Get the Facts: CBD
From creams to body oils to facial serums and more, there’s a good chance you can find a CBD-containing topical at a grocery store, pharmacy or specialty shop near you. Many of these products promise to clear, heal and otherwise soothe symptoms of eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid, a chemically active molecule found in plants in the cannabis sativa family, which includes both marijuana and hemp. Unlike the best-known cannabinoid, THC (delta -tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD isn’t “psychoactive.” In other words, it won’t get you high. Like THC, however, CBD has some potentially potent health effects.
“I think topical CBD is a very promising treatment for eczema; in theory, it could decrease itch, pain and inflammation. In the correct vehicle, it could also help heal the skin barrier,” said Peter Lio, MD, who is clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the founding director of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Center.
How can CBD help the skin?
Since the 1990s, scientists have known that humans (and many other animals) have a complex system of cannabinoid receptors running throughout the body, including in the skin. This endocannabinoid system helps regulate and normalize many physiological processes, including pain, mood, stress, sleep and immune system function.
The body makes its own cannabinoids that activate the system, and CBD and other plant-based cannabinoids also stimulate its healing effects. “Specifically, CBD has anti-inflammatory, anti-itch and anti-pain properties that make it extremely attractive as a medicinal compound, particularly in dermatology,” said Lio.
Is there any scientific evidence that CBD topicals improve eczema symptoms?
There are very few studies of topical CBD in people with eczema. A small study published in 2019 in Clinical Therapeutics that included a few people with atopic dermatitis found that a CBD ointment helped clear skin and reduced itch and the sleep loss it caused.
Research also suggests CBD is anti-microbial, with some data showing it works about as well as antibiotics to kill Staphylococcus aureus. Staph can infect the skin of people with atopic dermatitis, triggering flares and other complications.
“Evidence in humans is still pretty limited, which means it’s hard to know how well CBD works for eczema, or the key components necessary for success,” Lio said. Clearer answers about CBD and eczema may be available soon. The results from a trial of a CBD gel in about 200 people with moderate atopic dermatitis are due this year.
So, are CBD topicals safe—and worth a try—for people with eczema?
Research to date shows topical CBD is safe.
“I think that for adults who want to try a CBD topical, there’s little to lose,” said Lio, who noted he has many patients who said they benefit from the products. Like anything else applied to skin, CBD products can cause reactions, so test a small area over a few days before applying widely.
What else do I need to know before buying a CBD cream or oil?
Some CBD products are labeled “isolate,” which means CBD is the only cannabinoid they contain. Broad- and full-spectrum CBD products are made with multiple cannabinoids, sometimes including THC.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration doesn’t verify how well specific CBD products work, whether they’re safe or if they contain the labeled compounds. Lio suggests asking your dermatologist to vet specific products.
Reputable manufacturers may also offer a certificate of analysis (COA). Often found on company websites, COAs are compiled by an independent, accredited laboratory and detail the quantities of a product’s various cannabinoids.
Are CBD products legal?
Usually, but state laws vary. CBD is legal on the federal level and in most states. THC is legal in some states but still illegal under federal law. Check the laws in the state you’re living or traveling in if you’re unsure.
CBD for Eczema: What the Research Shows
Eczema is not just dry skin; it’s a painful, restrictive and hard to treat condition that we’d all want to be without. People with eczema experience dry, flaky skin, redness, itching and painful skin areas.
Corticosteroids are typically used to treat eczema, but the results are often short-lasting, are not totally effective and can come with some serious side effects. Long-term use of topical steroids can actually leave you with more skin problems, like acne, dermatitis, thin skin or discolouration.
A natural alternative could offer some help in relieving the frustrating symptoms of eczema. CBD has shown a lot of promise as a treatment for skin disorders and may be able to combat some of the underlying reasons behind eczema. We’ve done the reading to find out all you need to know about what the research says about CBD for eczema.
What is CBD?
Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is a naturally occurring chemical that belongs to the cannabinoid family. This natural compound is gaining a reputation for its possible health benefits, and many are turning to it as an alternative treatment option. CBD is produced from cannabis plants but can also be purchased as an extract to be used topically, swallowed or vaped.
There are many reasons why people are turning to CBD. Research tells us that CBD may be able to improve a range of conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, neurodegenerative conditions and pain ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ).
How can CBD help eczema?
The main way that CBD may be able to help you manage eczema is by reducing inflammation.
There are many different types of eczema, with the most common being atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory immune condition, meaning that your immune system misfires, overreacting to certain substances and sending out an immune response. Immune responses are typically good; they protect you from harmful invaders. But in the case of atopic eczema, the immune response results in inflammation in the skin, leaving you with itchy, red and painful skin lesions.
Research on CBD and eczema
- One study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine investigated whether cannabinoids like CBD have any effect on certain receptors that result in an inflammatory effect when activated. The study found that CBD significantly suppressed the activation of these receptors, resulting in a reduction of chronic inflammation. The study also found that CBD showed promise in reducing chronic pain, which would also be useful for patients with serious, painful eczema symptoms ( 5 ).
- Another study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapies in 2018 also investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD, this time directly to skin cells. The study added CBD to human skin cells that had a stimulated inflammatory skin disorder and measured the inflammatory response these cells exhibited. What the researchers found was that CBD blocked the release of various inflammatory factors, indicating that CBD could be useful in reducing inflammation in inflammatory skin disorders like eczema ( 6 ).
- CBD may also be able to help the general skin condition of patients with eczema by improving hydration and skin elasticity. A 2019 study published in the journal Clinical Therapeutics tested the effects of CBD ointment on severe skin diseases. Patients with psoriasis and atopic eczema administered CBD ointment to their problem skin areas twice daily for three months. The results found that CBD significantly improved the symptoms of these inflammatory skin disorders, with no irritant or allergic reactions reported ( 7 ). This study tells us the CBD could be able to safely and effectively improve the condition of inflammatory skin disorders like eczema.
Does CBD work as a topical?
When using CBD for eczema, most people will probably prefer to use it as an ointment, cream or topical oil, but topical CBD products may not be the most effective.
Bioavailability refers to the amount of a substance that reaches the bloodstream. When it comes to using CBD on the skin, the bioavailability is likely to be low. This is because the skin contains a lot of water, and cannabinoids can’t dissolve in water, so CBD is unlikely to be able to cross the skin barrier to take effect.
One way that you may be able to improve the effectiveness of topical CBD products is by ensuring they contain carrier oils. Since cannabinoids can dissolve in oil, a carrier oil could help to improve the transport of CBD through the skin. Oils you should look out for in CBD products include argan oil and olive oil, as these are thought to potentially work as carriers for cannabinoids like CBD ( 8 ).
Side effects of CBD
While CBD does show a lot of promise as a possible treatment for eczema, it’s important to keep in mind any possible side effects from this cannabinoid. Common side effects from CBD include reduced appetite, sleepiness, lethargy and diarrhoea ( 9 ). But the good news is that these side effects tend to be mild, and CBD is largely thought to have a high safety profile.
One misconception around CBD is that it can induce a high. While CBD is derived from cannabis, a high is not one of its side effects. Another cannabinoid compound called THC is the reason for the infamous effects of cannabis. As long as your CBD extract contains no THC, you don’t have to worry about experiencing any psychotropic effects.
The bottom line
Those with eczema know that it can be especially hard to live with. This skin disorder can make it difficult to move and can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and, in serious cases, painful.
CBD has shown great potential as a treatment for eczema, thanks to its anti-inflammatory powers and ability to improve skin elasticity and hydration. It is important to keep in mind that more research is needed into CBD as a treatment for eczema before we can properly understand just how effective it is. However, early research is promising, and with a high safety profile, it shows exciting potential.