People who have suffered from eczema at some point in their lives know how difficult it can be to live with the condition. The itchiness can keep you awake at night, your sensitivity means you have to be very careful about anything that touches your skin, and the knowledge that it’s exacerbated by stress could even make you stressed about being stressed!
Unfortunately, many people with eczema never find the long-term relief they need from their conditions. Drugs and medicated creams that control the itching should not be taken for more than a few days or weeks. And prevention methods like meditating and doing yoga don’t work for everyone.
This is part of the reason why a lot of people are turning toward CBD to treat their atopic dermatitis. But is CBD effective against eczema? Is it safe? And how does it work? Here is what you need to know about taking CBD to manage symptoms of eczema and prevent further flareups.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy, red, burning patches of skin.
Atopic dermatitis is by far the most common type of eczema. It causes dry. red rashes to form all over the body. It’s what people usually think of when they hear the word “eczema.”
But there are also other forms of the condition. For example, nummular dermatitis is a form of eczema that appears in winter, causing similar symptoms. Seborrheic dermatitis is similar to eczema but affects mainly the scalp and the ears.
All these conditions, grouped under the umbrella term “eczema,” have the same cause. The red, itchy, inflamed patches that you see are caused by a response of the immune system. People who are prone to eczema usually have some dysfunction in their immune system. As a result, their own body reacts as though it has to protect itself from a bacteria or virus, producing excess inflammation at the level of the skin.
Eczema usually comes and goes in waves. People will suffer from flareups as a result of certain triggers. For example, they may be sensitive to certain laundry detergents, certain materials, changes in temperature, certain foods or stress.
So how is eczema treated? So far, there isn’t any cure for this condition, which may come back time and again throughout a person’s life.
However, there are some things that can prevent flareups or help to manage symptoms.
As we’ve mentioned, eczema attacks usually have a trigger. When a doctor or dermatologist diagnoses you with eczema, they will usually recommend that you watch potential triggers carefully and try to prevent them. For example, some people find that they can prevent flareups by using hypoallergenic detergents and washing liquids, or by avoiding certain foods.
But for many people, the main trigger is stress, which can be more difficult to avoid. Some people experience stress as part of their jobs. Some people are naturally more anxious than others. Finally, certain circumstances like a divorce or the death of a loved one can cause heightened levels of stress which aren’t necessarily avoidable.
To deal with the symptoms of eczema, doctors usually prescribe some form of antihistamine or steroid-based medication.
Antihistamines are drugs that reduce the allergic reaction that your skin experiences. As a result, they lower pain, inflammation, and especially itchiness. Unfortunately, these medicines often cause drowsiness, which can make it hard or even dangerous to perform your job.
Steroid medicines are another option. They help with itchiness and scaling. In the short term, they’re a great way to calm the skin during an eczema flareup. However, they can have painful consequences in the long term, such as creating more irritation or affecting skin pigmentation.
The consequences of some of these conventional methods of treatment are why a lot of people turn to CBD. But can it effectively replace them? And how does it work?
What is CBD?
First, let’s go over what CBD is. CBD is the short name for cannabidiol, a molecule found in the cannabis plant. Like other so-called cannabinoid compounds, CBD has a lot of health benefits, deriving from its action on the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vast biological system that helps to regulate key body functions, including pain management, mood regulation, inflammation and appetite. To a lesser extent, it also plays a role in functions such as blood sugar regulation, hormonal balance and sleep.
When CBD enters our system (through eating it, smoking it, or applying it on the skin) it activates certain ECS receptors, which can give a boost to the endocannabinoid system. As a result, CBD has been found to have a lot of health properties.
It’s particularly effective against various skin conditions, as it can lower pain, inflammation and itchiness, and help with scar healing. Here’s how this translates to its effects on atopic dermatitis and other forms of eczema.
CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory substance. That’s why it’s so effective in treating inflammatory conditions like arthritis or IBD. But when it comes to skin conditions, CBD is also very effective.
For example, this 2003 study found that applying CBD on the skin had long-lasting anti-inflammatory effects on mice. The researchers concluded that the study showed the potential of using topical CBD as an anti-inflammatory.
In 2014, a group of scientists conducted an experiment to test the effects of CBD on human skin. They found that CBD had a strong anti-inflammatory effect, as well as preventing the proliferation of bacteria.
More recently, researchers put together years of findings on the effects of cannabinoids on the skin. In this 2019 review, they highlighted the fact that the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in maintaining healthy skin. By restoring balance in the ECS, cannabinoids like CBD could help with a number of diseases, including eczema, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, and even skin tumors.
So far, we have few studies on the effects of CBD on patients who actually have eczema. But the studies above strongly suggest that CBD could help when applied on atopic skin, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
And the study we do have on CBD and eczema is equally promising. In 2019, a group of scientists had 5 patients with atopic dermatitis apply a CBD-based ointment on their lesions twice a day for a total of 3 months. After that time, they observed that the skin had got better, was better hydrated, more elastic, and showed fewer signs of irritation. They concluded that topical CBD was an effective way to treat symptoms of inflammatory skin disorders, including atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Works against pain and itchiness
Eczema patches may look unsightly, but by far the main complaint of atopic dermatitis sufferers is the pain and itching their scales cause them. In extreme cases, people with eczema may lose sleep or struggle to focus at work or school due to their inflamed lesions.
