9):
  4. Wilkinson JD, et al. Cannabinoids inhibit human keratinocyte proliferation through a non-CB 1/CB 2 mechanism and have a potential therapeutic value in the treatment of psoriasis. Journal of Dermatological Science. Wiley Online Library. 2007 Feb; 45 (2):
  5. Lodzki, M. et al. Cannabidiol-transdermal delivery and anti-inflammatory effect in a murine model. Journal of Controlled Release. Elsevier. 2003 Dec. 12; 93(3):

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