CBD for acne – how does it work and is it worth a shot?
Health-promoting properties of CBD oils are increasingly appreciated both among people struggling with serious, chronic diseases as well as those looking for natural methods to reduce stress and improve quality of life. Recently, thanks to the ever-growing interest of cannabis among scientists, we can hear a lot about cannabidiol as a very effective solution for various skin problems. Especially the acne ones. CBD for acne gives great results, because it works two ways – anti-inflammatory and sebostatic. How does it work and how can cannabidiol be used to improve the appearance of the skin?
Endocannabinoid system and acne
To understand how cannabidiol can affect our skin, we must first determine what the endocannabinoid system has to do with acne. It is through this system that CBD affects our body.
In sebaceous glands responsible for the production of sebum (which excessive amounts can cause acne), CB2 endocannabinoid receptors are found . Through them, endocannabinoids naturally occurring in the human body inhibit sebum secretion. What’s more, they can even cause apoptosis (“programmed” death) of sebocytes, or sebaceous cells, and even regulate the expression of genes involved in lipid synthesis . The endocannabinoid system is therefore crucial in regulating the secretion of oily substances in the skin.
But what does cannabis have to do with this? The answer is very simple – phytocannabinoids. Such as CBD. These are chemical compounds that have affinity for endocannabinoid receptors. Therefore they can, to some extent, act analogously to our own endocannabinoids or block their actions. So what do we know exactly about CBD for acne?
CBD is sebostatic…
Acne can be caused by a number of factors, including hormonal disorders, genetic factors, diet and even stress . In most cases, however, the immediate cause of skin deterioration is excess sebum production. This waxy secretion of sebaceous glands is a natural protection for our skin. Its presence is not unusual or harmful. Sometimes, however, excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells or external impurities, and clogs the pores. In this way, blemishes and acne can be formed.
As it turns out, CBD copes very well with this problem. Research conducted in 2014  shows that cannabidiol significantly limits the production of sebum by the cells responsible for it, the so-called sebocytes. However, this doesn’t happen directly through endocannabinoid receptors. A series of complicated cascade events have to be conducted. Nevertheless, the impact of CBD on reducing sebum production is indisputable.
… and anti-inflammatory
In the same study, scientists confirmed that the well-known anti-inflammatory properties of CBD may also apply to acne. Cannabidiol prevents the activation of cytokines, i.e. proteins that initiate, among others, inflammations. Even more – it prevents the expression of a key cytokine in the pathogenesis of adolescent acne (acne vulgaris).
CBD isn’t the only cannabinoid that has anti-inflammatory effect. In fact, most of the cannabinoids that have been recognized have such properties. Inflammation can be reduced, among others, by CBC, CBN, CBG. CBD’s homologue, the so-called CBDV, may be particularly promising for controlling acne. Its anti-inflammatory effect is oriented in particular on the skin .
Some forms of acne can be accompanied by even extensive inflammation. Anti-inflammatory properties are therefore very desirable if we want a comprehensive improvement of skin condition.
How to use CBD for acne?
Therefore, there is only one question left: how to use CBD to get the best results for acne? If we’re considering CBD oils, which are the most popular and the most readily available, we basically have two options. We can use them orally (a few drops under the tongue) or directly on the skin.
Most research on the effects of cannabidiol on skin condition and sebum secretion focuses on direct application. We can therefore conclude that using CBD oil locally on the affected skin will give the best results . In this case it is best to combine a small amount of low concentration oil (5% can give the desired effects ) with base oil, such as coconut, shea or argan oil . Oral ingestion can be regarded as supportive, because the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD are preserved, but their action is directed to the skin and its glands.
The effectiveness of cannabis and CBD for acne certainly depends on what causes such skin deterioration. It should be borne in mind that cannabidiol may not always give spectacular results. Still, its sebostatic and anti-inflammatory effects are well documented scientifically – so it’s worth giving it a try. In the case of problematic skin, any effective, natural substance is welcome.
CBD Oil For Acne: Everything You Need to Know
Bryan is a contributing writer for Byrdie covering all things beauty and grooming. He has over 16 years of experience in beauty editorial and has been with Byrdie since 2020.
