"Treating both inflammation and oil production, CBD targets the two biggest culprits in cases of active acne," Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD of Modern Dermatology in Connecticut says. "Additionally, CBD packs vitamins A, D, and E, and essential fatty acids, which all promote healthy skin. Acne is an inflammatory skin condition, so soothing products that lower inflammation will improve outbreaks." The ingredient also assists in regulating skin hydration and oil production on the sebaceous glans. "By reducing inflammation, it may allow sebum produced to travel to the surface without becoming clogged and trapped below the skin’s surface," Robinson says.
I was admittedly a bit pessimistic about the trendy ingredient. Not because I don’t believe in the benefits of CBD, but because it’s showing up in basically every aspect of beauty, without much science to back it up. However, when I came across a chic sheet mask from MASK promising to sooth acne-prone skin, I decided to give it a try. Knowing that my monthly cycle was near, I applied it one night before bed, and saved the excess serum of CBD, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and manuka honey extract in the fridge. But I knew that a one-time try wouldn’t be enough. So for two months, I’d use the excess serum on my chin and jawline area right before my period began (and before the cystic bumps sprouted up). Like magic, the bumps didn’t appear at all, giving me one less thing to be emotional about.
However, there’s still research to be done on the buzzy ingredient. "CBD does have anti-inflammatory properties so for that reason it may have some benefit, but clinical studies on a final formulation is always necessary to determine if a specific product is actually beneficial in the skin," Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, MD, Idaho-based clinical dermatologist says.
There are few things that make me feel more helpless than my cystic acne. Unlike pimples or blackheads, extractions won’t work on them (unless I want to ruin my skin), as the build-up is beneath the skin rather than above. I just have to power through it, applying topicals and hoping it goes away after a week. However, those pesky bumps often take their time, staying glued to my face for up to a week. And while I’ve come across some great spot treatments for when they’re already on the surface, I hadn’t really found anything that outright prevented the appearance. That is until I gave into the CBD for acne trend.
To reap the greatest benefits of CBD, Dr. Robinson suggests applying your CBD skincare first, preferably at night. "I would suggest you think of CBD as a vitamin or supplement – a concentrated ingredient that will be most effective when it is applied to clean skin," Dr. Robinson says insisting that the active ingredient can be used with other ingredients that follow. "Also CBD and hemp are not the same thing, so don’t expect the same results!"
For many skin diseases, dermatologists often prescribe topical steroid creams, which act as anti-inflammatory medicines. “These are very safe for most people, and they’re effective, but some people don’t want to use steroids in any way. CBD could be a nonsteroidal therapy to fill that gap,” says Dellavalle. Side effects of topical steroids include thinning of the skin if overused or used long term, but you can help avoid these risks when using them correctly, notes the National Eczema Association. Working with your dermatologist to ensure that you have the right medication at the right dosage can help with this.
There are hundreds of other chemicals in the cannabis plant, and researchers don’t know what combinations are best. For instance, terpenes, the essential oils in plants (including cannabis), may exert synergistic benefits, suggests the Clinical Therapeutics study. “So much research needs to be done. We’ll be sorting this out for the next 25 years,” says Dellavalle. On the horizon with more research from universities and companies, says Jackin, may be more targeted and efficacious therapies for conditions like eczema and acne.
Possibly Plays a Role in Treating Acne
Scientists still don’t know the ideal dose of CBD for treating skin conditions or promoting general health. Some companies, like Sheabrand, formulate with different doses depending on the area of skin the product is designed for — the body or the face, for instance — for maximum penetration. Scientists also don’t know where CBD stands in relation to proven topical therapies, like retinoids, vitamin C, or alpha hydroxy acids.
A review published in June 2018 in the Dermatology Online Journal, which Dellavalle coauthored, pointed out that while CBD may “have shown some initial promise as therapy for a variety of skin diseases,” there is a need for large, high-quality, randomized, controlled trials, a sentiment echoed in an article published in December 2020 in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. Another paper, published in the May-June 2019 issue of Clinics in Dermatology, urges people and their doctors to approach these products with the same caution. Finally, though topical CBD tends to be well tolerated and may have a role in addressing various skin issues (including acne, dryness, and irritation), there’s still ongoing research on the safety of CBD treatment, notes an article published in 2020 in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology.
Questions About Cannabinoid Combinations
First, let’s talk about what CBD is. Cannabidiol (CBD) is an active ingredient in the cannabis plant, according to Harvard Health Publishing. CBD can be derived from either medical marijuana or hemp. Although marijuana contains CBD, CBD doesn’t have psychoactive effects. (THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical that causes the high.) All that said, CBD won’t lead to any mind-altering effects.