Can CBD Be Absorbed Through the Skin? Examining the Evidence

10 min read

Does CBD absorb through the skin? If so, how is CBD absorbed through the skin, and what is the absorption rate? Is it safe and effective to use topical CBD products?

Referred to as transdermal absorption, this is a delivery method where molecules are applied across the skin and absorbed through the skin. This delivery method is a viable way to use CBD products in a safe and steady absorption pathway, one that can be used for topical relief as well as deeper health benefits. 

The use of topical applications has become particularly popular among individuals with severe inflammation and skin conditions, athletes who are trying to improve recovery, and those with acute injuries. Studies have confirmed that CBD absorbed through the skin can be useful in treating different skin conditions, offering localized pain relief, handling inflammation issues, and more. But how does it work?

cbd absorbed through skin

Does CBD absorb in the skin?

Yes, it does. The skin is one of the most accessible sites for any medicinal administration. For that reason, transdermal delivery research has been a thriving field for several decades, developing safe ways of delivering medication through topical applications.

When most people think of any type of medication or holistic treatment they think of oral delivery, like pills or tinctures. However, when things are administered orally they rapidly degrade in the stomach and this can cause problems with faster than necessary release or gastrointestinal tract. 

For that reason, skin-based absorption for CBD has become a popular alternative as a painless and safer way to administer any CBD or endocannabinoid products. 

How is CBD absorbed through the skin?

Let’s first look at the structure of the skin. 

Skin accounts for 16% of the total body mass of each person. It serves as a protective barrier, but it also serves as the largest organ through which things can be absorbed. There are three main regions:

  1. First is the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, which is where you find the stratum corneum
  2. Second, is the dermis
  3. Third is the hypodermis 

The epidermis is full of epithelial cells and the stratum corneum has direct contact with the environment, exposure to water, sunlight, toxins, and everything else.

The dermis is an average of 2 to 3 mm thick, and it’s where you have elastin fibers and collagen as well as several blood vessels that provide nutrients to the epidermis and the dermis.

The hypodermis is the deepest layer of skin where there are fat cells that connect the skin to the muscles and the bone. This layer provides heat insulation and support for neural signals.

When something is applied topically across the skin, it penetrates the cells through these levels:

  1. First, penetrates the stratum corneum
  2. Passes into the deeper epidermis and dermis without accumulating in the dermal layer
  3. Finally, it reaches the dermal layer, where it is absorbed through microcirculation with the dermal layer.

As topical products are applied and absorbed through the three levels, they start to disseminate across the affected area helping with localized pain, localized inflammation, and localized skin conditions. 

CBD can be absorbed through the skin through passive diffusion through the lipid-rich layers of the epidermis, then interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the skin’s endocannabinoid system, and utilization of carrier molecules to enhance permeability.

Studies have found that absorption through the skin is an effective alternative to other delivery methods because it eliminates irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, prevents any metabolism in the haptic systems where things are meant to be absorbed elsewhere, and provides sustained release of the substance rather than an immediate bioavailability that is short-lived.

One of the biggest benefits to CBD absorbed through skin is the steady and constant permeation of the CBD. This means that you don’t have an immediate peak in the benefits, followed by a quick drop, but rather a steadier level of CBD absorbed through the body, which not only reduces high concentrations and possible side effects but offers more well-rounded therapeutic applications. 

cbd absorbed through skin

How is CBD absorbed in the skin? Factors that influence absorption

Understanding the mechanism of action behind CBD absorbed through the skin is one part of understanding the usefulness of topical CBD products. The other is understanding the factors that may influence the absorption of CBD through the skin. There are three key factors that have a role to play in absorption. 

Formulation and concentration of CBD products

One of the first is the formulation and concentration of the product itself. Not all products are created equally and some have higher concentrations than others. Some formulas with CBD also have additional ingredients which have complementary benefits to them.

It’s always important that you pay particular attention to the concentration of CBD in the product you are planning to use as this can have a direct impact on how quickly something is absorbed and how much gets absorbed by the body.

Skin integrity and permeability

Your skin integrity and permeability also play a role. So in addition to understanding the concentration of the product you are using, you also need to understand the health of your skin.

Where you apply the CBD product is important because there are different thicknesses at different parts of the skin, like the palms and bottom of the feet, as well as variation in permeability based on the cell size in the epidermis or the hair follicles. 

For that reason, applying topically as close to the source of pain or skin condition is best, but know that there might be slight variations if, for example, applying to your foot versus your calf. 

Presence of enhancers or permeation agents

Some CBD products contain enhancers or permeation agents and these are designed to facilitate a better overall experience as well as deeper permeation into the layers of the skin. 

Studies have found that some enhancers like propylene glycol or similar gels can help improve the absorption rates of topical CBD through the skin. 

