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Whoever dreamed up Reefer Madness couldn’t have predicted the CBD craze that ensued once hemp and marijuana went mainstream. With CBD quickly overtaking THC as the buzziest cannabis extract, you can find CBD in everything from gummies to bath bombs to dog foods to hair pomades. 

Now it’s skin products. Whether a classmate, co-worker, crazy aunt, or the clerk at your local head shop, you probably know someone slapping CBD on their skin. They might apply CBD oil topically, or use a specially-formulated balm or lotion that mixes CBD extract with other ingredients. They swear it cured their acne, their eczema, their eye wrinkles, their sunburn … everything short of a new set of skin.

 So … does it work? Or are hemp skin care entrepreneurs selling snake oil to cash in on cannabis mania?

 First, a crash course …

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (or “CBD” for short) is a compound derived from cannabis plants, including hemp and marijuana. Unlike THC, a different chemical contained in cannabis, CBD is non-psychoactive and will not get you high. 

Long outlawed alongside its cousin marijuana, a 2018 farm bill made CBD legal in the United States on the Federal level, provided that the extract contains less than 0.3% THC by volume. CBD has shown promise as an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic, and a calming and balancing agent. 

Consumers use it to treat anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and inflammation.

How Does This Apply to Skin Care?

CBD actually has a long history as a topical skin treatment, used to treat such conditions as:

●      Sunburns

●      Eczema

●      Psoriasis

●      Acne

●      Oily skin

●      Wrinkles and signs of aging 

 Topical CBD could treat these conditions due to a number of properties:


Many skin woes, including acne, psoriasis, and eczema, are inflammatory conditions triggered by various immune responses. The anti-inflammatory effects of CBD could offer some relief.


CBD’s effectiveness as a painkiller may offer relief from the pain of a bad sunburn. Note that CBD itself has no sun protection factor (SPF) so it can’t prevent sunburns. 


Like many plant products, CBD contains antioxidants. These vitamins fight the “free radicals” (ionized molecules) that cause skin to wear and tear and undue some of the physical effects of aging, including dull skin, wrinkles, and ruddy skin tone.

Balancing Effects

CBD has been shown in tests to balance various body systems. In the case of your skin, this could mean a reduction in the production of sebum (oil), a desirable effect if you suffer from acne or oily skin.

Calming Effects

According toDaily CBD Mag, “People with sensitive skin may find CBD particularly effective to counteract redness and reactivity when your skin gets exposed to environmental stressors.”  

That’s a lot of “maybe.” These are all things CBD is supposed to do, has been reported to do, or has been shown to do in tests. Will CBD actually do these things if you rub it on your skin?

 What Experts Say

Talking to a doctor or aesthetician will yield maddenly few answers.

 Skin-care experts generally suggest that for whatever purpose you intend to put CBD, other products are probably more effective. Serums derived from pineapple or parsley may contain more powerful antioxidant properties, for example. 

Many doctors and scientists express optimism about the therapeutic future of CBD, but relatively few peer-reviewed studies have entered the scientific canon, partially due to CBD’s long, stigmatized tenure as an illegal substance. 

All doctors agree that more tests need to be done before CBD becomes a doctor-recommended skincare product. 

Here’s what we do know, however … 

Your Body Seems to be Built for CBD

You probably didn’t know that your body has an endocannabinoid system

Often shortened to “ECS,” the endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors found throughout the body of every mammal—receptors with names like EC1 and EC2.

The system plays a role in maintaining the body’s homeostasis (systemic balance). As such, it helps to regulate the sleep cycle, pain response, immune system, appetite, and reaction to stress.

Healthy bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, which activate the ECS receptors to help the body achieve balance. Amid all the sound and fury to keep cannabis illegal, our bodies have been producing a cannabis byproduct all along … and the more of it we produced, the healthier we became. 

Endo means “inside.”CBD, by contrast, is a phytocannabinoid (phyto meaning “plant-derived”). While different from your endocannabinoids, it is similar enough to to potentially activate the ECS receptors when ingested or applied topically, producing the same beneficial effects. 

You Can’t Overdose on CBD

According toHealthcare Weekly, “Whereas opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, and other substances have harmful and even deadly effects on the body when consumed in high quantities, there seems to be no such thing as an ‘overdose’ of CBD.” 

As such, you risk very little by adding CBD to your skincare regimen. The worst-case scenario is you reap no benefit and waste some money.


While early studies and anecdotal evidence show promise, CBD has a ways to go before becoming a universally-accepted topical skincare product. Other products may be more effective. 

However, it is safe to experiment with and may produce desirable outcomes. People with sensitive skin may find that CBD does wonders when other products prove too harsh.

“Weed-Washing”: The Difference Between CBD Oil and Hemp Seed Oil

Some hemp-derived products may try to trick you into believing they contain CBD, but they actually contain hemp seed oil. According toKyro, “Hemp seed oil is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds. Hemp oil may have its own benefits, but comparing it to CBD is like comparing apples to hard apple cider. Hemp oil has no power to activate CB receptors.” 

Look for “cannabidiol” on the ingredients list. That’s the official, INCI-compliant term for the compound. Look for a quantity of CBD listed in milligrams. NOTE: There is no agreed-upon optimal dose of CBD, in milligrams or any other metric.

More Tips for Picking CBD Skin Care Products

●      Do some homework. See if the brand offers third-party verification of the CBD content from a reputable source.

●      Choose a product with stable packaging. Exposure to air and light reduces the potency of CBD, so jars are a no-go, as are clear tubes or bottles.

●      “CBD Isolate” refers to pure CBD, with no other cannabinoids like terpenes or THC.

●      “Full-Spectrum CBD” refers to CBD generated from the entire plant (stems, roots, leaves, etc.) and may contain trace amounts of other cannabinoids like THC. Less than 0.3% THC is federally legal.

●      “Broad-Spectrum CBD” contains no detectable THC.

●      “Full-Spectrum CBD” or “Whole Plant CBD” is usually the best choice. Note, however, that none of the above terms are regulated.

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