Are cannabinoids absorbed through the skin?
Cannabinoids are garnering interest in the world of science. Dozens of these molecules appear in the cannabis plant, and many of them are showing promising results in animal and human studies.
Cannabinoids are typically ingested orally, sublingually, or inhaled through a vaporizer. However, cannabinoids such as CBD can also be found in a whole range of cosmetic products including creams, lotions, and balms. But how exactly do cannabinoids affect the skin? Do they pass through this protective barrier, or are their effects only skin-deep?
Do cannabinoids pass through the skin?
Upon applying a cannabinoid product to their skin, people often assume the cannabinoid enters their bloodstream. But just how true is this supposition? Well, it really depends. CBD and other cannabinoids can be applied to the skin in two distinct methods: topical and transdermal.
Topical application refers to creams, ointments, and other cosmetic products designed to be massaged into the epidermis—the topmost layers of the skin. These products target the skin itself and don’t ferry cannabinoids into the blood vessels of the derma below.
In contrast, transdermal products deliver CBD in a manner that penetrates through the upper barriers of the skin and into the bloodstream. Animal studies have shown that CBD administered as a transdermal gel makes its way into the bloodstream and increases plasma levels of the cannabinoid.
However, transdermal CBD isn’t just a matter of rubbing the cannabinoid into the skin. It requires several adjuvants to make a hydroalcoholic gel capable of penetrating the epidermis. THC also appears to permeate the skin through lipophilic pathways, as evidenced by a 1998 paper that showed transdermal application of delta-8-THC—a more stable form than delta-9-THC—to sustain delivery of the cannabinoid into the bloodstream over 24 hours.
Although studies on transdermal cannabinoids are few and far between, this method of application could serve as a way to bypass the digestive system and deliver cannabinoids directly into the bloodstream. This method of administration resembles the pathway of sublingual ingestion. Multiple patents exist for transdermal application of cannabinoids, and companies offer products featuring varying ratios of THC, CBD, CBN, and THCA.
How cannabinoids interact with the skin
Although transdermal delivery manages to introduce cannabinoids into the bloodstream, topical products offer a different advantage. The skin—much like many other areas of the body—harbours cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a regulatory role in the body and helps many different biological systems maintain homeostasis. The skin is no exception.
A review published in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences states that the endocannabinoid system of the skin plays a key role in several crucial processes. External cannabinoids share a similar structure to those found in the body, and also target the same receptor sites.
Cannabinoids and dermatological issues
Several studies have investigated the effects of cannabinoids on common dermatological issues. For example, a study in the Journal of Dermatological Science looked at the effects of this family of molecules against keratinocyte hyperproliferation, which is associated with
red, flaky, and scaly skin.
These uncomfortable symptoms arise as the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin cells—an issue of homeostatic regulation. This leads to a rapid build-up of skin cells on the surface of the skin. The study found THC, CBN, CBD, and CBG to inhibit keratinocyte production and help restore balance in the skin. That said, more studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Researchers also looked at how cannabinoids affect overproduction of sebum. When this oily substance builds up in the pores, bacteria can form and begin to cause red blemishes. Research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation tested the effects of CBD on human sebocytes, cells that pump out excess sebum. The researchers found that cannabinoids might help these cells behave normally by acting on TRPV4 and A2A receptors.
Conclusion: cannabinoids and the skin
Although research remains in the early stages, cannabinoids certainly produce intriguing effects in regards to the skin. The discovery of the ECS in our largest organ raises many questions on the role(s) of cannabinoids in dermatological research.
Cannabinoids have a special relationship with the skin. Follow the link to learn how they interface with the endocannabinoid system in our largest organ.
Your Most FAQs About CBD Skin Care Answered
There is absolutely no question: the popularity of CBD has reached an all-time high, especially in the beauty and wellness scene. ItвЂ™s everywhere you look вЂ” on the shelves of your local Walgreens, as a treatment at your favorite spa, and perhaps most recently (but most exponentially) in your facial oils, body lotions, and lip balms. But unlike its trendy ingredient counterparts (like coconut oil or green tea) that have dwindled in demand since bursting onto the beauty scene, itвЂ™s most likely only just the beginning for CBD, or cannabidiol, one of the non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis sativa plant species.
