Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and it’s also one of the hardest-working. Every day it protects you from dangers large and small, and it faces an enormous amount of stress from UV rays, bacteria, viruses, pollution, and literally thousands of man-made chemicals. Yet the skin is also remarkably supple and resilient, and it can heal itself from incredible traumas. There are many ways you can help keep your skin healthy and strong, and one of the most effective — and surprising — could be cannabis.
Specifically, it could be cannabis’ phytocannabinoids, which are chemical compounds like CBD and THC. These are remarkably similar to a group of chemicals produced inside the human body called endocannabinoids. Both types of compounds — which we can refer to collectively as ‘cannabinoids’ for simplicity’s sake — help regulate the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is a network of receptors responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or cellular balance, in the skin (along with many other functions).
The ECS accomplishes this by activating — or deactivating — cells in your body’s integumentary system, or IS. This is your body’s first line of defense, composed of all the layers of the skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands. Nearly all the cells of the IS have receptors that respond to cannabinoids, including those in epidermal keratinocytes, melanocytes, mast cells, fibroblasts, sebocytes, sweat gland cells, as well as certain cell populations of hair follicles. The abilities of these cells to communicate disorder or disease (and potentially counteract such issues) is promising for many inflammatory skin conditions, as well as hair loss.
When the ECS (and, by extension, the IS) is working correctly, your skin will show it. Just as it becomes discolored or swollen when injured, when it’s healthy there are telltale signs you will see. For example, healthy skin is smooth, with no breaks in the surface. It will also be warm (not hot or red) and neither dry and flaky nor moist and wrinkled. In short, it will be balanced — healthy skin is a mirror of a healthy body.
Keeping the skin healthy isn’t just about protecting it from physical injury or the sun’s damaging UV light. It also pertains to things like diet and stress management. Things like drinking plenty of water or eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are all important to maintaining healthy tissue — and so is taking the time to relax. Cannabis can help with many of these aspects of skin health, often in surprising ways.
For example, hemp hearts and hemp seeds are an excellent source of lean plant protein. Consuming just a few tablespoons of hemp seeds provides the body with 11 grams of protein. Hemp seeds are also rich in amino acids, which are great for the skin.
Cannabis can also help with stress, both by reducing it in the first place and by relieving some of its symptoms related to the skin. When you are stressed, your body creates more of the stress hormone, cortisol. This can lead to a physical response in the body resulting in hives, sensitivities, and breakouts. An increase in cortisol also increases oil production, which increases the opportunity for acne. Topical applications of cannabis and its derivatives like CBD oil can bring your skin’s oil production back to balance and reduce the appearance of acne, while consuming it by smoking or vaping can provide fast-acting relief before the stress itself gets overwhelming.
Cannabis also supports healthy skin by reducing free radicals, which have been a skin care buzzword for years. Free radicals are rogue molecules that bounce around inside the body, damaging the cells they touch (which often leads to fine lines and wrinkles, since the membranes of those cells have been punctured). Even more dangerously, free radicals can penetrate deep into cells and alter their DNA. So what can stop free radicals? The answer is antioxidants. These are like kryptonite to free radicals, and cannabis just happens to be one of the strongest antioxidants ever discovered — it’s so strong, in fact, that the U.S. government possesses a patent on cannabinoids as an antioxidant.
Thanks to the medical and recreational legalization of cannabis and the increasing popularity of CBD, more and more types of cannabis topical products are becoming available for consumers.The quality of the product is very important — if you plan to use a cannabis topical on a specific disorder, it is imperative the product be free of chemicals and as pure as possible. The less the body has to process while trying to heal, the better.
One reason that cannabis topicals have fewer side effects than conventional products is because they work by activating the body’s own defenses, rather than bombarding the skin with artificial substances. For example, when inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema cause an imbalance in the ECS, its cannabinoid receptors can be recalibrated by the delivery of phytocannabinoids via a nice soak in a bath or the self-application of a salve.
Cannabis topicals can also be combined with other treatments to help the skin. Cannabis massage oil applied by a massage therapist or loved one can provide relief to people dealing with inflammation or pain, while the spa industry has begun using infused facial serums during esthetic treatments for similar purposes.
By taking advantage of cannabis plant medicine, you can give your body’s ECS the help it needs to keep your skin strong and healthy. Cannabis-infused topicals are gentle enough to be used on the most sensitive or acne-prone skin, and some believe they’re strong enough to be used for conditions like seborrhea, allergic dermatitis, psoriasis, hair growth disorders, systemic sclerosis tumors, and even certain cancers. The field of cannabis medicine may be young, but the early results look promising for your skin.