Chances are, that if you’re reading this, eczema makes you miserable at least some of the time. It is a truly miserable condition, and one that basically lacks a reliable cure.
The name itself says it all. “Eczema” comes from the Greek word “ekzein” which means “to boil,” and that’s just how it feels: like your skin is on fire with itching. Dealing with eczema year after year can also make your temper feel like boiling over with frustration.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of what eczema is and what causes eczema, why Cannabidiol or CBD can potentially be used to soothe eczema, treatment challenges people who have eczema face as they use use any topicals, and our pick for best CBD cream for eczema.
What Causes Eczema
Eczema is a general umbrella term for a skin condition that can happen anywhere on the body. It causes dry, red, flaky patches of skin, and sometimes even sores and blisters.
Eczema is most often caused by a combination of genetic factors and triggers to the immune system, such as contact with irritants or allergies. According to the National Eczema Association, over 30 million Americans struggle with this skin care issue.
For people with eczema, the skin barrier isn’t functioning as well as it should be. Microscopic cracks develop in its outermost layer, and this causes the skin to become inflamed and dehydrated.
But actually, although we say “eczema” as though it’s one problem, it is really a few different skin problems combined that add up to inflammation, irritation, and many side effects:
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, characterized by dryness and itching. Although its exact cause is unknown, atopic dermatitis is common among people with asthma and hay fever.
Contact dermatitis is typically the result of an allergic reaction triggered by physical contact with dyes, latex, lotions, nickel, perfumes, poison ivy, poison oak, any other skin allergies, and some medicines.
Dyshidrotic eczema is caused by seasonal allergies and stress, and appears in the form of itchy, irritating blisters on the palms or under the feet that can hold fluid. To avoid this sort of eczema in particular, keep your hands and feet dry.
Nummular eczema creates red, pink, or brown circular, coin-like spots on the skin. These inflamed spots can lead to infection.
Seborrheic dermatitis produces scaly, itchy irritation on the scalp or body. This type of eczema is typically caused by cold, dry weather, genetics, and stress, and when people refer to “winter itch” this is often what they’re talking about.
Stasis dermatitis typically appears on the legs, ankles and feet and is caused by poor blood circulation. It tends to worsen over the course of the day as your ankles swell while you are awake, and resolve or reduce in severity overnight as the swelling disappears during sleep.
Remember, although eczema looks contagious, genetics and allergic reactions are the major causes behind this disease. It cannot be passed on from person to person.
There are some common symptoms for all forms of eczema, although not everyone has all symptoms all of the time:
- Blisters (filled with fluid) which may explode and crust over into scabs
- Itchy skin
- Rough patches of scaly skin
Challenges of Treating Eczema with Topicals
So all you need to do is slather the right cream on eczema and you’re done, right? If only.
Eczema itself renders the barrier of the skin unable to maintain the moisture it needs to protect itself from the outside environment—everything from stressors and allergens on down. This means the best topical eczema treatments are thicker, and contain both humectant ingredients and ingredients for skin protection and moisturizing.
Humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid help add additional hydration. Other ingredients such as ceramides, colloidal oatmeal, and petrolatum and other occlusive ingredients help protect the skin from irritants, and reinforce the barrier, with the aim of preventing flareups.
Moisturizers with more oil that feel “greasier” are typically better for treating eczema because they create a more effective barrier. This oily layer retains moisture and keeps irritants out.
For this reason, ointments are often the first line of eczema defense, especially since they usually don’t burn when they’re applied. On the other hand, products such as mineral oil and petroleum jelly that are high in oil content may be good for treating eczema, but they can feel pretty miserable to the user and ruin things they touch.
Thick, high-quality, emollient creams also contain a high amount of oil and seal in moisture effectively. They are also typically less greasy to the touch. However, as with any eczema treatment, any preservatives, stabilizers, scents, or other ingredients may irritate your skin, so read the label carefully.
There are some ingredients to avoid, and some that may even trigger eczema, including exfoliating acids such as lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids, fragrances, and retinol. These dry out the skin and may irritate it more.
You should also consider avoiding lotions for eczema, because they are primarily made of water and contain the least amount of oil. Lotions also evaporate quickly taking your skin’s moisture with them, and may even burn when applied to damaged skin thanks to preservatives.
CBD and Eczema
So, why might CBD help eczema?
For one thing, there’s no cure for eczema. You’re stuck with lotions and steroid creams, plus endless antihistamines and anti-inflammatory pills, both of which wreak havoc on your renal system eventually.
Steroids can help, but when you’ve used them for a long time like I have—It’s been a few decades now for me—they leave your skin reminding you of your grandpa. Discoloration, age spots, extra wrinkles, and super thin. You’ll bruise like a grape, no matter what.
So between wanting to save your internal organs and rescue your thinning, aging skin—not to mention your sanity—you might be looking for some eczema treatment backup.
Eczema patients simply live with a damaged skin barrier, or stratum corneum, and this leaves their skin vulnerable to allergens, bacteria, irritants, and other invaders. Skin with a damaged barrier also functions poorly, and has trouble retaining water. This leads to chronic issues with itchy, dry skin.
Treatment for eczema has four basic goals:
- Manage itching
- Heal skin barrier
- Stop flare ups
- Prevent infections
How can you do this? As mentioned, there are no silver bullet medications out there. Right now, experts recommend a list of DIY best practices to manage eczema:
- Avoid triggers—but if you’re like me and you’re allergic to everything from grass on down, that’s impossible day to day.
- Change your bathing habits so you’re not too dry and you use good soap. You’ll do it like I did, but it won’t solve the issue.
- Reduce stress (and if you find a way to eliminate it, let us all know).
- Wet wrap therapy (as cumbersome as it sounds).
- A diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids reduces inflammation. Fish, flaxseed, and olive oil are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, and there’s no downside here.
But if you still have eczema (and you will), you’re left with these options:
- The oral or topical steroids we mentioned
- Over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines, also mentioned
- Creams, oils, salves, and ointments to protect and hydrate the skin
Once you’ve optimized your nutritional and hygienic routines, you can work to stop the irritation right at the source. Different types of eczema have different symptoms and triggers. However, all types of eczema are linked to inflammation and an imbalanced inflammatory response. The fallout from eczema, such as infections from skin ruptures, all comes from that inflammation and the resulting breakdown of the skin.
Research indicates that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antipruritic, and antimicrobial benefits. It can also relieve pain and help skin produce its own natural oils. These benefits can all help relieve both the primary and secondary symptoms of eczema.
Human skin already naturally produces its own cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoids that bind with them. This structure forms a skin endocannabinoid system that may allow receptors in the human skin to bind with phytocannabinoids as well.
Inflammation is basically the body’s first step in healing itself when tissue is damaged. It is an immune system response to an injury or the onset of an infection. However, in many instances, the immune system “overreacts” and causes too much inflammation.
Cannabinoids including CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) treat inflammation effectively, whether the inflammation is itself a condition or whether it is a symptom of an underlying disease. CBD reduces inflammation by interacting with white blood cells such as microglial cells and macrophages that cause inflammation. CBD activates glycine receptors, alleviating the chronic pain associated with inflammation.
All of this means that CBD oil and other products can help mitigate the effects of severe inflammation.
Cannabinoids are connected to skin homeostasis, or the general balanced health of your skin. Poor skin health is related to acne, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, pigmentation disorders, and any kind of itching, including from eczema.
Along with anti-inflammatory benefits, topical CBD has a powerful anti-itch benefit that can help people with eczema. Cannabinoids including CBD activate CB2 receptors on the peripheral sensory nerve fibers, which inhibits itching signals and soothes itchy skin.
Antimicrobial Characteristics of Cannabinoids
Staphylococcus aureus colonization of skin, especially damaged skin, is a contributing factor of atopic dermatitis, and a complication of the disease. Cannabinoids may treat eczema by managing this pathogen, which the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) calls “the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections.”
Cannabinoids including CBD are well-known for their antimicrobial properties, including against various S aureus strains. This contributes to CBD’s anti-eczema potential.
Helps Dry Skin
Whatever causes it, dry skin is among the most persistent and difficult conditions to treat. Over-moisturizing the skin is an ongoing problem for people coping with skin dehydration, because it leads to a cycle that prevents the skin from producing its own natural oils over time.
