With all the buzz surrounding beauty’s latest natural ingredient, CBD, many people are wondering exactly how it works. CBD skin care products are definitely in high-demand, probably because their uses span far and wide. With marketing claims that CBD topicals can help control inflammation, manage joint pain, and promote healing, there has to be some pretty solid evidence to explain the way that the cannabis-derived molecule interacts with the body and skin.
Enter the Endocannabinoid System, discovered in 1992, and named due to the similarities between the system’s functioning molecules (called endocannabinoids) and many of the molecules (called phytocannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant. If you’re skeptical about CBD topicals and looking for answers, understanding the Endocannabinoid System and its role in skin health is the first step to reaping the many benefits of wholesome CBD topicals.
How Does the Endocannabinoid System Work?
Although the Endocannabinoid System has a major impact on processes in the skin, you need to first understand how it impacts the body as a whole. Since its discovery, this system has been widely regarded as one of the most important to the body's regulatory processes. Perhaps it's most crucial function is to help maintain homeostasis, a regulatory function that enables to body to maintain the correct temperature, properly heal, balance oil production, and more. Homeostasis is vital to the body's balance and good health.
How does the Endocannabinoid System work to maintain these processes? It functions through a system of neuro-receptors, or cannabinoid receptors, and natural neurotransmitters. These cannabinoid receptors are found all over the body, in every major organ, including the skin. The receptors react to the neurotransmitters, or “endocannabinoids” to regulate certain processes. Although there are many endocannabinoids that play a role in the Endocannabinoid System's processes, there are two Cannabinoids that are in the spotlight for having such major roles: anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-ag).
Researchers know more about anandamide, which is similar in structure to THC, and named after the Sanskrit word for “bliss.” It's most noticeable effect may be regulating brain chemicals necessary for happiness, or sparking natural feelings of joy or euphoria, much like THC. However, there is much to be learned about anandamide and how it works within the body. Research suggests that it has a hand in many other regulatory processes, like healing, and may even play a role in combating cancer cells.
Even less is known about 2-ag, the Endocannabinoid that is found in the greatest abundance in the body. Researchers speculate that this neurotransmitter also plays a role in regulating processes like appetite, immune system functions, healing, and more. Evidence also suggests that like anandamide, 2-ag may help counter the growth of cancer cells.
These two neurotransmitters organically bind with the two main cannabinoid receptors, CB-1 and CB-2. Researchers have found that THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids bind with these same receptors, sometimes mimicking or boosting the actions of the naturally occurring endocannabinoids. It's for this reason that CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids are being harvested and utilized in healthcare and wellness products, including tinctures and edibles, capsules, vapor oils, and topical products.
Cannabinoid Receptors in the Skin
The skin is the body's largest organ, and it plays a major role in numerous regulatory processes, especially in protecting the body from outside factors like UV radiation, infectious microbes, allergens, extreme temperatures, and more. The skin, which consists of several layers, contains certain glands (like sebaceous glands and sweat glands) that work together and all play an important role in defending against these environmental dangers. For instance, sweat glands help regulate body temperature, while sebaceous glands regulate oil production to increase the skin's resistance to wind, water, and more. The skin also produces its own immune cells, which help to regulate the major immune system in the skin that provides protection against bacteria that you may encounter every day. Furthermore, the skin has a variety of sensory nerves that are responsible for the sensations of feeling you have all over your body, including sensations of pain during an injury.
The Endocannabinoid System extends through the entire body, including the skin. In fact, anandamide and 2-ag are naturally produced by the skin and play a large role in the skin's many regulatory functions. They are constantly produced in specific, but varying amounts depending on what the skin needs to maintain proper physiological functions. Though the endocannabinoids are produced in the epidermis, hair follicles, and sebum glands, the cannabinoid receptors can be found in virtually every type of cell found in the skin. The massive number of cannabinoids receptors (CB-1 and CB-2) distributed throughout the skin explain why cannabinoids have such a major impact on skin functions. Information about how phytocannabinoids interact in the body’s endocannabinoid system provided by cannabinoid researchers is what led to the massive boom in the high-quality, CBD skin care market today.
How Do Cannabinoids Impact Skin Health?
Activation of the cannabinoid receptors in the skin can have dramatic effects on the surrounding cells, and therefore the health of the skin and hair. For instance, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating the immune response in the skin. Cannabinoids have been linked to the reduction of inflammation, which may mean that they have a multitude of uses for skin care. For instance, acne is often linked to inflammation and many users claim that CBD beauty products have helped them manage their acne breakouts. By managing inflammation, these topicals may also help with swelling in the joints and muscles where a topical application is suitable.
Cannabinoids also may be able to suppress unnecessary immune system responses. This means cannabinoids may be able to act upon the same receptors and may have therapeutic value for conditions related to improper immune response. According to research, cannabis topicals may help improve eczema, which is sometimes related to an overactive immune response.
When the cannabinoid receptors found in hair follicles are activated, they may suppress the growth of hair by activating or extending the catagen phase of hair growth. For this reason, CBD and THC topicals may have therapeutic value for hair growth disorders. When the skin’s endocannabinoid system is not functioning properly, receptors in sebum glands may fail to activate the secretion of sebum, which leaves the skin at risk to various environmental factors.
An imbalance of endocannabinoids may also lead to over-secretion of sebum, which is why certain cannabis-based topical treatments have been linked to improving symptoms of psoriasis.