CBD for Skin Inflammation: Does it Help?

Article by: , last updated November 22, 2020

Cannabidiol (CBD) is all the rage these days. But while most people use it to deal with pain, anxiety, and sleeping problems, CBD can also help with skin inflammation.

Inflamed skin can be caused by many things, including allergies, infections, and chronic conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. 

Out of all its benefits, CBD’s effects on inflammation have arguably the strongest research evidence. 

Many test-tube and animal studies demonstrate the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD, as well as a growing number of human studies. 

Here’s a detailed look at what science tells us about CBD for skin inflammation. 

Summary

CBD is an effective, evidence-based option for any type of inflammation, including skin inflammation. 

What makes CBD so special is that it reduces inflammation in multiple ways. That means CBD can counteract different types of inflammation at many different points in the inflammatory response. 

By comparison, most anti-inflammatory medications typically work through only one mechanism, which makes them less effective and more prone to side effects.

What is Skin Inflammation?

Your immune system creates inflammation in response to injury, infection, or harmful substances (1). This inflammatory response can occur in any part of the body, including the skin.

The goal of inflammation is to eliminate the problem (such as harmful bacteria) and heal the resulting tissue damage. However, inflammation can also turn chronic, harming instead of protecting your body.

Common causes of skin inflammation include cuts, sunburn, allergies, hives, and chronic inflammatory skin disorders such as psoriasis, dermatitis (eczema), and acne. 

Symptoms of skin inflammation are burning, swelling, itching, rashes, and redness. Depending on the cause, skin inflammation can be accompanied by blisters, pimples, scales, and dryness. 

CBD for Skin Inflammation: The Research

According to medical research, CBD can reduce different types of skin inflammation. Here’s a look at the key findings.

Human Studies

One 2019 Italian study looked at the effects of CBD-infused ointment in 20 people with the two most common inflammatory skin conditions: psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (eczema). 

After 90 days, the treatment improved skin symptoms, psoriasis severity, and various measures of skin health, such as elasticity and hydration (2). 

Another preliminary study of a topical CBD drug in people with acne found that it significantly reduced the number of inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions, with a bigger study currently underway (3). 

Animal and Test Tube Studies

In one 2007 test-tube study, researchers examined the effects of several phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from cannabis) on keratinocytes — skin cells involved in the inflammatory skin condition psoriasis. 

They found that CBD and other cannabinoids suppressed keratinocyte proliferation — the excessive growth of skin cells that plays a central role in causing psoriasis. 

The researchers concluded that there’s a “potential role for cannabinoids in the treatment of psoriasis (4). 

A similar 2014 study looked at what would happen if CBD was applied to sebocytes: skin cells that produce the oil-like sebum involved in acne. 

CBD not only reduced inflammation in the cells but also lowered sebum production and sebocyte cell growth. The researchers concluded that “CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris (5). 

Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that CBD lowered inflammation in skin cells in a study of allergic contact dermatitis (6). 

Additionally, multiple studies have shown that CBD can promote the apoptosis (death) of skin cancer cells and have other anti-cancer properties, which are also linked to its anti-inflammatory effects (7, 8).

To summarize, there’s plenty of evidence that CBD can reduce skin inflammation.

How CBD Works for Skin Inflammation

Judging from research, CBD can influence our immune systems in multiple ways to lower skin inflammation:

  • Reducing the breakdown of anandamide, an endocannabinoid compound made by your body. Anandamide reduces inflammation, itching, and has many other important effects (9, 10). It’s a major component of your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates many vital processes and its dysfunction appears to be involved in skin disorders (11).
  • Interacting with receptors involved in regulating inflammation, such as TRPV1, PPARy, adenosine, and GPR55 (12, 13, 14)
  • Decreasing the production and release of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines, which play an important role in immune responses (15)
  • Suppressing NF-kB, one of the body’s main pro-inflammatory pathways, which is known to play a role in inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis (16, 17)

This makes CBD far more effective than standard anti-inflammatory medications, which often work through only one pathway. 