Potential benefits and applications of topical CBD products

There are several benefits and applications of topical CBD products, ranging from relief of localized pain to inflammation control in the body, as well as the management of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

Relief of localized pain and inflammation

One of the biggest benefits and applications of topical CBD products is the relief of localized pain and inflammation. Because inflammation can occur in different locations in the body, inflammation near the skin from injuries or skin conditions may not be effectively treated with pills or capsules that have to travel through the stomach and bloodstream first. 

By comparison, topical CBD products offer the benefit of localized pain and inflammation management, with the application coming from the outside in, rather than inside out. 

Management of skin conditions like eczema and acne

Several studies have confirmed the usefulness of CBD products, especially topical products, in controlling inflammation and acne. 

Many of these skin conditions are multifactorial, meaning several contributing factors, such as the accumulation of cutaneous cells, buildup of toxins, and inflammation, are involved. Conventional treatment might include topical creams, bactericidal medications, or pills, but these often have significant side effects and risks of resistance when used long-term. 

85% of people ages 12–24 struggle with skin conditions like acne, but CBD treatment has few side effects, is well tolerated by almost all users, and reduces inflammation in acne-like conditions. Inflammation, particularly the cytokines like NF-α and IL-1β are some of the biggest causes of acne. 

Potential role in skincare and beauty routines

The use of topical CBD products does not have to be limited to relief from existing conditions but has the potential to improve overall skin care and be incorporated into Beauty routines. Certain ingredients can help improve overall skin tone, health of cells, and nutrient delivery to the skin.

Under normal circumstances, things that are absorbed orally like medicine, beauty products, or even food may or may not reach the skin even if they are designed to help with conditions. The reason for this is that they get absorbed by the bloodstream and sent to where the nutrients are needed first, and the skin is often the last thing to receive any nutrients. By comparison, topical applications go through the skin first, which means those nutrients get sent through the cells before they get hijacked and sent anywhere else.

Alleviation of psoriasis symptoms

In some cases, CBD can directly control ROS and inflammatory cytokine levels, reducing oxidative stress and psoriasis symptoms. The modification of inflammation and antioxidants can provide relief for psoriasis when applied directly to the skin. This offers great potential for people with psoriasis, as it is a common dermatological condition, one which has unknown causes. 

Enhancement of relaxation and stress relief

Several topical CBD products offer enhanced relaxation and stress relief too. When combined with other cannabinoids and natural ingredients, CBD absorbed in skin can reduce inflammation, manage pain, and offer reduced cortisol levels. 

Lowering cortisol has been shown to directly influence the ability of users to fall asleep and stay asleep, which itself has been shown to aid in recovery and pain management. 

Products like Solace CBD cream, a 2023 Emerald Cup winner, can be used for:

  • Inflammation
  • Local pain
  • Recovery 

The product comes with 1000mg CBD, 200mg CBD, and 50 mg CBG, all three of which work within 15 minutes and last for between three and five hours. 

Using the Entourage Effect, this topical cream relies on CBD as the primary promoter of relaxation and anti-inflammatory, giving you soothing comfort once the CBD permeates the skin and reaches the endocannabinoid system. 

CBD might be a minor cannabinoid, but it works well to reduce inflammation and discomfort in the skin, offering soothing effects. 

The CBG in the product helps with inflammation and offers antioxidant properties. Together, these three offer natural relief. 

Moreover, this product capitalizes on nourishment for the skin as well as natural ingredients like lemon balm extract, which offers relief from inflammation and pain. 

Summing Up

Does CBD absorb in the skin? Yes, it does. The science behind topical applications has existed for many years as it relates to different medicines and therapies, but today, it extends to the use of CBD products for acute and long-term skin condition management or the management of things like inflammation and pain.

Many people find that CBD absorbed through the skin offers great relief from pain and inflammation, encouraging local recovery. If you are looking for natural pain relief, consider the available evidence and consult with healthcare professionals when incorporating CBD topicals into your wellness routines.

Frequently Asked Questions

Typically, CBD cream is not absorbed into the bloodstream when applied topically. The molecular size of CBD and the formulation of the cream are such that it primarily affects the local area where it is applied, interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the skin rather than entering the systemic circulation.

The absorption time can vary depending on the specific product’s formulation and the condition of the skin where it’s applied. Generally, users may begin to feel the effects of topical CBD within 15 to 30 minutes of application. However, it may take several applications to notice significant results, as CBD accumulates in the skin tissue.

Several factors can influence how well CBD is absorbed through the skin, including the product’s formulation, the concentration of CBD, the skin’s permeability, and the area of application. Products formulated with ingredients that enhance skin penetration (like certain alcohols or oils) may improve CBD absorption. Additionally, applying CBD to areas of thin skin or where there are more hair follicles and sweat glands can also enhance absorption.

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The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your health care professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require this notice.
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