CBD doesn’t interfere with the sebaceous glands, which produce oil for the skin. In fact, it actually interacts with them and helps regulate sebum production, bringing dry skin back into balance.
Cannabinoids including CBD are generally recognized as effective pain relief treatments, even for some kinds of severe pain. There is some evidence that suggests these benefits extend to topical treatments for the skin.
Best CBD Cream for Eczema
Although it is not intended for eczema specifically, my favorite product to use on my affected skin is Spruce Full Spectrum CBD Cream. Derived from the hemp variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, it is a high-quality CBD topical that anyone will like generally, and you can read about that in this other post. But if you have eczema it’s absolutely the best choice. Here’s why.
Spruce Topical CBD Cream
One of the biggest problems with even getting started with CBD treatment for anything is how to tolerate replacing your normal treatments with the CBD. But in this case, all you really need to do is swap out whatever you’re using topically with the Spruce CBD Cream. That makes it easy.
In my case, I’ve had eczema since I was a toddler. It is painful and itchy, and I have all six kinds of damaged skin cells described above, depending on the situation. Dermatology as a science or medicine has never helped me. I take Benadryl regularly to deal with intolerable flareup symptoms, and I use topicals all day long.
I am allergic to basically everything, starting with grass and all common animals you might find around you, including our dog and chickens and the neighborhood cats. I can’t handle jojoba, lots of common essential oils, many active ingredients that are supposed to help itching, and lots of other things that make topicals…appealing.
But I get the worst of it on my skin. If something like a bug bites me, I swell up badly. If grass touches my skin, I’m itchy, red, and swollen. And if any of those insults happen on skin that’s damaged from eczema? Oh boy.
In the past, most of the topicals have been steroid creams. Boy, is my skin showing it! And honestly, they don’t even work that well.
My goal was to add in some kind of topical to see how CBD might help overall with itchiness and other symptoms, and even reduce my need for other treatments. In my world, anything that means less itching is a win. I figured a total cure wasn’t necessary; I would be happy to see any health benefits, given the facts.
Spruce sources its Cannabis plants for its products in the United States in Colorado and Kentucky, and each two-ounce jar of topical cream has 300mg of CBD. Results from third-party lab testing on every single batch are available, so if you’re curious about bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, toxins, or anything else, you can contact Spruce or just see the reports right on the website.
I tried several products that I couldn’t use at all, because like other lotions, creams, salves, or balms, the scents or other ingredients set off the eczema. But for whatever reason, Spruce didn’t.
It’s a very rich, creamy feeling topical, and your skin stays hydrated for hours after you use it. In fact, now that I’m using Spruce CBD cream, I have to wash my hands every time I go out to the chickens. If I don’t and I touch them, they can feel the cream on their feathers and they don’t like it—even hours later!
The fragrance is very light—barely there. In the cream along with full-spectrum, hemp-sourced CBD you’ll find glycerin, mineral oil, lanolin, and petroleum, but the cream itself really doesn’t feel oily or slimy. You don’t have that greasy feeling like you do with a balm, yet you get those moisturizing benefits.
During an active eczema flare, it feels irritating to me to apply anything to that skin, even plain coconut oil or hemp seed oil, but actually this cream is still fairly soothing as long as I don’t rub the area too much when I apply it.
I found this to be a silky-smooth, fast-acting cream supplemented with a lab-tested, full-spectrum extract along with other awesome ingredients. If I could change one thing it would be to add vitamin E, but this is an excellent product as is. I get maximum strength style results, and I can use it all day long if I want to.
Topical CBD products offer some welcome hope for people like me who suffer with eczema. CBD itself is now known to have some anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, anti-pain, and antimicrobial properties, so the question is the best way to access those benefits.
Spruce full-spectrum CBD cream didn’t cure my eczema, but it really makes it feel better day to day. For someone like me, that’s a big win, and I recommend it highly.
[Disclaimer: None of these statements has been evaluated by the FDA. Whenever you begin a new treatment, speak to a healthcare professional about your existing medical conditions and any potential risks. If you have skin allergies, consult a dermatologist.]