CBD may help with that aspect of atopic dermatitis thanks to its effects on the endocannabinoid system. As we briefly covered, the ECS plays an important role in pain management. Many studies have found that CBD could help lower all different sorts of pain through its interaction with that biological system. So getting CBD into your system, either by applying it on the skin or taking it orally, could lower the pain associated with eczema lesions, and with scratching them repeatedly.
We also know that cannabinoids can reduce skin itching, which is why they can be used in treating eczema, as well as psoriasis, pruritus, and other conditions characterized by itchiness. So far, no study has isolated CBD and its consequences on eczema skin itching, but the data we do have on other skin conditions is promising.
Some people can get long-lasting scars after an eczema flareup. Of course, the best thing to do to avoid these scars is not to scratch the skin. But if you already have scars or find it very hard not to scratch, CBD may be able to help.
In a 2019 study, scientists found that using a CBD ointment every day for three months reduced scarring in people with atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. This suggests that CBD-based ointments or lotions can be useful not just during eczema flareups, but also in the long term.
Finally, we know that stress is a major trigger for eczema. People who suffer from frequent eczema flareups are advised to lower their production of the stress hormone cortisol in their everyday lives. This can be achieved by practicing meditation, doing yoga, stretching, taking long baths, and even listening to calming music.
Studies suggest that CBD could help too. The effects of CBD on stress and anxiety are well established, as this 2017 review from the University of Washington and this 2019 review from the university of Sao Paulo suggest. Something as simple as taking a daily capsule of CBD, smoking CBD buds instead of cigarettes, or placing a few drops of CBD under the tongue with breakfast can make a big difference in your levels of stress. And as a result, you may find that you experience fewer eczema flareups.
How do you use CBD for eczema?
The method that has been shown to be most effective in studies is applying a CBD-based ointment onto the skin. In general, CBD topicals like creams, lotions and balms are a great way to get CBD into your system. They can provide almost instant relief in people with skin conditions, and target the area that’s causing your suffering. In the 2019 study on people with atopic dermatitis we cited earlier, patients were given a CBD ointment to apply on their lesions twice a day. This seemed to be effective. So if you want to try CBD-based topicals for yourself, this is a good place to start. For more information on CBD topicals and how to use them, you can also read our complete topical guide here.
Other options like eating CBD edibles or placing CBD oil drops under the tongue can also be effective. However, they do have lower rates of absorption, meaning you will need more CBD milligrams to get the same effects. They can be good at treating eczema in the long term, especially if you also want to focus on stress reduction.
Finally, we don’t recommend smoking or vaping CBD, as this could cause problems for your respiratory system. That being said, if you already smoke or vape, then replacing tobacco with CBD is a great way to get more stress relief and target the main trigger of eczema.
Are there any side effects of using CBD for eczema?
CBD is a drug with a very good safety profile. However, it’s known to cause a few rare side effects in some people, including nausea and changes in appetite. However, that doesn’t risk happening if you simply apply a CBD ointment onto the skin.
What could be more problematic is if you have a reaction to the other ingredients in a CBD topical product. People with atopic dermatitis can have very sensitive skin. If you know that some ingredients can trigger your eczema, then make sure to read the ingredient list very carefully before investing in a CBD cream or lotion.
Finally, it could be that CBD simply isn’t effective enough to treat your condition. Some eczema flareups are very serious, and nothing short of steroids can stop the itching. So if CBD isn’t enough to deal with your eczema, don’t despair. It could still be useful to lower your stress in the long term, even if you can’t rely on it to manage your flare-ups.
Eczema can make your life difficult. Thankfully, modern medicine has come a long way and there are now a lot of treatment options for this painful condition. If you’re looking for a natural way to manage eczema or atopic dermatitis, then CBD may be a good solution. It’s anti-inflammatory, stops pain and itchiness, and could even lower your stress trigger. It may not work for everyone, but it’s an option worth trying out.
Anti-inflammatory effects of CBD
2003 study on the anti-inflammatory effects of topical CBD on mice
2014 study on the effects of CBD for problem skin
CBD for eczema
2019 study on the use of topical CBD for psoriasis and atopic dermatitis
2019 review on the role of the endocannabinoid system for skin regulation
CBD for pain management and itching
2018 review of research on cannabinoids and pain
2017 review of studies on the role of cannabinoids for skin disorders (notably itching)
CBD for stress and anxiety
2018 review of the effects of CBD on physical and mental health conditions
2017 review of the effects of CBD on panic attacks and panic disorder
2019 study on CBD for anxiety and sleep
2019 study on the effects of CBD for stress reduction
Safety of CBD
2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD