Updated on January 21, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Stroll through the online skin care aisle and you’re likely to find an increasing bounty of products containing cannabidiol (CBD). Found in cannabis and hemp, CBD won’t produce a high when consumed like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can, the active ingredient in marijuana, but it may alter brain synapses to produce a calming effect.
But what if you apply CBD to your skin? CBD in skin care products is a hot topic, especially in the summer when sun exposure, heat, humidity and sweat may be messing with your seasonal glow and causing skin issues to flare. Can the latest CBD-infused topical products provide relief? Here’s an overview of CBD products you might see in the skin care aisle this summer and beyond, and what to expect.
While you’re enjoying the great outdoors, the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays can seep in and increase the risk of all types of skin cancer, including the potentially deadliest–melanoma. Current estimates are that one in five of us will develop skin cancer in our lifetime. UVA rays can also break down your skin’s collagen, leading to wrinkles and sagging.
To safeguard your skin, slathering or spraying on a broad-spectrum sunscreen has always been a must. Increasingly, sunscreen with CBD oil, also known as hemp seed oil, is available that promises to provide your skin with added nutrients. You might even see sales lingo on products, such as: “The moisturizing hemp-based formula prevents sunburn and helps slow the aging of skin.”
According to a 2018 study, our skin is filled with CB1 and CB2 receptors, which may respond to topical CBD and THC cannabinoids to reduce inflammation. Yet products are entering the market faster than the research can weigh in. Evidence is needed to determine whether CBD in sunscreen provides any skin care benefits or risks.
Meanwhile, don’t rely on topical CBD oil alone to safeguard your skin from the sun in the summer and beyond. If you seek out sunscreen products with CBD or not, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. If you have sensitive skin, look for a “mineral” sunscreen with zinc dioxide and/or titanium dioxide. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which are absorbed into the skin and then absorb the sun’s harmful UV, mineral sunscreens hang out on the skin’s surface to physically block UV from penetrating the skin and start to work as soon as they’re applied.
CBD: The Sunburn Soother?
Hopefully, you won’t be dealing with a sunburn situation. Just one blistering sunburn, especially if you were a kid when it happened, can double your chances of being diagnosed with melanoma later in life, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Adult sunburns can promote wrinkling and unsightly brown spots. But if you do get burned, you’ll want to cool off with a bath, then apply a moisturizer, such as one with CBD, to help replenish dried-out skin.
Sunburn is your skin’s inflammatory reaction to overexposure to the sun’s UV rays. CBD’s potential anti-inflammatory and skin-calming effects may help reduce pain so you feel better faster. But check the ingredients on the label of your CBD moisturizer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you should avoid using moisturizers with petroleum, benzocaine or lidocaine. Petroleum can trap the heat in your skin to make you more uncomfortable. Benzocaine and lidocaine can irritate your skin. Drink plenty of water too and stay out of the sun until your sunburn is healed. If your skin develops blisters, leave them alone. Popped blisters can become infected.
CBD to Help Ditch the Itch
Summer’s intense heat and humidity can make eczema (atopic dermatitis) more intensely itchy and harder to control, to the point in which it can even disturb your sleep. Can CBD oil help? According to the National Eczema Association, it offers promise as a potential treatment because cannabinoids have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties that promote an anti-itch effect. When CBD oil interacts with receptors in the skin, which are part of the body’s natural cannabinoid system, your eczema may become less itchy and red. But talk with your dermatologist for CBD product guidance and read product labels closely. The NEA suggests choosing a CBD cream that’s formulated to reduce pain, inflammation and irritation for the skin, rather than one developed for muscle and joint pain.
CBD for Clearer Skin
If sweaty summer days bring out the worst in your acne, here’s good news: CBD oil may help banish breakouts. To naturally protect itself from pollutants and other irritants, your skin makes sebum, a waxy, oily substance. But sebum can also mix with dirt, old skin cells and other pollutants that can get trapped inside pores.
Clogged pores can turn into acne faster than ants can descend on watermelon at a picnic. But a 2014 study, which explored the effects of CBD on the skin’s sebum-producing cells, found that CBD helped reduce acne by preventing the skin’s sebum-producing cells from creating too much oily sebum. The researchers also found that CBD reduced inflammation in the skin, which is another acne trigger.
All told, even though more skin care products with CBD are entering the marketplace, more research needs to be done to determine their effectiveness and safety. Some CBD creams may contain ingredients that can be irritating to the skin.
Talk to your dermatologist
Before reaching for skin care products with CBD to prevent or manage summer skin issues, know that it could be hit or miss. Talk to your dermatologist too. Your doctor may be able to offer suggestions on how to use them effectively and guide you about any added ingredients in CBD products you should avoid based on your skin situation.
About the author
Sandra Gordon is a writer specializing in health and medicine for consumers and physicians. She has written for Everyday Health, Prevention, Healthgrades, Parents, the Cleveland Clinic, NYU Langone Health, Harvard Medical School, Your Teen, WebMD and many more.