Chances are, you know someone who rubs their joints with CBD balmbefore bed or spritzes on CBD oil to ease anxiety. Chances are you also know what CBD is, but just in case, here’s a quick refresher: A component found in cannabis that won’t get you high — the THC in marijuana is to thank for that — CBD, short for cannabidiol, has been gaining popularity as a treatment for everything from muscle relief to insomnia over the last few years. It’s also been popping up in high-end skin-care creams, gels, and serums promising to smooth wrinkles, prevent pimples, and alleviate dry skin.
According to Jeanette Jacknin, a board-certified dermatologist specializing in topical cannabinoids in skin care, studies have shown that “affecting the endocannabinoid system — like with CBD — can help the skin look more radiant and youthful.” Another study, she says, suggests that CBD could slow down the visible signs of aging in mice. Tamás Bíró, professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at University of Debrecen in Hungary and the director of applied research at Phytecs, a company researching and developing drugs affecting the endocannabinoid system, says CBD has anti-inflammatory effects, which can be helpful for conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema. Bíró also conducted cell model research (as opposed to human testing, which has not yet been approved) that showed CBD inhibited sebum production and normalized overactive sebaceous gland cells — one of the main causes of acne.
While this is all promising, CBD in consumer skin care is still a bit like the Wild West. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found widespread mislabeling of CBD products sold online. “The problem is that there’s no study that indicates the proper dose,” Bíró says. Verena von Pfetten, co-founder of Gossamer — a magazine “for people who also smoke weed” — and a Strategist contributor, tells us that not only is the CBD industry unregulated, but because there are limited opportunities for federally funded studies we don’t actually know which compounds in marijuana do what. She explains that while the most potent products are full-spectrum (meaning they contain CBD, THC, and a host of other cannabinoids), individual cannabinoids affect the skin differently and, as of right now, we don’t fully understand how each one works and in which percentages they’re effective. “While one cannabinoid might be good for inflammation, another might increase oil production,” she says. “So if you have a full spectrum produced, which in theory makes the CBD more effective, you also have these other cannabinoids that could be undoing the exact results you’re trying to see.” Von Pfetten still buys CBD skin care but, until the science advances, she looks for products that contain other, more well-studied active ingredients.
Beca Grimm, a writer, editor, and co-founder of the Dope Girls zine, admits that while she hasn’t seen revolutionary results from CBD skin care, she’s optimistic that the trend is part of a larger movement to change the public perception of marijuana, which has had an outsized impact on incarceration among people of color. “It’s quite an ambitious connection that I’m hoping people make, but I hope that it happens,” she says. “I hope it makes people see [marijuana] for the harmless substance that it is.” Similarly, von Pfetten discusses the disconnect between the booming CBD industry and those with marijuana-related criminal records who aren’t allowed to work for these businesses.
To sift through all of the CBD skin-care products on the market, we asked Jacknin, von Pfetten, Grimm, and four more experienced users what they think is worth buying.
Anja Charbonneau, editor-in-chief and founder of Broccoli, a women-led magazine of cannabis culture, says that samples of this oil distributed at the magazine’s In Bloom festival last year “were hugely popular, even with the skeptics.” She credits this to the non-comedogenic hemp seed oil that doesn’t clog pores, and the light scent that won’t irritate sensitive skin. Grimm, who recently finished a bottle of the oil and plans on repurchasing, says “it does smell a little bit like weed, but it’s not so much that you’ll roll up to the office and have people wondering what you were doing in the car ride over or anything.”
For something even more moisturizing, Grimm uses this serum. It blends CBD and argan oil, which contains vitamin E for hydrating the skin and protecting it from environmental damage. “It’s a little bit heavier and probably better in the wintertime,” says Grimm.
As founder of Kitchen Toke, a media company focused on the intersection of cooking and cannabis, Joline Rivera knew she wanted to be vigorous in vetting the CBD products for her online store. She only works with brands that are lab tested, and she also outsources each product for third-party testing (certificates of analysis are available to view on the Kitchen Toke site). “I wouldn’t sell anything I wouldn’t use, eat or give to my family,” says Rivera. Recently, she’s been using this oil to look well-rested, even though the stress of the pandemic has taken a toll on her sleep. “I like to put it around my eyes, which moisturizes and gets rid of the puffiness,” she says. “If I have a blemish, it’s good for healing and inflammation and has anti-bacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, all useful in fighting acne and other skin irritations.” Along with CBD, it’s rich in hydrating oils like jojoba and argan.
First of all, what is CBD?
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in cannabis plants (eg: marijuana and hemp). It’s one of the two primary active ingredients of cannabis, the other one being THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
Unlike THC, pure CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, meaning it doesn’t make you feel high.
Research shows that CBD may be effective in alleviating anxiety, chronic inflammation and pain, insomnia and some rare forms of childhood epilepsy. Moreover, a long-term study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseasefound that CBD may help prevent cognitive decline. In addition, according to a review published in the Neurotherapeutics journal, CBD may also be effective in treating substance use disorder.
Why is it good for your skin?
Known for its healing properties, “cannabidiol offers some serious antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits which can be beneficial in treating skin concerns like inflammation, dryness and free radical damage,” says Ildi Pekar, NYC-based aesthetician and founder of her own eponymous skincare line.
CBD might also be effective in fighting acne as it helps reduce the production of sebum in the skin. Additionally, studies indicate that cannabidiol may be effective in treating eczema and psoriasis as well.
While the research on CBD’s benefits is fairly limited, it’s generally considered safe to use topically. “There is likely no harm in continuing to use a CBD-infused product you like,” tells Dr. Adarsh Mudgil, a double board-certified dermatologist and founder of Mudgil Dermatology. “If you happen to have a reaction from a CBD topical product, it’s likely not from the CBD itself, but some other ingredient like a botanical,” explains the skincare specialist.
How to choose the right CBD skincare product?
All cannabidiol-infused products are formulated using full-spectrum CBD oil, broad-spectrum CBD oil or CBD isolate.
“Full-spectrum CBD oil contains all the compounds found in hemp, including trace amounts of THC. Broad-spectrum CBD oil, on the other hand, contains a range of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids derived from hemp, but no THC,” explains Ed Donnelly, CBD expert and founder of AmourCBD.
Meanwhile, “CBD isolate is the purest version of CBD. It doesn’t contain any other compounds that you find in a hemp plant,” tells Pekar. “This form of CBD oil is best for facial skin as it’s pure, doesn’t clog pores and is packed with skin-rejuvenating antioxidants,” adds the aesthetician.
Look for products that mention “cannabidiol”, “hemp extract”, “broad-spectrum CBD”, “full-spectrum CBD” or “hemp CBD” on the label. Also, note that hemp seed oil or cannabis Sativa seed oil isn’t the same thing as CBD oil. “CBD oil is extracted from the leaves and flowers of the hemp plant. It’s a finer and lighter oil as compared to hemp seed oil that tends to be greasier,” explains Pekar.