According to the Hemp Business Journal, sales of CBD products exceeded $390 million in 2018 alone. And by 2022, the CBD market is projected to reach a whopping $22 billion in large part thanks to the farm bill (which legalized hemp in the United States), according to cannabis industry analysts at The Brightfield Group project. ItвЂ™s unclear what kinds of goods will be responsible for the majority of those profits, but if youвЂ™re the gambling kind, you can bet that a sizable chunk will come from CBD beauty businesses. A likely reason? More and more women are turning to cannabis as a wellness tool.
A report from Eaze, a cannabis delivery platform, found that the growth of women entering the cannabis market outpaced men and women now make up 38% of cannabis consumers. It also reported that women are 67% more likely to use cannabis for personal care than men are. And in a time where more and more beauty lovers are trying to вЂњclean upвЂќ their routines with more naturally derived products, it seems CBD has the opportunity to thrive in the billion-dollar beauty marketplace.
But the science to formulate these CBD-laden beauty products is in its earliest stages, meaning there are few scientific studies or data to back up the claims that many of these products are making. While the farm bill did make hemp legal, the Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies CBD as illegal though they won’t go after anyone using or possessing it. In a statement regarding the Farm Bill, the Food and Drug Administration said that they will continue to require companies to obtain approval to sell any products containing CBD or make any “therapeutic claims” about them. To make matters even more complex, regulation also varies from state to state. According to Forbes, CBD-based skin care companies could theoretically come under scrutiny by the DEA or the FDA, though it is unlikely as long as they don’t violate the federal law and sell products that are derived from industrial hemp and do not contain any detectable traces of THC (0.3% or less.)
On top of all the evolving legal regulations, the different types of hemp-derived ingredients that are making their way into beauty products add an extra layer of complication for consumers. In other words, it is a totally confusing space filled with as many questions as there are product offerings. ItвЂ™s crucial CBD users take the time to not only research the products theyвЂ™re using and the companies theyвЂ™re purchasing them from, but to also educate themselves on all of the intricacies of CBD and what it can actually do for your skin and your body.
Bustle spoke with seven experts in the CBD industry, from cannabis doctors to CBD beauty merchants, on the most frequently asked questions when it comes to the buzzy plant compound. HereвЂ™s everything youвЂ™ve been wanting to know about CBD in skin care.
What does CBD do for skin?
There are lots of different claims out there about what CBD can do for your skin, but first it’s important to understand how it would even give you those desired effects.
As Dr. Cheryl Bugailiskis, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and cannabis specialist with HelloMD, explains to Bustle, “the skin is the largest organ and our bodyвЂ™s first line of defense against unwanted organisms. As such, this protective layer has the highest amount and concentration of what are called cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body as a part of our endocannabinoid system вЂ” a checks-and-balance matrix, which regulates a number of critical bodily functions and responses such as stress, pain, appetite, inflammation, sleep, immunity and even processes like how much or how little oil our skin produces.”
It turns out CBD has the same receptors as our skin, which is why our skin can respond well to the compound, she says. And when CBD is used for medicinal or therapeutic purposes tied to the skin, it’s believed to work by stimulating or impacting our skinвЂ™s cannabinoid receptors “to better regulate pain, inflammation, bacteria, lipid production (which can lead to acne), the release of histamine as well as skin cell proliferation (which causes psoriasis),” Bugailiskis explains.
In addition to being highly anti-inflammatory, CBD is also known to be a potent antioxidant. Ashley Lewis, co-founder of Fleur MarchГ©, an online CBD marketplace for women, explains that some studies on CBD indicate that it could be effective in calming irritated skin and reducing redness, helping to lessen visible signs of aging, and as a potentially powerful way to combat acne. “While more studies are required to prove these effects, the research is really promising,” she tells Bustle.
CBD is always described differently on labels. What is the difference between full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, and CBD Isolate?
Not all CBD beauty products are created equally. There are differences in the kind of CBD being used, and it’s extremely important to understand the distinction, says Meredith Schroeder, co-founder of Fleur MarchГ©. “This is something we really try to clarify in our product descriptions. While making the distinction between isolate and full spectrum is perhaps more obvious, defining broad spectrum can be murky,” she explains. Here’s how each are defined.
Full Spectrum: Cannabis extract with all cannabinoids, including trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis that can get you high). It contains vitamins, minerals, omega fatty acids, and terpenes. “According to full spectrum believers, a full spectrum extract is more effective because of the combined benefits of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial plant material, known as the ‘Entourage Effect,'” Schroeder says. Don’t be alarmed though вЂ” you shouldn’t get high from full spectrum CBD because the amount of THC is so minimal. It can carry a scent, so if you’re looking for something that doesn’t smell like hemp, you might want to opt for CBD isolate.
