Acne affects as many as 50 million Americans every year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It may be a common condition but it can be quite devastating to the self-confidence of those who experience it. Acne is often treated with expensive creams or oral antibiotics but ‘CBD for acne’ has become one of the most searched terms on the internet over the past year or two.
Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in the cannabis plant, is becoming popular for the treatment of various skin conditions, including acne. Amazing claims are being made about the use of CBD products to deliver glowing, youthful blemish-free skin. But can CBD really help for acne? Read on to find out if there is any substance to the claims.
What is acne?
Acne is a condition that occurs when the pores of the skin become clogged. It isn’t dangerous, but it is embarrassing and painful, often leaving behind scars.
Sebum is the oily, waxy substance made by the skin to keep it lubricated. When excess sebum is released, it combines with dead skin cells, dirt and bacteria to clog the pores, forming blackheads or whiteheads.
Both types of clogged pores can develop into papules, pimples, nodules or cystic lesions. Papules are little, red tender bumps. Pimples are papules with pus at the tips and nodules are large, solid, painful lumps beneath the skin’s surface. Cystic lesions are pus-filled, painful lumps, also beneath the skin’s surface.
Acne often occurs during puberty due to hormonal changes in the body but about 20% of cases can occur during adulthood. According to the Mayo Clinic, the four main factors that cause acne are clogged hair follicles, excess oil production, bacteria and increased activity of a type of hormone. Bad diet, poor hygiene, stress, medication and other factors may aggravate acne but they don’t cause it.
Acne is often persistent. The pimples and bumps don’t heal quickly, and as soon as some go away, others appear. The treatment of acne includes getting rid of excess oil, and keeping the skin clean and free from bacteria.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in the cannabis plant, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another compound found in cannabis, it doesn’t have mind-altering properties and you don’t get high when using CBD.
CBD is believed to have many medical benefits due to the way it interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the human body. This system was only discovered fairly recently and so it is not as well understood as some of the other systems. However, research scientists are learning more about it every day.
The ECS has many functions in the body, such as regulating appetite, mood, pain and memory. Endocannabinoids send messages to receptors located all over the body, including the organs and skin. This helps to keep the body in a state of balance or homeostasis. CBD mimics the activity of the endocannabinoids in the human body and interacts with the endocannabinoid receptors in much the same way as those produced in the body.
Difference between CBD oil and hemp seed oil
CBD oil is a mixture of pure CBD and oil, such as olive oil or coconut. CBD oil and hemp seed oil are often marketed interchangeably but hemp seed oil contains only trace amounts of CBD, if any.
If you want a skincare product containing CBD, you need to look for ‘cannabidiol’ in the list of ingredients. If you don’t see cannabidiol, check for terms such “phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil” or “full spectrum hemp extract”. Hemp seed oil may be good for your skin but it is not the same thing as CBD oil, which is produced mainly from the flowers of the cannabis plant.
CBD for Acne
In one study, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers measured the effects of CBD on oil-producing glands in the skin using human skin samples. The researchers found that CBD inhibited oil production and triggered an anti-inflammatory reaction in the cells. It prevented inflammatory cytokines from activating. They concluded that CBD had promise as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of acne.
The fact that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties means it could help with acne which is an inflammatory condition. One of the ways the body responds to injury or infection is with inflammation. The swelling, redness and pain that come with acne are part of this immune response. There is hope, therefore, that the use of CBD could reduce the redness and swelling associated with acne.
As excess oil production is one of the triggers of acne, the fact that CBD appears to inhibit oil production, as found in the above-mentioned study, is an exciting one. CBD could help to keep the skin from producing too much sebum, meaning less likelihood of acne developing.
Another culprit mentioned in the cause of acne is bacteria. CBD may just be able to help with bacteria, too, as it appears to have powerful antibacterial properties.
Without question, further research and clinical trials are needed to determine the efficacy of using CBD for acne, as well as to find the best delivery methods. However, preliminary findings in the use of CBD for acne show promise.
What about acne scars?
Claims are being made that applying a CBD-enriched ointment to acne scars can significantly improve their appearance.
A study published in the journal La Clinica Terapeutica had 20 participants applying CBD to scars caused by atopic dermatitis and psoriasis twice every day for three months. The results were positive and the participants reported improvements without experiencing any allergic reactions or irritation. The hydration and elasticity of their skin improved.
This was a small study and the scars were not caused by acne but the researchers concluded that topical CBD is a safe and non-invasive alternative for improving the lives of people suffering from some skin disorders, especially those of an inflammatory type.
Is it safe to use CBD on the skin?
There is no research yet to prove that one method of consumption is better than another in the treatment of a skin condition. However, many people appear to prefer to use CBD topical products for the treatment of acne.
At a time when many topicals contain harmful ingredients like sulfates and parabens, CBD is plant-based and has few to no side effects. The most commonly reported side effects from using CBD are diarrhea, fatigue and changes in appetite but these usually occur when ingesting CBD, not when applying it topically.
Research published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found CBD has a “favorable safety profile.” It is non-addictive and has no known overdose limit.
There are a huge range of topical products containing CBD available for purchase online, including creams, balms and salves. They all contain different strengths of CBD. It is important to check the labels of products to see how much CBD they contain as well as whether they contain any other ingredients that could irritate the skin, such as certain essential oils.
It is possible that you could experience an allergic reaction when applying CBD topically. If itching or swelling occurs, wash the affected area with soap and water and apply a cold compress to soothe the irritated skin.
A study in the journal JAMA revealed that 26% of products tested contained less CBD oil than advertised.
Many of the CBD products on the market come from the hemp plant, a member of the cannabis family. Hemp is a bioaccumulator which means that it absorbs what is in the soil where it is grown. If it’s grown in polluted soil, it absorbs contaminants like heavy metals or pesticides. When the CBD is extracted, these contaminants can end up in the final product.
As a consumer, you need to make sure you buy high-quality products. Companies should be transparent about where they get their hemp and willing to disclose what is in their products. Look for one that uses independent laboratory testing to confirm that products are labeled accurately.
If you have severe acne, speak to your skincare specialist before using CBD oil for acne. You need to make an educated decision about whether using CBD skincare products is the right course of action for you. If you’re using other topically applied medication, it could interact with the CBD or other ingredients in your CBD product.
The bottom line
Preliminary studies show promise in the use of CBD for acne, but many more large-scale studies are necessary. If you do want to buy CBD products for acne, read the labels carefully, and buy from reputable businesses.
CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that could help with acne, which is an inflammatory condition. CBD’s anti-bacterial properties and potential to inhibit oil production are other reasons why using it could help to reduce the problems associated with acne. CBD is well-tolerated and has a good safety profile so it may be worth giving it a try.