Rachel is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology. She has contributed to Byrdie, as well as Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire, Allure, Vogue, and the New York Times, and more
Madeline has been with Byrdie and Brides since 2021. Most recently, she lead social media at Glamour magazine where she covered pop culture, beauty, and fashion.
Liz DeSousa for Byrdie
In This Article
CBD oil is seeping into virtually every beauty product category nowadays—even in deodorant and toothpaste. With its anti-stress, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory claims, it’s no wonder this so-called “wonder ingredient” is pushing its way into our self-care routines. Even more, according to the latest studies, CBD oil may be exactly what your breakout-prone, irritated skin needs to get back into shape.
Although there’s still a great deal of required research ahead to determine how best to use CBD to treat acne, we talked to a panel of experts, including cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of BeautyStat, Michele Green, board-certified dermatologist, Kenneth Howe of Wexler Dermatology, and Rachel Nazarian of the Schweiger Dermatology Group to get the facts as well as the potential of using CBD oil for acne.
Keep reading to determine if CBD’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and oil-regulating properties actually work wonders for acne.
Meet the Expert
- Ron Robinson is a cosmetic chemist at BeautyStat. is a board-certified dermatologist based in Manhattan.
- Kenneth Howe is a board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology.
- Rachel Nazarian is a New York City-based dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Type of Ingredient: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, sebum-regulating.
Main Benefits: Reduces inflammation, healing and calming, regulates oil production, neutralizes free radicals.
Who Should Use It: It is recommended for those looking to treat mild to moderate inflammatory acne lesions at home. It’s also great for sensitive or those allergic to typical anti-acne ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol.
How Often Can You Use It: Products containing CBD oil can be used twice per day as part of your usual anti-acne skincare routine.
Works Well With: Ingredients designed to calm skin and decrease inflammation, including arnica, hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
Don’t Use With: Ingredients that can counteract the anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD, such as alcohol. Also, be aware that CBD is still an unregulated ingredient, and ongoing research is still exploring CBD’s pathways and other ingredients it may or may not work well with.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD—which stands for Cannabidiol—oil is a compound derived from both hemp (cannabis sativa) and marijuana (cannabis sativa indica) plants, both of which are part of the cannabis family. When it comes to acne’s root causes—a combination of bacteria, oil, and dry skin cells getting trapped in your pores—CBD oil seems to have all bases covered. “CBD oil is beneficial to these conditions due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It reduces sebum production and is also antimicrobial, so it works great for acne-prone skin,” says Green. She also cited a 2007 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science that showed CBD oil applied to the skin may inhibit the overproduction of keratinocytes (skin cells), thus eliminating yet another acne-causing culprit.
Benefits of CBD Oil for Acne
- Reduces inflammation: CBD oil helps soothe irritation caused by acne, noticeably reducing overall redness and making breakouts appear smaller and less painful. This is especially helpful for acne-prone skin sensitivity, as CBD oil works without the dryness, redness, or irritation of conventional ingredients.
- Controls oil production: “The most exciting finding of CBD oil is that it’s ‘sebostatic’—it cuts down on oil production in the skin,” says Howe. “Current evidence suggests the skin has its own endocannabinoid system, which is to say cannabinoids are active in the skin, binding to their receptors, and signaling for certain activities to occur or not occur.” How does that relate to oil production? Green explained that “the increase in sebum production is a result of endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2AG) which are produced in the sebaceous glands. These endogenous cannabinoids act on CB2 receptors inhibiting the lipogenic action, therefore regulating sebum production.”
- It’s an antioxidant: CBD oil is packed with potent antioxidants that help protect skin from free radicals resulting from environmental damage and improve texture and tone over time. While none of the dermatologists could vouch for CBD oil’s ability to fade post-acne marks, it could provide an extra measure of antioxidant protection into your anti-acne routine.
- Acne multi-tasker: Rather than act as a spot treatment, acne-targeting products containing CBD oil may help manage the overall issues that contribute to acne formation. Nazarian says, “Because it works as both an anti-inflammatory and can decrease oil production, it has the ability to multitask as an acne product. It may be considered a gentler option and a safe option for many different skin types.”
