The skin is the body’s largest organ, and it’s home to more than 1000 different kinds of bacteria and over 80 unique fungi. This living collection of beneficial flora is called the skin microbiome, and it’s an essential part of the body’s defenses.
The skin biome is a relatively recent discovery, and scientists are still working to understand its secrets. But research is now revealing that cannabinoid compounds such as CBD can play a significant role in keeping our skin flora healthy, thanks to the many cannabinoid receptors found in the tissues of the skin.
Inside the Skin Microbiome
Human cells make up just 43 percent of the total cell count in the human body. The rest consists of microbes. They form multiple biomes, or colonies of hundreds or thousands of different strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi and strange organisms called archaea.
The best known and most thoroughly researched microbiomes is the gut biome, a complex colony of bacterial strains that process food for nutrients, maintain healthy digestion, and support the immune system. Other biomes exist on our bodies. These include the mouth and vagina, and they’re now studied for their effects on human health.
Recently, the skin microbiome has captured researchers’ attention in fields as diverse as neurobiology and cosmetics. That’s because the skin is the body’s first defense against external assaults such as toxins, allergens, wounds, and infectious agents such as hostile bacteria and viruses.
We now know overexposure to sunlight can damage the skin’s protective microbiome. Sun exposure can cause wrinkles, keratosis, and even the dangerous skin cancer melanoma.
The skin’s microbiome shares some features of the gut microbiome, suggesting a relationship that has profound implications for immune system functioning and mood regulation.
For example, stress can cause digestive distress and also skin breakouts, and so can responses to some allergens and toxins. Likewise, improving the diet and avoiding certain triggering foods can also improve skin health. Researchers have also uncovered relationships between mood, skin health, and obesity.
The skin microbiome is more than skin-deep, too. Its beneficial bacteria and other organisms are also found in the skin’s deeper layers, down to the subcutaneous fat layer that protects the muscles and bones.
Like other biomes, the skin microbiome has multiple functions. Along with protecting the skin itself from invaders, a healthy skin biome also contributes to cell turnover, supports immune responses, and reduces inflammation.
But this important biome can also be compromised by factors such as stress, illness, poor diet, and lack of sleep. Dehydration can also affect the skin biome, causing the skin to dry out and reducing the amount of sebum, or oil, that some strains of skin bacteria need to survive.
Keeping the Skin Microbiome Healthy
Under many circumstances, the state of someone’s skin is a window into the state of their overall health. And many skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema can be improved or worsened by other factors that affect general health.
In general, keeping the skin’s multifaceted microbiome healthy is no different than taking steps to promote overall health. A high-quality diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and healthy oils such as olive oil and avocados can nourish the skin.
Drinking plenty of water can also help keep the skin hydrated and promote sebum production, so that the skin looks plump and soft. Sleep can also support the skin microbiome and prevent "bags" and dark circles under the eyes.
New knowledge about the workings of the skin microbiome has also fueled the production of several skin product lines that use recent research to guide the development of serums, creams, and other treatments for smoother, softer skin.
But recent research also reveals that cannabis compounds such as CBD can also promote a healthy skin biome because they work with the body’s system of cannabinoid receptors – the endocannabinoid system.
The Endocannabinoid System Supports the Skin Microbiome
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of cell receptors that respond to cannabinoid compounds. These compounds called endocannabinoids, are naturally produced by the body. But these receptors can also be activated by cannabinoids from outside sources, mainly compounds found in the cannabis plant.
The endocannabinoid system plays a major role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, among the body’s many subsystems. It supports many processes related to regulating mood, supporting the immune system, and protecting cell health. Cannabinoid receptors are found in tissues throughout the body – and they occur abundantly in the skin.
Just as the endocannabinoid system as a whole helps to support homeostasis in the body as a whole, the skin’s system of endocannabinoid receptors work to keep the skin’s microbiome and tissues healthy and free of inflammation.
When this system, which some researchers have called the "cutaneous cannabinoid system," doesn’t function properly, skin disorders such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis can develop or flare-up. Healthy habits such as exercise and plenty of sleep can help the body to produce its own cannabinoids. But, you can give the ECS, and the skin microbiome, a boost with cannabis and a variety of cannabis-infused skin products.
How to Support the Skin With Cannabinoids
The endocannabinoid system supports immune functioning and helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Consuming cannabinoid compounds such as cannabidiol, or CBD, in any form can help to reduce inflammation and irritation on the skin. For example, cannabis oils, tinctures, and edibles can reduce the redness and swelling of psoriasis and eczema, and research shows that CBD can be an effective treatment for acne.
But many new skincare lines are offering topical products that contain CBD isolates or full-spectrum cannabis oil, which contains all the compounds and terpenes found in the cannabis marijuana plant. Many CBD-infused products are derived from hemp, a variant of the cannabis plant that 0.03% of THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabiniol) or less.
These cannabis-enriched skincare products include serums, creams, lotions, and even CBD-infused lip balm.
They help balance the skin’s microbiome and activate endocannabinoid receptors in the skin’s upper layers to reduce inflammation and irritation from unhealthy bacteria collected in pores and hair follicles.
If you’d like to give cannabis-infused skin products a try, look for products with all-natural ingredients and no harmful chemicals, and make sure that cannabis or CBD is high on the ingredient list.
The skin is the body’s first line of defense, and the many inhabitants of the skin microbiome work hard to keep it healthy. Now, a large and growing list of cannabis-based cosmetics and skin treatments can boost the power of the biome and keep skin looking its best.