For example, the common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) ibuprofen works by blocking the production of inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins (18).

Still, more research is needed to fully understand how CBD can help with skin inflammation.

How to Best Use CBD for Skin Inflammation

CBD comes in many different forms, including CBD oil, capsules, gummies, vape products, and topical formulas. 

If you’re using CBD for skin inflammation, you have two major options:

  • Apply CBD topically (directly to the inflamed skin)
  • Use CBD internally (as CBD oil or another product that you ingest or inhale)

Each method has its strengths.

Topical CBD Products

When you use CBD topically, it only works where you applied it. This is ideal for skin conditions because they usually affect certain areas of your body, so you can deliver CBD precisely where it’s needed (19). 

Besides, most of the studies of CBD’s beneficial effects on skin inflammation used topical preparations. That’s why it’s best to use a dedicated CBD cream, salve, or another topical preparation.

Note: You can also put regular CBD oil on your skin. This is actually a great way to see if CBD will help with your skin inflammation before spending money on a separate topical CBD product.

Internal CBD Products 

Meanwhile, when you take CBD internally as you would with CBD oil, capsules, gummies, or vape liquids, it produces body-wide effects. 

This method is best used in combination with topical CBD because it can fight inflammation from the inside, particularly if your skin issues are caused by an overactive immune system.

However, if you were only to use one CBD product for skin inflammation, it’s best to go with a topical preparation.

Look for Whole-Plant CBD

Another important tip is to use full or broad-spectrum CBD products whenever possible.

These whole-plant hemp extracts contain multiple phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial compounds naturally present in the plant. 

These compounds not only have benefits of their own but work in synergy to produce what scientists call the “entourage effect,” making whole-plant cannabis products (like a full-spectrum CBD cream) more effective than those containing pure CBD (20).

CBD Dosage for Skin Inflammation

There’s no recommended CBD dosage for skin inflammation or any other health condition, for that matter. On one hand, there isn’t enough research, while on the other, everyone has different dosage needs.

The correct amount of CBD to take depends on many factors, like your body weight, genetics, the severity and type of skin inflammation, and the type of CBD product you’re using.

That’s why most health experts recommend the “start low and go slow” approach to dosing CBD and other cannabinoids (21). 

Start with a small dose of CBD like 5-10 mg and wait a few hours to see the effects. If that’s not enough to help with your skin inflammation, gradually raise the dose as needed until you settle on an amount that works for you.

Keep in mind that it’s harder to accurately dose topical CBD products.

One tip you can use is to divide the total amount of CBD in the container by the volume, so you know how much CBD is in one ml of your cream, salve, or another topical product.

To illustrate, a CBD cream with 900 mg of CBD in a 30 ml jar would provide you with 30 mg of CBD per ml. 

CBD Safety & Side Effects

CBD has been studied for decades, suggesting that it’s relatively safe to use. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed this in its 2018 report by noting that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” 

Although CBD can cause side effects, they’re usually minor and were only reported in studies using high doses of purified CBD. 

The most common reported side effects of CBD are: (22)

  • Sedation/sleepiness/tiredness
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea and nausea
  • Reduced appetite 

Keep in mind that CBD can only produce these side effects if it reaches your bloodstream. 

Since topical CBD products are highly unlikely to penetrate deep enough into the skin to achieve that, they’re even less likely to cause side effects.

Wrapping Up: CBD for Skin Inflammation

According to medical research, CBD may be an effective treatment for skin inflammation. This makes CBD a great option for inflamed skin linked to psoriasis, eczema, and other issues.

Better yet, CBD can reduce inflammation in multiple ways, making it superior to standard medications. 

If you plan on using CBD for skin inflammation, it’s best to go with a full-spectrum cream or another topical product. However, combining topical and internal products (like CBD oil or capsules) will likely produce even better results.

