The ECS and Skin (How CBD Works Topically)

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) and Skin

In a previous post, we discussed the internal workings of the endocannabinoid system. We discovered that we have cannabinoid receptors in the brain, nervous system, and immune system. The presence of these cannabinoid receptors partially explains why supplementing our routine with cannabinoids such as CBD can be beneficial.

What wasn’t discussed in our previous blog post is the advantage of applying cannabinoids externally. When applied topically, cannabinoids do not reach the bloodstream. This can leave questions on how CBD topicals can be of benefit. In this blog, we’ll discuss the role of the endocannabinoid system in the skin. 

The ECS and Skin

The Skin: A Dynamic Organ 

To better understand the ECS and skin, we must first review the functions of the skin. In addition to acting as a protective barrier against the environment, the skin is a dynamic organ. It is a source of hormones, has its own immune system, and contains an abundance of sensory nerves.

The skin is made up of three layers. The outermost layer is the epidermis, which is formed by layers of cells called keratinocytes. The epidermis is waterproof and provides protection from environmental factors such as UV radiation, microbes, extreme temperature, allergens, and chemicals.

The next layer of skin—the dermis—is made of collagen and elastin fibers that give the skin strength and elasticity. The dermis houses several appendages: follicles that produce hair, sebaceous glands that supply sebum, and glands that secrete sweat. These appendages help to reinforce the skin’s waterproof barrier, regulate the body’s temperature, and produce hormones such as steroids and vitamin D.

The skin’s immune system is located in the dermis. Various immune cells live inside this layer of skin or enter the skin when danger is present. When necessary, all skin cell types assist the immune system in protecting and healing the skin.

The dermis also contains a dense network of nerve fibers that recognize many stimuli. For this reason, the skin is considered the largest sensory organ.

The final layer of the skin is the subcutis, which includes fat that acts as a fuel reserve, insulation, and cushion.

The ECS and Skin

Recent studies have found the existence of the endocannabinoid system in the skin. The main purpose of the ECS in the skin is to maintain the balance of skin cell functions such as reproduction, differentiation, and immune competence.

Several cell types in the epidermis, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands synthesize, or create, endocannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-AG. These compounds bind to the two major cannabinoid receptors—CB1 and CB2—which are present in nearly all skin cells.

Due to the high presence of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids affect all components of the skin and contribute to their proper functioning. As discussed previously, the skin is a complex organ that performs defense, immunity, and sensory functions. The following list illustrates the effects of the ECS on the skin.

Epidermis: endocannabinoids activate the cannabinoid receptors on epidermal cells to help regulate the epidermis’s defense barrier as well as suppress inflammation in the epidermis.

Immune Cells: The ECS controls the action of the skin’s immune and inflammatory system. Endocannabinoids have anti-inflammatory effects and the ECS only activates the immune system when it is needed.

Sebaceous Glands: a healthy level of cannabinoids leads to the proper functioning of sebaceous glands. When the glands secrete proper levels of lipid-containing sebum, it contributes to healthy skin.

Sensory Nerves: cannabinoid receptors are located on sensory nerve endings. When activated, the receptors can block the action of the structures. This can inhibit pain and suppress the sensation of itch.

How CBD Works Topically

The skin relies on the homeostasis of skin cell function. Just as taking CBD internally helps to maintain homeostasis, applying CBD topically controls the balance of skin cell function. Cannabinoids supplement the endocannabinoids that are created in the skin and mimic their action. CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the skin and shows potential in various therapeutic situations. We encourage you to research the many benefits of CBD for the skin.

The ECS and Skin

Many use CBD topicals for muscle and joint relief. Those with localized concerns—such as in the knees, hands, and feet—find topicals beneficial. At Made by Hemp, we carry a line of CBD salves, lotions, patches, and facial care.


Learning the endocannabinoid system’s role in the skin helps us to understand how CBD provides benefit to our skin. Do you have additional questions regarding the ECS and skin? Leave a comment below!


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