can cbd penetrate skinDecember 15, 2021
“It actually is a very promiscuous compound,” Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research fellow in the department of anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, tells SELF. “It will bind to receptors in multiple different pathways,” which makes it difficult to know how it might cause noticeable effects.
Then the researchers measured the inflammation in each rat’s knee joint, the level of CBD that made it into their bloodstream, and their pain-related behaviors. They found that the rats that were given the two highest doses of CBD showed significantly lower levels of inflammation and lower pain behavior scores compared to those that got the control. The two lower doses didn’t show much of an effect.
“Cannabidiol is a super messy drug,” Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., research director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, tells SELF. “It has lots and lots of targets and it’s not clear how much of its effects on each target contribute to the potential pain relieving effects.”
What is CBD?
If you’re ingesting something that only has CBD in it and no THC, you won’t have significant effects in the brain. This is why CBD is often referred to as being “non-psychoactive,” although that’s clearly a bit of an oversimplification because it does do something to the central nervous system.
It’s totally possible (and actually pretty likely) that any effect you get from a commercially available topical CBD product is a placebo effect or related to some other aspect of the product. But there are a few things going on here that are more complex than they seem.
When the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering evaluated decades of cannabis research, they concluded that "in adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms."
All of this points to how hard it is to study the specific effects of CBD on its own—which might be why it’s tempting to claim that it’s the cure for everything without a whole lot of research to actually back up all of those claims.
The studies we do have about CBD for pain are all animal studies. For example, in a 2017 study published in Pain, researchers gave rats an injection into one of their knee joints to model osteoarthritis. Rats then either received doses of CBD or saline directly into an artery in the knee joint. Results showed that, after receiving CBD, rats showed less inflammation in the joint area and fewer pain-related behaviors (like shaking or withdrawing the affected paw or not being able to bear weight in that paw) compared to those that received saline.
You don’t need me to tell you that CBD (cannabidiol) is everywhere. You can eat it, you can drink it, you can vape it, you can even bathe in it. And although there’s still plenty to learn about this fascinating little compound, fans of it claim that it has some pretty impressive benefits—particularly when it comes to managing pain.
Here’s what the research says about using CBD for pain.
More recent research suggests that many of CBD’s effects may occur outside of CB receptors, Jordan Tishler, M.D., medical cannabis expert at InhaleMD in Boston, tells SELF. In fact, according to a recent review published in Molecules, CBD may have effects on some serotonin receptors (known to play a role in depression and anxiety), adenosine receptors (one of the neurological targets for caffeine), and even TRPV-1 receptors (more commonly associated with taste and the sensation of spiciness).
But that’s not quite as exciting for CBD as it sounds: “We don’t know cannabidiol’s effects on its own,” says Cooper, who was part of the National Academies committee that put together this report. “[The conclusions about cannabis and cannabinoids] were based on what we know about THC or THC plus cannabidiol.”
The most common medical reason for which people report using CBD is to manage chronic pain, followed closely by managing arthritis or joint pain. But does it actually work?
Both THC and CBD act on a system of receptors in your body called cannabinoid receptors. You have cannabinoid receptors throughout your body and, so far, researchers have identified two major types: CB1 (found primarily in the central nervous system, including parts of the brain and spinal cord) and CB2 (found mainly in immune system tissues). Interestingly, both have been found in skin. Researchers have also found that while THC can bind to and activate both types of receptors, CBD seems to modulate and somewhat block the effects of CB1 and CB2 receptors. So, any effect that CBD has on CB receptors may actually be more related to regulating and even counteracting some of the actions of THC and other cannabinoids in the brain.
So…is CBD cream just an expensive placebo?
“It might be that cannabidiol by itself is helpful for pain, but at this point we don’t know that,” Cooper says.
Why does the body have receptors for compounds in cannabis? Well, it doesn’t exactly. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are similar enough to compounds that your body naturally makes, called endocannabinoids, that they can interact with this system. Normally, the endocannabinoid system is thought to play a role in a variety of functions in the body, helping to regulate things like parts of the immune system, the release of hormones, metabolism, and memory.
“There’s really no substitute for doing proper human studies, which are difficult, expensive, and ethically complicated,” Dr. Tishler says. And we simply don’t have them for CBD and pain.
Personally, I always keep a few jars of it at my desk to help with the shoulder and neck muscle tension inherent in a job consisting mainly of typing and holding a phone next to my face. But it turns out that the research behind these claims is pretty sparse, to say the least. Here’s what you need to know before you give topical CBD a try.
In fact, the most compelling research they found for using cannabinoids for pain came from a large review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2015. For the study, researchers looked at results from 79 previous studies of cannabinoids and various medical conditions, including chronic pain. However, of those studies, only four involved CBD (without THC)—none of which were looking at pain. So although we might assume that CBD is doing something to help address pain—according to the studies involving the whole cannabis plant—we don’t have great evidence to prove it.
So while oral ingestion might benefit your skin, it’s more likely applying a product topically will be the better choice.
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).
There is absolutely no question: the popularity of CBD has reached an all-time high, especially in the beauty and wellness scene. It’s everywhere you look — 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, it’s most likely only just the beginning for CBD, or cannabidiol, one of the non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis sativa plant species.
"Be wary, look at the claims, and be a skeptical consumer," Palermino says.
"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.
Can you get high from using a CBD skin care ingredient?
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.
In addition to being highly anti-inflammatory, CBD is also known to be a potent antioxidant. Ashley Lewis, co-founder of Fleur Marché, 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.
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 body’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 — 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."
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.
"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.
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 skin’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.
"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.
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.)
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.
Does adding CBD to makeup products provide any additional benefits?
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. It’s unclear what kinds of goods will be responsible for the majority of those profits, but if you’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.
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. It’s crucial CBD users take the time to not only research the products they’re using and the companies they’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.
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).
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 Marché — 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."
What does CBD do for skin?
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.
"Getting high requires the hallucinogenic properties of THC and it’s just not in high enough levels [in CBD products]," Palermino says.
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. Here’s everything you’ve been wanting to know about CBD in skin care.
"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.
But if you count pain relief as a form of relaxation, then Ashley Lewis believes you can see these benefits. "But you shouldn’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 don’t make it all the way into your bloodstream," Lewis says.
"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.
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.
This is an important concept because many CBD products suffer from low bioavailibility. Choosing different routes of administration and employing advanced technology in product creation can both improve bioavailability and thus improve the effectiveness of a product at a given dose.
Transdermal CBD patches are popular among athletes and people who maintain an active lifestyle, primarily because they offer hours of relief without having to worry about dosing or re-administering the product. These patches are also a very discreet method of taking CBD, and if you’re always on-the-go, it’s easy to take these patches anywhere and apply them for all-day relief.
Although studies on transdermal cannabinoids few аnd 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 exists for transdermal application of cannabinoids, and companies offer products featuring varying ratios of CBD.
Hоw CBD is Absorbed into Your Body.
Transdermal is probably the least commonly used method to use CBD. It includes a CBD patch which is placed on the skin.The ECS has receptors all across our skin, and if the CBD product can permeate through the skin via a transdermal application, it’s expected to have a higher bioavailability.
How a CBD product is consumed or applied to the body is defined as the route of administration. This has a direct effect on the uptake, distribution, and the elimination of the compound. In other words how you consume a product will govern how quickly it will come on, how much of the substance becomes active in the body, and how long the effects will last.
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 іn dermatological research.
When a product is used, how muсh of CBD, and the addition cannabis compounds, are absorbed by the body is called bioavailability. This is expressed as a percentage of the total – i.e. 10% bioavailability means 10% of the consumed CBD became active in the body, while the other 90% was washed away as waste, unused by the body.
Topical application refers to creams, lotions, 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.
However, transdermal CBD isn’t just a matter of rubbing the cannabinoid into the skin. It requires several adjuvants to make a hydro-alcoholic gel capable of penetrating the epidermis.
Whаt are CBD раtсhеѕ uѕеd fоr?
CBD patches or tape are typically used to achieve the same therapeutic benefits that people experience through other CBD oil products, like the anti-іnflammatory or analgesic (pain killing) effects. In particular, these patches may help alleviate pain in localized areas, or provide long lasting relief since they continue to release CBD fоr many hours.
Transdermal delivery can be ineffective if it is not combined with another more water-compound compound. As discussed earlier, CBD is fat-soluble, and as a result, it doesn’t mix well with the skin due to the high levels of water.
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.
For a product to become active in the body, it must make it to the cannabnioid receptors which make up our endocannabinoid system. This can be done by getting the CBD to the bloodstream internally or by absorbing it through the skin.
How CBD іѕ absorbed thrоugh уоur Skin(Transdermal)
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, lotion, and balms. But how exactly do cannabinoids affect the skin? Do they pass through this protective barrier, or are their effects only skin-deep?
A study on the transdermal applications of found that adding roughly one-third ethanol in the application improved bioavailability nearly four times.
Overall, transdermal application of CBD is useful in ensuring a consistent dose across time, but on the flip side, it may take a bit more time for you to feel the effects.
These patches are perhaps most similar to other CBD topicals, but the majority of CBD creams and lotions are not transdermal, meaning they don’t penetrate beneath the skin to enter the bloodstream. CBD patches on the other hand are formulated differently, with the specific purpose of allowing CBD tо enter the body through transdermal absorption. Thе effects may start working a manner that’s more akin to a capsule or a gummy because of the way these patches offer an extended release of CBD.
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.