The Role of Topical CBD in Skin Disorders: Current Knowledge and Future Directions

An update on the advances in CBD research and dermatology is provided.

Cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound derived from cannabis, has shown increasing influence in dermatologic research, but this compound currently lacks robust and long-term data to support its use in specific skin disorders. In spite of the lack of these data, several studies have reported the potential therapeutic effects of CBD in certain skin conditions, according to findings in a review article published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.

Cutaneous biology, according to the authors of this review, is modulated by what is known as the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), and receptors from this system are found in the skin. The ECS is involved in maintaining barrier function and skin homeostasis, but system dysregulation may impair skin barrier function and ultimately lead to different skin disorders, such as atopic dermatitis, acne, and even hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation.

The use of CBD in in vitro studies has been shown to induce HMOX1 expression as well as expression in other NRF2-regulated genes. Researchers theorize that CBD may be beneficial for skin disorders associated with free radical formation and inflammation, due to the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-apoptotic properties associated with HMOX1. In another study, CBD was shown to be capable of penetrating cells and balancing oxidative stress induced by ultraviolet B-induced and hydrogen peroxide.

In addition, topical application of CBD in preclinical and clinical studies may target peripheral inflammation and help reduce pain associated with certain conditions. Topical application circumvents the central nervous system, which may reduce the risk for CBD-related side effects, the investigators related. These research findings have not been validated in larger clinical trials.

Wound healing may also be a potential target for topical CBD use, as it may be influenced by ECS signaling. Some small research models suggest cannabinoid analogs can generate a wound healing response via activation of CB1 and/or CB2 receptors, anti-inflammatory upregulation, and activation of epidermal growth factor receptors. Similar to other studies looking at topical CBD for skin conditions, the research on wound healing with topical CBD is scarce, it was noted.

Other research has looked into topical CBD for the modulation of hair growth due to major cannabinoid compounds found in hair fibers. Expression of CB1 and CB2 receptors vary within the hair follicle. Models of obese mice show oral ingestion of synthetic antagonist of CB1 promoted hair growth, but there was no similar effect when the antagonist was applied topically. Additional small studies have looked into the potential of topical CBD for hair pigmentation, but the involvement of the ECS in melanogenesis is not yet clearly understood.

The researchers of this study concluded “that while the therapeutic potential of CBD for acne, seborrhea, eczema/dermatitis, and skin barrier function is promising, more robust studies are needed to fully validate its efficacy.”


Baswan SM, Klosner AE, Glynn K, et al. Therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) for skin health and disorders. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Published online December 8, 2020. doi:10.2147/CCID.S286411