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How Does Cannabis Skincare Work?

Walk into a dispensary, and you’ll find lotions, balms, salves, bath products, and similar products formulated for application on different parts of your body. What are your cannabis skincare options, and how do they work? Read on to learn more.

How is cannabis used for skincare?

Cannabis skincare products fall under the larger category of cannabis topicals. Under this umbrella, you’ll find a wide array of products infused with phytocannabinoids, terpenes, and other ingredients. Topical products may be applied to help relieve muscle soreness and stiffness or to help manage pain. Some topicals may help manage certain skin conditions. Others, like THC-infused bath bombs, are more aligned with beauty and self-care applications you’d buy and use during an at-home “spa night.”

Will cannabis skincare products get me high?

No, most cannabis skincare products are not intoxicating. This is because most topicals don’t penetrate deeply enough into your skin for phytocannabinoids (like the intoxicating THC) to circulate through your bloodstream.

There is one notable exception to this rule, though: transdermal skincare products. Transdermals are designed to penetrate deeply through your skin, introducing phytocannabinoids into your bloodstream. If these products contain THC, you’ll feel the effects. Read our guide to transdermal products to learn more.

Can I apply any cannabis product to my skin?

While you theoretically could apply a tincture to your skin, that’s not its intended purpose. Those types of products are intended to be used as described on the label. In the tincture example, this product is supposed to be delivered sublingually, or placed under your tongue, to get the most benefit. Plus, these oils are runny and messy — they would be difficult to apply to your body.

Interestingly, the origins of Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) are in topical application. The product’s eponymous creator famously applied the activated extract to his skin when it was first developed. However, RSO is sticky and difficult to work with, making topical application impractical for most.

The science of cannabis and skincare

The potential of cannabis and its various compounds as a skincare ingredient is one of the many topics currently subject to scientific research. Connecting precisely how cannabinoids and terpenes work to support healthy skin remains the ultimate goal, but previous studies shed some light on which compounds might offer particular benefits.

The ECS and your skin

Researchers are actively exploring questions about cannabis and skincare. Current research centers around how compounds found in cannabis interact with the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), a collection of cannabinoid receptors and chemicals known as endogenous (or “internally produced”) cannabinoids. 

Your skin is abundant with two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2 receptors. Both endocannabinoids produced by your body and phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with these receptors in some way. When phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD interact with the ECS, it’s thought to play a role in several processes in your body, including pain and inflammation regulation. 


Preliminary studies suggest that CBD may be able to reduce inflammation associated with skin diseases1 and regulate skin oil levels and fight acne breakouts2. Another study found that CBD may inhibit the overproduction of skin cells that causes skin conditions like psoriasis3. Studies suggest THC, like CBD, reduces the overproduction of skin cells linked to psoriasis and modulates inflammatory responses in the body4. These effects make THC and CBD desirable ingredients for skincare applied to both your face and your body. That’s why you may encounter a wide range of infused skincare products with varying THC:CBD ratios.


Terpenes are popular additives in skincare formulations, and while not all terpenes used in manufactured cannabis products are sourced from cannabis, these fragrant and flavorful compounds are present in all cannabis cultivars in varying amounts. Terpenes have been essential ingredients in skincare products, perfumes, and other staples of the beauty industry for decades.

In addition to their aromas and flavors, terpenes are believed to play a role in the effect cannabis has on your body. Three common terpenes found in cannabis topicals and skincare products include.

  • Beta caryophyllene: Beta caryophyllene is a terpene that may be a good candidate for the treatment of chronic inflammation, though more research is needed5. Further, animal studies suggest beta caryophyllene may improve wound healing; however, it remains unclear how these results may translate in human trials6.
  • Limonene: Limonene is often associated with uplifting feelings and energizing sensations. Common in citrus, limonene excels as an antibacterial and antimicrobial7, helping ward off funguses and infections. It’s also used in cannabis topicals to help increase the absorption of phytocannabinoids into the skin, expediting the time it takes for consumers to feel relief8.
  • Linalool: Linalool, abundant in floral plants like lavender, is typically used as an anti-stress ingredient designed to relax you with calming, pleasant aromas. 

How to make your own THC infused lotion

Along with the options you have at the dispensary, you can make your own THC infused topical at home. You may opt for this if you want to create your own unique formulation using a cannabis tincture, or you may have very sensitive skin. Whatever the reason, making your own THC infused lotion starts with a great recipe. Follow the steps of this THC lotion recipe

Finding the right cannabis skincare for you

Interested in cannabis skincare? Selecting the right product starts with why you want to try cannabis skincare in the first place. Whether you want a soothing muscle rub, want a product with hydrating ingredients, or just want to unwind with a THC bath bomb, an Ethos associate can help you read the menu at the dispensary and help you decide which products are best for your skin goals.



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