Just like any relationship, the connection between CBD and eczema is complicated. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an itchy skin condition that can creep up anywhere on the body but is usually found on the face, hands, wrists, back of the knees and/or the feet. Eczema affects millions with symptoms including “redness, irritation, dryness, flaking and itchy skin that has a rough appearance and touch,” explains California-based dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D. “Eczema presents itself physically in a number of ways, [including] inflammation and cell proliferation.” Skin is our barrier from the outside world, and it keeps allergens, irritants, infection agents and other generally bad stuff out. Not only that but “it also wants to keep moisture in and avoid transepidermal water loss,” says Shamban. “When the barrier is not performing optimally is when we see the greatest intake of issues and the greatest loss of moisture, and the balance of the skin is part of the cause of the vicious cycle of eczema.” Atopic eczema is a chronic disease where the skin barrier has become leaky, and inflammation occurs.
Atopic eczema is a chronic disease where the skin barrier has become leaky, and inflammation occurs.
Eczema is not contagious, but doctors are not 100 percent sure of its cause. “We don’t really know its exact cause, but it is specific to genetic disposition, immune system and a potential range of environmental triggers that can cause an inflammation response which, in ‘overdrive,’ creates the physical symptoms of these conditions,” says Shamban.
Can CBD cure eczema?
According to Mary’s Nutritionals’ Chief Scientist, Jeremy Riggle, Ph.D., CBD has demonstrated the potential to help mitigate the symptoms of eczema, particularly pain, itch and inflammation. “All these responses are modulated by the endocannabinoid system, [which] plays a crucial role in skin pathogenesis and the maintenance of homeostasis,” he says. The endocannabinoid system helps regulate different processes including mood, memory, pain, appetite, stress, immune function and more. “CBD interacts with this system and may help the skin re-establish or maintain homeostasis, the result, in this case, being a reduction in symptoms associated with eczema.”
Although CBD oil is still a new industry in terms of medical applications, “it has been long observed and known since the first dermatology textbooks that cannabinoids do possess strong anti-inflammatory benefits as well as calming anti-itch properties,” says Shamban. “Until recently, there was no research to understand how and why, but it has been more ‘anecdotal reporting’ and community consensus, not clinical.” According to Shamban, CBD is not harmful against certain skin conditions, but doctors are unsure of how helpful it is. “Truthfully, there is probably a direct connection and benefit [of CBD oil for eczema], but the range of cannabis topicals in terms of type, amount and delivery systems … makes it more complicated for us as medical professionals to give accuracy on the specifics,” she says.
Based on the recent studies, we know that the interaction of the skin with a CBD-based product can inhibit cell activation on the histamine response, which, when activated, leads to intense itching and inflammation. “However, purity of product and additives or other ingredients included in the product also matter and can have a reverse effect,” she says.
CBD purity: How does this affect eczema, if at all?
When purchasing a CBD product to treat eczema, Riggle suggests asking yourself a few questions. “For example, ‘What type of CBD extract does it contain — full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, isolate?’, ‘Where is the raw material sourced from?’, ‘Does the producer use organic and sustainable agricultural practices?’, etc.” Riggle also adds, “If you don’t use a high-quality CBD product, you risk exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents and possible skin irritation due to these contaminants.” In other words, do your research.
The next question is whether an ingestible CBD oil or topical product containing CBD will help treat eczema better. “In my opinion, I think it is better to apply a moisturizing product that contains CBD as opposed to straight CBD oil,” explains Riggle. “The other ingredients will work together with CBD to help treat the symptoms of eczema — plus, pure CBD oil tends to be highly viscous and would be difficult to apply.”
Shamban also agrees. “Ingesting the product has to get through the entire digestive system to work inside out for inflammatory issues, whereas topically you can target the dermal cellular level if the product is pure and able to penetrate.”
What are the alternatives to treating eczema?
Although CBD oil is considered harmless, there is not enough evidence or studies to back up its true effectiveness in treating eczema. There are many other ingredients on the market that can help treat and prevent eczema, including ceramides. “Ceramides are lipids found in our skin that help retain moisture and keep the barrier function working,” explains Shamban.
Creams containing ceramides, like the Sunday Riley Ice Ceramide Moisturizing Cream($65), are a great defense against transepidermal water loss and eczema. “Our stratum corneum layer of skin has exceptionally high concentrations of natural ceramides, so creams commonly formulated with ceramides and advanced delivery systems to penetrate or release the ingredients into the skin cells certainly help to utilize particles in our cells [microspheres] to absorb and bind to the ingredients, keeping our skin cells balanced and performing,” says Shamban.