You can buy CBD in capsules and vape juices, and mixed into sodas, beer, toothpaste and many other products. CBD is everywhere -- including the skin-care aisle of your local department store. The skin-care market is massive and growing, estimated to be worth almost $190 billion globally by 2025. In such a competitive and lucrative field, companies have to strive to stand out.
It makes plenty of sense that CBD is showing up in skin-care products. But does CBD actually work?
The internet has helped consumers become educated about whether the products they buy do what their makers claim they do, and that trend has impacted the skin-care market as well.
Beautypedia (a product database now associated with skin-care brand Paula’s Choice) lambasts expensive products such as Guerlain’s Orchidée Impériale White Serum (priced at around $500 for one ounce) and La Prairie’s Platinum Rare Cellular Cream ($1,245 for 1.75 ounces) for tricking consumers into paying stupendous amounts for unremarkable, useless or even detrimental skin-care ingredients.
Brands such as Glossier have risen to the top of the market, thanks in part to their stellar social media branding but also due to their affordable products offered with transparent ingredient lists.
Growing high-quality cannabis plants and distilling pure, safe CBD can be a lengthy and costly process, so skin care that features CBD tends to be more expensive. Is it worth it? Does CBD make a difference, or is it snake oil that consumers will soon get wise to? Why is CBD skin care so trendy in the first place? Let’s take a closer look.
It’s Trendy Everywhere Else
CBD is trendy in skin care in part because CBD is becoming trendy everywhere. A Gallup poll found that about one in seven Americans use some form of CBD. And, while CBD in skin care is common, the majority of users take CBD for other reasons -- most prominently for pain management, anxiety, sleep and headaches.
The CBD market is growing rapidly, with experts guessing it could be worth $20 billion by 2024. CBD, THC and cannabis in general are all becoming far less stigmatized and more accessible.
CBD broke legalization barriers in 2018 thanks to the Farm Bill, which designated low-THC CBD products as “industrial hemp,” distinguishing them from the high-THC “marijuana” products that remain illegal under federal law.
CBD and cannabis products are being endorsed by actors, sports stars and prominent politicians. Kim Kardashian even threw a CBD-themed baby shower. Consumers can buy CBD products in grocery stores and corner shops, and skin-care mega-retailers Sephora and Ulta carry a wide range of CBD products.
There’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to creating clear and reasonable CBD law-enforcement policies, but that hasn’t stopped CBD from entering popular culture in a huge way. If you’re seeing more and more CBD skin care out there, it’s because you’re seeing more and more CBD everywhere.
It May Fight Aging and Wrinkles
Wrinkles and other signs of skin aging can sometimes indicate sun damage, but are generally a normal part of human life. However, that doesn’t mean we’re excited about getting them! A trip down any face-cream aisle in a drugstore shows that fighting wrinkles and other signs of aging is a prime concern for skin-care consumers everywhere.
The battle against wrinkles has led celebrities to bizarre treatments such as “vampire facials” and leech therapy. Some of these may work, but they’re out of reach for the ordinary consumer.
But what about CBD? Research shows it may function as an effective age-fighter in skincare. CBD is a powerful antioxidant, which may help combat the free-radical damage that speeds up skin aging.
Some studies have also suggested that CBD can promote collagen growth. Collagen provides youthful skin with its volume and suppleness, and naturally declines as we age, making it a prime target for skin-care treatments. More research is needed, but CBD may also fight aging by boosting collagen production.
It May Fight Acne
Acne might be an even bigger skin-care concern than fighting wrinkles. Though adolescents and young adults are more vulnerable to acne than other groups, almost everyone gets pimples now and then.
Acne-tackling skin-care products are big business because acne is a problem for tons of people. However, finding the right treatment can be tricky.
Common anti-acne ingredients, such as salicylic acid, fight acne by penetrating skin and exfoliating the clogged pores that generate acne. But those acne-fighting mechanisms can also dry out and irritate skin if overused.
Dried-out, irritated skin responds by generating more oil, which clogs pores and causes more acne. This cycle can make acne especially frustrating to treat.
Can CBD help fight acne? Research suggests it might be able to. One study found that cannabidiol can regulate overproduction in sebum glands, preventing the clogged pores that start acne rather than breaking them apart after they happen.
The same study observed CBD’s strong anti-inflammatory properties, which may also fight acne by reducing the redness and irritation that often accompany clogged pores.
While that study was carried out on cultured cells in a lab, other research has documented positive effects in human subjects. One study found that cream containing 3% cannabis-seed extract significantly reduced acne in human subjects.
It May Treat Psoriasis, Eczema and Other Conditions
Acne and wrinkles are two of the most common skin conditions, but most people will experience other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or scarring at least once in their lives. CBD holds promise for treating many of these other skin conditions, too.
One study found that CBD can inhibit overgrowth of skin cells, the mechanism that causes itchy chronic skin plaques in psoriasis patients. Patients struggling with eczema, a common condition characterized by dry, itchy skin, may also want to try CBD.