Other Skin Benefits
One thing worth pointing out about incorporating CBD oil into your skincare routine is how kind it is to skin. “It’s gentle, and that’s what makes it stand out from other options,” said Nazarian. “Additionally, there are many skin types that are either too sensitive to use ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol on, or they have allergies to these ingredients. Having an additional tool in the ‘acne toolkit’ will always be useful in the fight for healthy skin.”
Side Effects of CBD Oil
Though rare, the known side effects of using CBD oil for acne include dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness, and fatigue. CBD oil is also known to interact with certain medications such as blood thinners. While there are no known interactions with other topical products, you should start with a patch test if you’re concerned about a reaction. If you experience irritation, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re sensitive to CBD oil, and you should stop using it.
How to Use It
When it comes to actually using CBD oil to treat acne, you may find yourself wondering: supplement or product? Nazarian says, “The evidence supporting use of CBD in treating acne is purely topical at this point. Use of CBD was tested topically on skin cells and has shown promise. Oral supplementation or smoking of CBD formulations has not been evaluated in this manner and can not be recommended.”
The good news is, there’s no shortage of CBD-laced products. One of the most popular routes is face oil. Oils are still having their moment in skincare, as they’re ideal for virtually every skin type (depending on the formulation) and act as an excellent carrier for a variety of potent compounds—like CBD. Oils are also easy to incorporate into a multiple-step skincare regimen, so if you’re looking to up your anti-acne game with an extra product that has very little likelihood to interact with your existing products, a face oil containing CBD oil might be the perfect fit. There are also various cleansers, creams, lotions, and oils for the face and body, but it’s important to steer clear of any that might contain potential comedogenic ingredients.
While the doctors we spoke to were happy to recommend products, they were also quick to remind us that CBD is still an unregulated ingredient, making it difficult to gauge a product’s efficacy. There’s no way to specify the purity or optimal percentage of active ingredients required for the product to be effective.
The Best Products with CBD Oil for Acne
“This product packs a 100mg hemp oil lightweight formulation which also contains adaptogens” (plant-based roots and herbs that help calm our body’s reaction to stress), says Green.
This anti-blemish cream combines 200mg of CBD hemp extract with 1% salicylic acid to calm and soothe active breakouts and clear up blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads while keeping skin smooth and hydrated.
These concentrated patches will help you forget everything you knew about spot treatments that dry zits into painful oblivion. It is packed with the ideal ratio of salicylic acid and hemp to reduce inflammation and speed healing, while hydrocolloid action stops the infection in its tracks.
Each scoop of these luxe bath salts contains approximately 20mg of CBD oil and a host of other de-stressing and body-boosting ingredients, including pink Himalayan salt, arnica, Epsom salts, and calendula. Plus, they get two thumbs up from Nazarian, who praises their ability to decrease inflammation and encourage relaxation. Great for a bacne-busting soak—make sure the water isn’t too hot.
When cleansing broken-out skin, it’s important to be thorough while still respecting the skin’s moisture barrier. While this refreshing gel cleanser doesn’t contain actual CBD oil, it’s stacked with Cannabis Sativa seed and green oregano oils.
The skin around the eye area is the thinnest and most delicate on the face, so while an eye cream isn’t exactly first on the list of anti-acne products, one containing CBD could tick off two essential boxes of your skincare regimen: eye care and soothing anti-acne action.
Rather than applied topically, a few drops of this ultra-pure, ultra-potent CBD oil taken each day orally may help balance out the stress levels and reduce inflammation.
CBD oil is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation, controls oil production, and manages the overall issues that contribute to acne formation.
Yes, it’s especially beneficial for acne-prone skin. “It’s gentle, and that’s what makes it stand out from other options,” said Nazarian. “Additionally, there are many skin types that are either too sensitive to use ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol on, or they have allergies to these ingredients. Having an additional tool in the ‘acne toolkit’ will always be useful in the fight for healthy skin.”
Nazarian says, “The evidence supporting use of CBD in treating acne is purely topical at this point. Use of CBD was tested topically on skin cells and has shown promise. Oral supplementation or smoking of CBD formulations has not been evaluated in this manner and can not be recommended.”
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