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.
Out of all its benefits, CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects have arguably the most research evidence, with numerous test-tube, animal, as well as a growing number of human studies.
Here’s a closer look at what science tells us about using CBD for skin inflammation.
Table of Contents
- What is Skin Inflammation?
- CBD for Skin Inflammation: The Research
- How CBD Works for Skin Inflammation
- How to Best Use CBD for Skin Inflammation
- CBD Dosage for Skin Inflammation
- CBD Safety & Side Effects
- Wrapping Up: CBD for Skin Inflammation
CBD may be an effective, evidence-based option for skin inflammation. What makes CBD special is its ability to fight inflammation on multiple fronts by influencing different inflammatory pathways.
By comparison, most anti-inflammatory medications typically work through only one mechanism, making them less effective and more prone to side effects.
For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) primarily work by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) (1).
What is Skin Inflammation?
Your immune system creates inflammation in response to injury, infection, or harmful substances (2). 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 the body instead of protecting it.
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.
Common causes of skin inflammation include:
- Chronic inflammatory skin disorders such as psoriasis, dermatitis (eczema), and acne
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.
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 (3).
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 (4).
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” (5).
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” (6).
Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that CBD lowered inflammation in skin cells in a study of allergic contact dermatitis (7).
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 (8, 9).
To summarize, there’s plenty of evidence that CBD can reduce skin inflammation.
How CBD Works for Skin Inflammation
Judging from the research, CBD can influence inflammation in multiple ways:
- Reducing the breakdown of anandamide, an endocannabinoid compound made by your body. Anandamide reduces inflammation, itching, and has many other important effects (10, 11). 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 (12).
- Interacting with receptors involved in regulating inflammation, such as TRPV1, PPARy, adenosine, and GPR55 (13, 14, 15)
- Decreasing the production and release of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines, which are involved in inflammation and the immune response (16)
- 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 (17, 18)
This makes CBD potentially 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 (19).
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 (20).
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 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
When you take CBD internally as you would with CBD oil, capsules, gummies, or vape liquids, it produces body-wide effects. That means it’s not as effective for skin conditions as topical products.
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’re going to use only 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 when possible.
These whole-plant hemp extracts contain multiple phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial phytochemicals 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 (21).
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 (22).
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: (23)
- Sedation, sleepiness, or tiredness
- Reduced blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- 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 option for skin inflammation. This makes CBD a great option for inflamed skin linked to psoriasis, eczema, and other issues.
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.
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Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.