Our skin is something special. We often take it for granted, but it’s working 24/7 to protect us against constant environmental assaults like pathogenic threats, UV exposure, extreme temperatures, and chemical hazards. Our skin is our largest organ with a complex system of neuro-immuno-endocrine functionality that’s a vital part of maintaining the biological homeostasis that’s crucial for survival. And its healthy functioning depends on an exquisite orchestration guided by 300 million cells perpetually regenerating and renewing themselves into a new epidermis every 28 days.
Overseeing this cellular symphony is the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a recently discovered family of molecules, receptors, and enzymes now known as the “master regulator” of the body – maintaining homeostasis (balance) across all of our physiological processes.
Once thought to be exclusive to the brain, the ECS has now been found everywhere in the body scientists have chosen to look: the heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, reproductive tract, muscles, immune system, and – you guessed it – even our skin.
Given its newfound ubiquity and influence on our biological function, it should come as no surprise that disrupted endocannabinoid signaling has been associated with many disorders (a list that continues to grow the more researchers dig into it).
What’s the function of the skin’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?
In the skin, the ECS is intimately involved in processes like temperature, the maintenance of epidermal homeostasis (cell growth, survival, and death), the regulation of hair follicles and sebaceous glands, the modulation of dry and unbalanced skin, and more.
And its interactivity between all of these systems is astounding. For example, a bone fracture results in cell death, which then triggers a lymphatic response increasing blood flow and the migration of white blood cells to the surrounding areas. As Chad Sallaberry and Laurie Astern describe it in their paper, “The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator,” the ECS helps modulate the initial pain by communicating with the central nervous system. Then, “it recognizes the excess lymphatic signals, and after deciding that there is no longer a need for the increase of inflammation, the cannabinoid receptors in the surrounding immune cells and tissues will begin to bind with cannabinoids and start to slowly reduce these inflammatory responses.” The ECS truly is the conductor of our cellular symphonies.
When the symphony goes off-key and skin cell balance is disrupted, it puts us at risk for the development of skin conditions. Multiple pilot studies support the idea that manipulating the ECS may be beneficial in treating a multitude of human skin issues, including normalizing unwanted skin cell growth and oil production.
How do phytocannabinoids found in hemp impact the skin’s ECS?
Endocannabinoid receptors embedded in cell membranes produce a wide variety of reactions when stimulated by cannabinoids, which can be endogenous (via our body, which produces naturally occurring endocannabinoids) or exogenous (via the cannabis plant, which produces phytocannabinoids).
Topical application of phytocannabinoids can provide quick, localized impacts as the cannabinoids bind to receptors near the skin, activating the skin’s ECS. (Note: They are never absorbed into the bloodstream – unless applied using a transdermal patch.)
In dermatology, preclinical and clinical trials are demonstrating the efficacy of topical phytocannabinoids for various skin issues. Here’s a small snapshot of some of the emerging science:
- A 2017 review of studies published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found topical cannabinoid treatments to be effective with helping relieve itchy, irritated skin among other things.
- A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that topical CBD can adjust the output of oils in the skin and hair and inhibit skin cells’ lipid production.
- A 2017 case study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management and a 2018 case study published in Pediatric Dermatology found topical cannabinoids effective for helping provide skin comfort.
Clearly, there is much to be learned, but the growing body of science is revealing that supplementing your body’s endocannabinoid system with topical phytocannabinoids found in hemp may play an important role in supporting skin balance and overall skin health.
Like many, we’re thrilled with the initial evidence and the future possibilities. And with growing consumer interest, companies are racing to the market with new products – but, buyer beware.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found widespread mislabelling issues. Eighty-four products were purchased and analyzed (from 31 companies) and only 30% actually contained the CBD concentration stated on the label, highlighting the need for manufacturing and testing standards and stronger regulatory oversight. Until then, be a cautious consumer. Before you buy anything, make sure the company is transparent about their standards and testing for ensuring consistent purity and potency. Click through to learn all about our industry-leading Science and Standards.
Nejati, Reza, et al. “Neuro-Immune-Endocrine Functions of the Skin: an Overview.” Expert Review of Dermatology, vol. 8, no. 6, 2013, pp. 581–583., doi:10.1586/17469872.2013.856690.
Sallaberry, Chad, and Laurie Astern. “The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator.” 2018, doi:10.22186/jyi.34.5.48-55.
Caterina, Michael J. “TRP Channel Cannabinoid Receptors in Skin Sensation, Homeostasis, and Inflammation.” ACS Chemical Neuroscience, vol. 5, no. 11, 2014, pp. 1107–1116., doi:10.1021/cn5000919.
Mounessa, Jessica S., et al. “The Role of Cannabinoids in Dermatology.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 77, no. 1, 2017, pp. 188–190., doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2017.02.056.
Oláh, Attila, et al. “Cannabidiol Exerts Sebostatic and Antiinflammatory Effects on Human Sebocytes.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 124, no. 9, 2014, pp. 3713–3724., doi:10.1172/jci64628.
Chelliah, Malcolm P., et al. “Self-Initiated Use of Topical Cannabidiol Oil for Epidermolysis Bullosa.” Pediatric Dermatology, vol. 35, no. 4, 2018, doi:10.1111/pde.13545.
Maida, Vincent, and Jason Corban. “Topical Medical Cannabis: A New Treatment for Wound Pain—Three Cases of Pyoderma Gangrenosum.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol. 54, no. 5, 2017, pp. 732–736., doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2017
Bonn-Miller, Marcel O., et al. “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online.” Jama, vol. 318, no. 17, 2017, p. 1708., doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909.