Nonetheless, more rigorous, high-quality human studies are needed, particularly to establish the ideal dosage and the best way to use CBD for skin inflammation. 

Referenced Studies

  1. Hannoodee, Sally, and Dian N. Nasuruddin. “Acute Inflammatory Response.” StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing, 2020.
  2. Palmieri, B., C. Laurino, and M. Vadalà. “A therapeutic effect of cbd-enriched ointment in inflammatory skin diseases and cutaneous scars.” Clin Ter 170.2 (2019): e93-e99.
  3. Spleman, L., et al. “1061 The safety of topical cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of acne.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology 138.5 (2018): S180.
  4. Wilkinson, Jonathan D., and Elizabeth M. Williamson. “Cannabinoids inhibit human keratinocyte proliferation through a non-CB1/CB2 mechanism and have a potential therapeutic value in the treatment of psoriasis.” Journal of dermatological science 45.2 (2007): 87-92.
  5. Oláh, Attila, et al. “Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes.” The Journal of clinical investigation 124.9 (2014): 3713-3724.
  6. Petrosino, Stefania, et al. “Anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol, a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid, in experimental allergic contact dermatitis.” Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 365.3 (2018): 652-663.
  7. Scheau, Cristian, et al. “Cannabinoids in the Pathophysiology of Skin Inflammation.” Molecules 25.3 (2020): 652.
  8. Kis, Brigitta, et al. “Cannabidiol—From plant to human body: A promising bioactive molecule with multi-target effects in cancer.” International journal of molecular sciences 20.23 (2019): 5905.
  9. Leweke, F. M., et al. “Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia.” Translational psychiatry 2.3 (2012): e94-e94.
  10. Eagleston, Lauren RM, et al. “Cannabinoids in dermatology: a scoping review.” Dermatology online journal 24.6 (2018).
  11. Tóth, Kinga Fanni, et al. “Cannabinoid Signaling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the “C (ut) annabinoid” System.” Molecules 24.5 (2019): 918.
  12. Muller, Chanté, Paula Morales, and Patricia H. Reggio. “Cannabinoid ligands targeting TRP channels.” Frontiers in molecular neuroscience 11 (2019): 487.
  13. O’Sullivan, Saoirse Elizabeth. “An update on PPAR activation by cannabinoids.” British journal of pharmacology 173.12 (2016): 1899-1910.
  14. Carrier, Erica J., John A. Auchampach, and Cecilia J. Hillard. “Inhibition of an equilibrative nucleoside transporter by cannabidiol: a mechanism of cannabinoid immunosuppression.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103.20 (2006): 7895-7900.
  15. Nichols, James M., and Barbara LF Kaplan. “Immune responses regulated by cannabidiol.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 5.1 (2020): 12-31.
  16. Kozela, Ewa, et al. “Cannabinoids Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol differentially inhibit the lipopolysaccharide-activated NF-κB and interferon-β/STAT proinflammatory pathways in BV-2 microglial cells.” Journal of biological chemistry 285.3 (2010): 1616-1626.
  17. Goldminz, A. M., et al. “NF-κB: an essential transcription factor in psoriasis.” Journal of dermatological science 69.2 (2013): 89-94.
  18. Bushra, Rabia, and Nousheen Aslam. “An overview of clinical pharmacology of Ibuprofen.” Oman medical journal 25.3 (2010): 155.
  19. Bruni, Natascia, et al. “Cannabinoid delivery systems for pain and inflammation treatment.” Molecules 23.10 (2018): 2478.
  20. Russo, Ethan B. “The case for the entourage effect and conventional breeding of clinical cannabis: no “strain,” no gain.” Frontiers in plant science 9 (2019): 1969.
  21. Lucas, Catherine J., Peter Galettis, and Jennifer Schneider. “The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 84.11 (2018): 2477-2482.
  22. Huestis, Marilyn A., et al. “Cannabidiol adverse effects and toxicity.” Current neuropharmacology 17.10 (2019): 974-989.

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