What Does CBD in Skin Care Actually Do?

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Chances are, you know someone who rubs their joints with CBD balm before 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.

Best CBD face oils

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.

Stylist Djuna Bel uses this face oil created by Nousha Salimi, a registered nurse and esthetician, every day as part of her routine. “Nousha is one of my favorite facialists in Los Angeles and I trust her formulas,” says Bel. The oil pairs CBD with vitamin C, an antioxidant proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and skin discoloration.

Best CBD face creams

Jacknin recommends products from Isodiol CannaCeuticals, whose founder she says “truly seems to care about delivering a quality, effective product.” The line’s night cream combines CBD with other soothing ingredients like aloe vera, vitamin E, and exfoliating willow bark to restore and hydrate skin.

Even though it contains a relatively low 50mg of CBD, von Pfetten says, “this balm is a wonder for anyone with dry skin,” calling it “one of those ‘no idea why it works but it does’ products.” She uses it as the last step in her nighttime routine, especially when her skin is feeling particularly dry.

Best CBD serum

Von Pfetten loves Superflower’s serum because of its “broad-spectrum CBD, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and a site that clearly outlines what’s in the product and why.” For best results, she says to top it off with a moisturizer and a few pats of oil.

Best CBD lip balm

Vertly founder Claudia Mata tells us that her brand’s partnership with the natural beauty store and spa Credo helps ensure the quality of its products as Credo has strict standards for everything they stock. Vertly CBD is rigorously tested throughout production — first at the hemp farm, again once Vertly receives it, and finally when it’s formulated into the product. Kate Miller, co-founder and CEO of the cannabis shop and online magazine Miss Grass, says she uses the brand’s lip butter “obsessively all day,” and calls it “satisfyingly smooth.”

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What Does CBD in Skin Care Actually Do?