Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that affects people of all ages. There are a few underlying causes of acne, including hormonal changes — adolescents can relate — poor diet, bad harsh environmental conditions, and a weakened immune system.
There is some evidence that supports the use of CBD oil for acne and other skin conditions. Some people take it under the tongue for prevention and to curb inflammation from the inside, while others use topicals like CBD creams and balms to deal with the breakouts.
In this article, we’ll explore the health benefits of CBD for acne; we’ll also discuss the best approaches to treating acne with phytonutrients and provide you with a concise guide to buying CBD products for skincare.
Acne 101: What You Need to Know About Acne Outbreaks
Although acne typically affects teenagers — especially throughout puberty — it can happen to people at any time of their lives.
Acne is an inflammatory condition that causes dark-headed breakouts or white-headed pimples to appear on the skin due to clogged hair follicles on the face and upper body.
The above areas have the highest concentrations of sebaceous glands, where the oil is produced to the skin and hair follicles.
Sebum is a waxy oil that the skin makes. It helps protect our skin from environmental damage and harsh weather conditions. However, it can also mix with dirt, dead skin cells, and other compounds that become trapped inside the pores. The clogged pores become acne.
Acne has four main causes:
- Intense sebum production – the sebaceous glands release too much sebum, which gives the skin a greasy look and blocks the hair follicles.
- Clogs from dead skin cells –when the follicles get clogged, this process triggers inflammation and accumulation of dead skin cells. The problem deteriorates continuously because more oil and dead skin gather in one area forming cyst-like lumps.
- Stress, hormones, and medication – these factors can trigger acne and also make it worse, especially during the puberty period. Hormonal imbalances during that time cause the sebaceous glands to produce excess amounts of oil. Certain medications and chronic stress have also been associated with the onset of acne.
- Bacterial infections – dirty pores may lead to bacteria build-up, which can worsen inflammation and cause your breakouts to grow.
As opposed to common myths, acne can’t be caused by eating greasy foods or by poor hygiene.
Does CBD Help with Acne?
Using CBD oil for acne has sparked attention among medical researchers over the past several years. It seems CBD can address many problems associated with this condition, such as excess sebum production and inflammation.
The authors of the study also reported that CBD oil had an anti-inflammatory effect, preventing inflammatory cytokines from activating. Cytokines may cause acne, so reducing their amounts may help prevent further breakouts (1).
In a 2016 review of the cannabis plants, the researchers highlighted CBD’s antibacterial and antifungal effects. These qualities may help reduce the risk of infections caused by dirt and other pollutants on the skin (2).
While the initial results from the said studies support the use of CBD for acne, human clinical trials are still needed to provide deeper insight and more evidence in that regard until we can draw definitive conclusions.
Many CBD skincare products also contain supportive ingredients, such as mint, or lavender, which may provide further benefits. For example, mint extracts are known for their cooling effects on the skin, soothing irritated areas, and providing pain relief; lavender, in turn, has antibacterial properties that work as the natural cleanser of the skin.
Does CBD Work for Body Acne?
Although most of us associate acne with the outbreaks appearing on the face from time to time, the condition can actually affect almost every part of your body, except the palms of your hand and the soles of your feet; these are the areas without any hair follicles.
Acne that forms on your body, whether it features blackheads or whiteheads, is the same type of acne that appears on your face, so you can use one product for different types of acne.
CBD and Acne Scars
Some research supports that CBD oil may help with acne-scarred skin. A study conducted by the University of Modena and the Reggio Emilia Medical School found that the subjects with acne-related scars noticed considerable improvements after three months of treatment with CBD (3).
What Mechanisms Does CBD Use to Fight Acne?
CBD is a phytocannabinoid extracted from the hemp plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it doesn’t have intoxicating properties. It does, however, a wide range of health benefits — especially for the skin.
CBD interacts with the body through the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a cell-signaling system that is the master regulatory network in all mammals. The ECS determines whether your body is balanced or injured, and whenever an issue arises, such as inflammation, receptors in your brain and body will release cannabinoids that provide relief.
When it comes to acne, the mechanism of action involves the interaction between CBD and the CB2 receptors in the ECS. CB1 and CB2 are the two cannabinoid receptors in the body. CB1 receptors are found in the brain and throughout the central nervous system, while CB2 is located in the peripheral nervous system, immune system, and skin. The skin has a particularly high concentration of CB2 receptors.
When you apply CBD on the skin, it interacts with the CB2 receptors, producing its anti-inflammatory effects and regulating the production of sebum in the hair follicles. When you use it orally, it will interact with the cells of the immune system, reducing inflammation from within and bolstering your immune system.