Broad Spectrum: Cannabis extract with all cannabinoids, minus trace amounts of THC. In this extraction process, the THC has been removed or other cannabinoids have been added back in with a CBD isolate. Schroeder explains that broad spectrum “still delivers ‘The Entourage Effect’ by using multiple parts of the plant,” but does not contain any THC. Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of Nice Paper, an online platform that aims to educate people about cannabis and destigmatize weed, adds that while there is little research as to whether THC makes CBD more efficacious, it could potentially help.
Isolate: This is pure CBD. It does not contain any other cannabinoids, oils, plant material, waxes, and chlorophyll, Schroeder says. “ItвЂ™s essentially the ‘cleanest’ form of CBD, in that isolates are free of contaminants, have controlled potencies, and have no taste or smell,” she says. This does not necessarily mean it’s the best or most potent. Studies have shown that CBD proved to be more effective when used along with other compounds of the cannabis plant. According to Palermino at Nice Paper, you might need to use more of the isolate for it to be as effective as a broad- or full-spectrum product. However, for CBD beauty brands, it can sometimes be most optimal to create a product only using CBD isolate so as not to compromise the formulation of a product, Schroeder explains to Bustle. According to Schroeder, if they plan on adding other carriers, like rosehip oil, it could potentially not mix well with the other cannabinoids, terpenes, or plant material in a full spectrum CBD. (It’s totally a preference вЂ” full spectrum CBD believers might disagree with this stance.) CBD isolate also does not have any strong fragrance or scent.
Wait, but what’s the difference between hemp oil and CBD oil?
You’ve likely used hemp seed oil before вЂ” it’s been used in skin care for centuries, explains Palermino. Think of hemp seed oil like a sesame or olive oil. “It’s just the oil pressed from the seeds of the hemp plant and has zero active ingredient potential, but is good for [providing moisture] and isn’t very comedogenic, meaning you probably won’t break out,” Palermino says.
CBD oil, on the other hand, includes a high content of CBD and is much thicker and more viscous in consistency. “Rather than being made from the seeds of the plant, CBD hemp oil is made from the both the plantвЂ™s seeds and stalks,” explains Dr. Jenelle Kim, lead formulator and co-founder of JBK Wellness Labs and creator of Cannabis Beauty Defined. “It is extracted using supercritical [carbon dioxide] and, in addition to levels of cannabinoids, CBD hemp oil also contains the same valuable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as the original hemp plant.”
If you’re looking for a lightweight oil to add a little extra moisture, hemp oil is generally a more affordable way to get those benefits than CBD. However, if you want an oil that’ll calm irritated skin or combat acne the experts Bustle spoke to believe CBD would be more effective and therefore, the better choice.
Can ingesting CBD affect your skin?
Before we talk about whether CBD can affect your skin, let’s first discuss the difference between eating a CBD gummy and applying a CBD balm as it relates to your body. When you ingest CBD, it will 100% reach your bloodstream, whether it’s through your glands underneath your tongue or through your digestive tract. However, because it’s passing through your body in different ways, this could reduce the bioavailability of the CBD (the degree and rate at which a substance that is absorbed into the bloodstream).
According to Schroder, when you apply CBD topically, it does not necessarily reach your bloodstream, but can be absorbed by the receptors in your skin and can work relatively quickly to treat the area where you’ve applied your product. (In order for CBD to penetrate your skin and go into your blood, you would need to be use a transdermal CBD product, like a patch or a gel specifically made to do just that.)
So while oral ingestion might benefit your skin, it’s more likely applying a product topically will be the better choice.
“Oral ingestion of CBD has the potential to affect your skin through multiple pathways internally. However, there is also therapeutic potential for applying CBD topically to have a more local and direct effect,” says a consultant for BlueSky Biologicals, a major manufacturer of hemp-based products.
Lewis agrees, adding that in theory, however you ingest CBD should be beneficial for your skin care routine. And while she has seen studies that have shown both ingestible or topical CBD delivery can be useful in dealing with skin issues, there hasn’t been enough research to “definitively endorse one method over another,” she tells Bustle.
Meanwhile, Bugailiskis “absolutely” believes that however you ingest CBD can benefit your skin. For patients with chronic skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, Bugailiskis often recommends a CBD sublingual tincture (which can be taken under the tongue) twice daily.
Compare it to taking a collagen supplement versus using a moisturizer with collagen in it вЂ” the supplement could certainly be working, but it will likely take longer for you to see results on your skin than when using the face cream.