The National Eczema Association sums up research covering cannabinoids’ antimicrobial properties, which may battle the germs that can cause or exacerbate some cases of eczema, while also serving as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
CBD is particularly effective at addressing the itchiness that often accompanies a wide range of skin conditions, possibly by interacting with the mast cells in skin that can release histamines to trigger inflammation and itchiness.
It Can Address Pain
Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis and other painful conditions often turn to topical creams to relieve pain. Should CBD be included in that arsenal?
The Arthritis Foundation has cautioned arthritis sufferers against replacing joint-protecting medications with CBD, as these medications can stop further damage to joints through mechanisms CBD doesn’t replicate. However, it also notes that CBD, when used in tandem with standard treatments, appears to bring relief to many arthritis patients.
While there’s promise for CBD and pain, note that topical application may not be enough for some conditions.
It May Help Sleep
Skin can indicate a lot about someone’s overall well-being. That becomes apparent when one looks at the relationship between skin health and sleep.
Sleep deprivation has a huge range of negative effects on human health. It slows our cognition, increases our risk of mental illness, harms our hearts and contributes to early death.
Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation also harms our skin. Dermatologists tie sleep deprivation to depleted wound healing and collagen-production abilities, and to the dehydration and inflammation that contribute to acne and eczema outbreaks.
Sleep help is one of the most common reasons people take CBD, and there’s scientific research to back them up. CBD may indirectly improve sleep health by addressing pain and anxiety.
Studies imply that CBD may also interact directly with the neurochemical systems that control our sleep/wake cycles. If you’re consuming CBD mostly to aid with sleep, it’s probably better to take it orally, sublingually or through some other non-topical method, as skin application doesn’t let that much CBD into the central nervous structures that affect sleep.
CBD Supports Cancer Treatment and May Kill Cancer Cells
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting over three million Americans each year. Science shows that CBD’s interactions with tumor cells may play a role in future skin-cancer treatments.
Studies have recorded CBD and other cannabinoids inhibiting the growth of pancreatic, colon, breast and other tumors. While cancer patients have long used medical marijuana to address the side effects of chemotherapy, topical CBD cream may help treat the itchiness and skin irritation that often accompanies this harsh cancer treatment.
If you’re considering treating skin cancer or any other serious condition with CBD, it’s important to consult a doctor. CBD doesn’t replace other important medications and treatments, and it can interact with some medications.
It’s Part of the Safe Cosmetics Movement
If you can buy a skin-care product in a store, then it must be safe, right? A growing consumer safety movement is pushing back against that assumption, pointing to numerous substances common in skin-care products that have also been associated with harmful outcomes in scientific settings.
Retinol is one of the skin-care market’s most common and powerful wrinkle-fighting ingredients, but its anti-aging benefits may come at a high cost. Scientists have connected retinol use to increased sun damage and heightened risk of skin cancer.
Retinol can weaken skin-barrier functions that protect us from environmental damage. Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have listed many other common skin-care ingredients that may be harming their users’ health.
The presence of CBD in a product doesn’t mean that all other ingredients listed are inherently safe. However, CBD appears to be one of the safer skin-care ingredients out there.
The Environmental Working Group gives cannabidiol low toxicity scores of one to four depending on its use, citing low risk of cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity. CBD does not cause sun sensitivity like retinol or disrupt hormones like some kinds of parabens.
Unlike THC, it hasn’t been tied to increased risk of some mental illnesses. CBD is generally regarded as nontoxic. However, always consult your doctor before starting a CBD regimen for any medical condition.
CBD can clash with certain medications, and extremely high dosages (far beyond what most people consume orally, let alone through topical application) have been tied to liver damage in mice.
Warning About Hype
There’s lots of promise in CBD, but there are also many unknowns. Dermatologists seem to agree that it’s largely safe, so if a CBD product is helping you, continue using it. But the exact mechanisms of how it helps -- and what is a placebo effect versus a real benefit -- are still being uncovered.
CBD is FDA-approved to treat epilepsy in the form of the drug Epidiolex, and it’s probable that medical science will discover other useful applications for CBD, too.
However, the CBD market is both rapidly expanding and largely unregulated, which means users need to be careful about who they buy from. Any CBD provider promising a magical cure-all is overpromising rather than keeping their customers’ best interests in mind.
CBD purity is also an increasingly pressing issue as the market expands. One study found that 70% of a sample group of CBD products was mislabeled, containing inaccurate amounts of both THC and CBD. Buy CBD from trusted sources and use brands that lab-verify their product potency.
Is CBD a flash in the pan or here to stay? In the super-trendy and always changing world of skin care, it’s hard to say for certain. More scientific research is needed to determine what CBD skin care can do and the best way to deliver it.
However, as studies continue and CBD delivery technology improves, it seems likely that we’ll see more CBD products in the beauty aisles.