How to Use CBD for Acne?
Michele Green, M.D. and a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City recommends CBD oil as a safe skin treatment for acne due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Topical CBD products don’t cause any side effects but remember that other ingredients infused into the product may irritate the skin.
Here are some common carrier oils for CBD topicals:
Taking CBD oil sublingually (under the tongue) may also help with acne, as it helps reduce inflammation from within. However, studies investigating the efficacy of CBD for acne have applied CBD directly on the skin, where sebum is produced.
How to Choose the Right CBD Product for Acne?
There’s a myriad of topical products containing CBD available for purchase online. You can find lots of high-quality products, but there is an equal number of topicals whose quality leaves a lot to be desired.
If you want to ensure that you’re buying a legitimate product, check if the distributor provides third-party lab reports to confirm the product’s quality.
In 2017, researchers examined 84 different CBD products and found that 26% of them contained less CBD than stated on the label. Other products also contained additional ingredients, such as THC, solvents, and pesticides. Although it’s impossible to get high if you use THC topically, products with more than 0.3% THC are not compliant with the federal law and thus may get you into trouble with the law.
In the next two sections, we shed light on how to choose the right CBD product for acne depending on how you want to approach the problem.
CBD Acne Cream
- Look for the name “cannabidiol” – this is the only INCI-compliant name for CBD. If you see names like hemp oil or hemp seed oil, or hemp extract, keep in mind these aren’t appropriate names for CBD.
- Buy CBD creams in stable containers – avoid products packed in plastic, clear jars, or transparent bottles. Such containers expose CBD to air and light, causing it to lose potency.
- Seek out full-spectrum CBD – full-spectrum extracts contain all phytonutrients found in hemp and are considered more effective than each cannabinoid on its own. This concept is known as the “entourage effect,” which refers to synergistic effects between cannabinoids and terpenes. Full-spectrum CBD is particularly beneficial when it comes to reducing inflammation.
- Read the ingredients list carefully – as mentioned, CBD has a good safety profile, but other ingredients in your topicals may irritate your skin and worsen the acne breakouts. Always make sure that your product doesn’t contain anything you’re allergic to.
CBD Oil for Acne
- Look for the name “CBD oil” on the bottle – you can find a lot of hemp oils and hemp extracts on Amazon, but none of them contains CBD. How is that possible? Again, the only legitimate name for CBD oil is… CBD OIL. Not hemp oil, not hemp seed oil, not hemp extract. The bottle should also state how much CBD is in the product (and per serving`).
- Ask for Certificates of Analysis (COA) – reputable companies send their products to third-party laboratories for content analysis. These labs verify the potency of the product’s sample and checks for potential contaminants, such as heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides. Check if your distributor publishes Certificates of Analysis on its website; if not, ask the company to send it via email. Should they fail to respond, it’s better to find a more transparent source.
- Don’t search for the most potent CBD oil out there – the rule “the more the merrier” doesn’t always apply to CBD oils. While some people benefit from large amounts of CBD oil, others may need much less for the same condition. That’s because everybody is different and dosing CBD requires an individual approach for each case. It’s better to start with a low-potency oil and then make a transition to a stronger product to make the supplementation affordable in the long run.
Final Verdict: Should You Use CBD to Treat Acne?
Treating acne can be challenging. The condition itself is very unpleasant, and the treatment can be time-consuming. Research shows promising results when it comes to using CBD for acne; numerous studies have mentioned the anti-inflammatory and sebum-regulating properties of CBD. Once the preliminary findings are proven in large-scale trials on living skin, CBD may be acknowledged as an official treatment for acne.
If you buy CBD products to treat acne-prone skin, make sure they come from a reputable source. Always check if the company you’re about to order from provides third-party lab reports. Certificates of Analysis from a third-party laboratory are proof that your product contained the same amount of CBD as written on the label and is free of potential contaminants, such as solvents, heavy metals, and pesticides.
- Oláh, Attila et al. “Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes.” The Journal of clinical investigation vol. 124,9 (2014): 3713-24. doi:10.1172/JCI64628
- Andre, Christelle M et al. “Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules.” Frontiers in plant science vol. 7 19. 4 Feb. 2016, doi:10.3389/fpls.2016.00019
- Palmieri, B et al. “A therapeutic effect of cbd-enriched ointment in inflammatory skin diseases and cutaneous scars.” La Clinica terapeutica vol. 170,2 (2019): e93-e99. doi:10.7417/CT.2019.2116