Can you get high from using a CBD skin care ingredient?
“Getting high requires the hallucinogenic properties of THC and it’s just not in high enough levels [in CBD products],” Palermino says.
BlueSky’s consultant agrees. “There are a few reasons that this is unlikely. Typically, systemic absorption through topical application is low, which would result in very little active ingredient actually being absorbed into your bloodstream. Also, it should be noted that most skin care products do not contain any psychoactive agents to begin with, which means that there is no ‘high’ potential even if absorbed into the skin,” he explains.
The federal government mandates all CBD products contain no more than 0.3% trace amounts of THC, and most CBD beauty products contain even less than that.
Can you experience any of the supposed relaxing benefits of CBD from CBD skin care products?
“A topical CBD that stays in the skin and does not enter the bloodstream will work locally and therefore not produce any anti-stress or anti-anxiety benefits,” Bugailiskis says.
But if you count pain relief as a form of relaxation, then Ashley Lewis believes you can see these benefits. “But you shouldnвЂ™t expect to rub a cream on your neck and suddenly feel less anxious,” she adds. “Topical CBD products (lotions, salves, creams, and sprays) are really best for localized relief (think: sore muscles, period cramps, high heel-induced foot aches), as they can be absorbed by the skin, but donвЂ™t make it all the way into your bloodstream,” Lewis says.
Does adding CBD to makeup products provide any additional benefits?
“Cannabis does have conditioning or lipid producing, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties, so an infused lip balm, eyeshadow, or lipstick could, in theory, work,” Dr. Bugailiskis says, meaning it could potentially provide the same benefits as the skin care or topical CBD products you’re using. “Given that mascara is applied to eyelashes (dead skin cells), I question its potential efficacy,” she adds.
BlueSky’s consultant agrees that the answer isn’t crystal clear. “CBD in traditional makeup products could certainly have positive therapeutic benefits. [It’s] an area of immense interest and investment for further research and development,” he explains.
Palermino doesn’t quite understand why anyone would put CBD in something like eyeshadow, and wants to remind consumers that if a makeup product claims to have cannabis, it can often just be hemp seed oil (“which is great for your lashes [and skin], by the way,” she adds).
What should you look for in a quality CBD skin care product?
“A quality and effective CBD skin care product will feature full- or broad-spectrum CBD that has been organically cultivated (meaning free of pesticides and herbicides) and third-party lab tested (which ensures that the potency and purity listed on the label is in fact what the product contains),” Dr. Bugailiskis explains.
Schroeder urges consumers to ask questions and do your research. “Does the product actually contain CBD or is it hemp seed oil? How much CBD is in the product? Is it efficacious? What complimentary ingredients are used in the formulation? Does the product absorb into the skin in order really see benefits from CBD?” she says.
“Be wary, look at the claims, and be a skeptical consumer,” Palermino says.
Why do CBD beauty products cost so much?
“There are high costs involved in cultivating quality cannabis, deriving CBD from cannabis, testing the oils and then manufacturing and distributing the products; and these costs are translated into the final retail prices. The industry is still incredibly young so continued growth will likely lead to a natural stabilization of the numbers,” argues Pamela Hadfield, co-founder of HelloMD.
But the answer isn’t as “clear cut” as this, Lewis says. “Some brands add in CBD as a marketing tool specifically so that they can price up their products, while others are using high-quality CBD extract, doing a lot of testing on that extract and their finished products, and including high doses of CBD in their formulations.” It’s the reason Lewis and Schroeder created Fleur MarchГ© вЂ” to help consumers figure out what products work and what’s worth spending their hard-earned money on.
But Palermino believes there’s a bigger conversation to be had about the rising, unregulated costs of CBD products. “A big question I ask myself every day is how do we make products that help people, but are accessible?” says Palermino, who is currently developing a CBD skin care line with her partner at Nice Paper. “Hemp and cannabis have incarcerated millions of people, mostly people of color. To make a plant and its ‘wellness’ products inaccessible to those dealing with the trauma of prohibition (not even speaking to denied economic opportunities) is, quite simply, f*cked up.”
Readers should note that the regulations and data surrounding Marijuana, CBD and other related products are still developing. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as medical or legal advice. Always consult with your doctor before trying any substance or supplement.
There is absolutely no question: the popularity of CBD has reached an all-time high, especially in the beauty and wellness scene. ItвЂ™s everywhere you look вЂ” on the shelves of your local Walgreens, as a treatment at your favorite spa, and perhapsвЂ¦