Meet Your Skin’s Endocannabinoid System

“The skin is the largest organ of the body!” is a fact most of us have heard before. And yet, we often forget just how much our skin works for us, acting as our first line of defense against injury and infection—and creating a barrier between us and the outside world.

Another important job on the skin’s to-do list is to maintain balance in the body, which is often referred to as homeostasis. As the authors of a paper published in Biochemical Pharmacology wrote: “The skin…has a complex and very active structure that contributes to homeostasis.” And when there’s an imbalance in the body, it often shows up on our skin in the form of excessive dryness, acne, and inflammation.

But how does the skin work to regulate the balance between the outside world and the complex one inside us? As it turns out, our skin has its own regulatory mechanism called the endocannabinoid system.

Read on to find out exactly what that means.

The endocannabinoid system is often described as a “master regulatory system.” It’s composed of receptors, enzymes, and the body’s own cannabinoid compounds (called endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids) that, like the skin, work to maintain balance in the body. Just to name a few of its important functions, the ECS appears to play a role in metabolism, immune response, reproduction, mood, and appetite. Just like our skin, the ECS is really, really important. In fact, the editor of a 2013 paper published in the journal Cerebrum wrote that “the endogenous cannabinoid system—named for the plant that led to its discovery—is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”

Clearly, both the skin and the endocannabinoid system play important roles in keeping us healthy and happy. But is the ECS actually located in the skin? Endocannabinoid receptors are sprinkled throughout the body; in the brain, immune cells, digestive tract, and yes, in the skin as well. As the authors of a 2009 study, published in Trends in Pharmacological Science wrote: “Recent studies have intriguingly suggested the existence of a functional ECS in the skin and implicated it in various biological processes.” These processes include cell proliferation and growth, hormone production, and hair follicle and sebaceous gland activity.

Knowing all this, it won’t surprise you to learn that the ECS of the skin plays a critical role in maintaining skin health and disruptions in its delicate balance have been connected to many common skin issues.

Knowing all this, it makes a lot of sense that topical cannabinoid products—such as sprays, balms, and creams—are becoming more popular by the day. By using cannabinoids right on the skin, you can target the skin’s ECS directly. As an added bonus, topicals, even those containing cannabinoids like THC, will have little-to-no psychoactive effect because they do not penetrate the skin into the blood stream.

So if you’re interested in trying a topical cannabinoid product for your skin health, what should you look for? You should follow the same rules with topical CBD products that you would with CBD you take internally. Look for products that are sourced responsibly, that are lab tested for potency and purity, and that contain a therapeutic dose of full or broad spectrum, hemp-based CBD.