What does CBD in skin care actually do? Everything you need to know.

Kat Anderson
October 28, 2019

Hemp and CBD are being marketed in beauty and skin care for everything from acne to anti-aging. But is any of that possible, or is it just marketing hype? These are the hemp and CBD facts you need to know.

We are living in an age that beauty journalist Meirav Devash calls the marijuanaissance. Thanks to hemp and CBD, cannabis is getting its glow-up, trading in the stereotypical stoner image for a new one marked by luxury, beauty, wellness, and self-care. The loosening of cannabis laws and regulations in North America, the domino effect it's having world-wide, and the scholarly enthusiasm around the emerging industry have legitimized the medicinal claims surrounding CBD, but it’s the boutiquification of cannabis that has made everyone want to be a part of it, from major international consumer goods conglomerates like Unilever and Constellation Brands to modern millennial-oriented brands like Milk Makeup and Kiehls.

We also have celebrity evangelists, like Alessandra Ambrosio, Victoria's Secret model who puts in serious gym time and turns to CBD-infused products to relieve anxiety before a show, soothe her muscles after, and help her sleep; Melissa McCarthy, who rubbed CBD oil on her feet before the Oscars; and Kim Kardashian, who isn't shy about her love for CBD, threw a CBD themed baby shower, and has revealed the CBD salves she uses via Instagram. Well-designed tubes and bottles from chic brands like Sensitiva, Calyx, and Rose have become the new Diors and Chanels. This year, Barneys opened a high-end cannabis lifestyle Shop in Beverly Hills, and retailers in Canada like Shoppers and Walmart are following suit.

If you were planning laying low and waiting to see what happens with the CBD industry, you may want to reconsider—the global hemp and CBD market could reach $26.6 billion by 2025, Research and Markets predict. And by now, you’ve probably seen an infused version of basically everything from lip gloss to intimate lube, but not nearly enough about what it actually does. Will it de-stress you? Give you great skin? Can it get you high? And if not, why do people care about it so much?


What is CBD anyway?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of over 100 compounds called cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis sativa plant. The two most well-known of these are CBD, which does not get you stoned, and THC, which does. Since the days of Reefer Madness in the 1930s and the counterculture movement of the 1960s, any attention weed got was focused on THC; strains were specifically bred to contain high THC because people buying cannabis generally wanted to get high. (Duh.) CBD didn’t pique much interest until the scholarly research began exploring the health benefits of low-THC strains.

CBD is touted for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce pain and inflammation. We've been using it for centuries to successfully relieve pain, muscle aches, arthritis, neuropathic conditions, and headaches, along with a long list of skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, sunburn, and bug bites when used topically.


On labels, you'll see it as CBD, hemp CBD, and phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil.

And what makes CBD different than hemp?

Hemp seed oil is more like other oils you're familiar with—like argan, rose hip, and jojoba oil—in that it's a cold-pressed extract from seeds. Sometimes referred to as cannabis sativa seed oil, it's high in antioxidants and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, but contains no CBD.

As a supplement, it's also been on shelves in health food and supplement stores, pharmacies, beauty boutiques, and even smoothies for decades. It's basically a supersuperfood that augments your self-care routine through its nutritional value. In skin care it's a powerful moisturizer and skin softener that doesn't clog pores or make your skin oily. On the comedogenic scale - where 0 means no chance of breaking out and 5 is guaranteed - hemp seed oil scores a perfect 0.

On labels, it's listed as hemp seed oil, cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil, virgin hemp oil, and hemp oil. See how it gets confusing?


So... does it get you high?

No, that's entirely the point, and is precisely why hemp and CBD are so popular right now, and it's only getting started.


Why are they in everything right now?

People weren't really talking about hemp and CBD or their benefits before legalization. Now that people have the chance to experience the plant in a whole new way, and scientific research is starting to return tangible results, the public is finally starting to view it the way we do—as a vitamin. And because of its benefits and the fact that it doesn't get you high, more of the public is open to trying the product. This has created an eruption of enthusiasm and education about CBD that is eradicating the stigma and normalizing cannabis faster than anybody could have imagined.

When used in skin care products, CBD's essential fatty acids, anti-inflammation and antimicrobial properties may calm inflammation, soothe irritation, reduce breakouts, and moisturize our skin without clogging our pores. CBD and hemp are both rich in vitamins A, D, and E, which stimulate collagen and the cells keeping your skin happy and healthy.


How does CBD in skin care work?

Our bodies actually naturally produce a cannabinoid called anandimide, aka the "bliss molecule" (think: runner's high). CBD is a natural molecule that stimulates the production of an endocannabinoid that your body already produces on its own, creating those anti-inflammatory effects CBD is so praised for, in addition to other activities at other receptors. Exactly what all of those are is still being worked out, but a lot of media attention has gone to the likes of its potential in treating anxiety, treatment-resistant epilepsy, and breast cancer.

When ingested like a pain killer, it communicates with the body's endocannabinoid receptors, and the anti-inflammatory powers of CBD provide relief from anxiety. You may have experienced this as taking the edge off, or as a sense of calm well-being.

And if you can’t (or don’t want to) pop any painkillers, topical CBD relieves pain quickly and reduces swelling. That’s why we’re seeing it in so many rubs and balms, used for achy joints, chafed skin, or sore muscles before and after workouts, as a chicer alternative to Tiger Balm. The same properties make CBD oil a heck of a massage lotion, too. Topical application only acts on the targeted area and doesn't normally penetrate the upper skin layers, where it's stored. Because it's stored there, it's thought that the CBD can provide longer-term effects.

Does the CBD in all these beauty and skin care products actually do anything different?

Topically, CBD’s most enticing attributes are its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and pain-killing (analgesic) powers. Skin is the largest organ you have and your body’s first line of defense against damaging organisms and pollutants, so it follows that it also has the highest amount and concentration of cannabinoid receptors. Together the receptors make up the endocannabinoid system, which regulates a lot of the most critical functions and responses your body requires to achieve homeostasis, including stress, pain, appetite, inflammation, sleep, immunity and even how much oil our skin produces.

Because CBD has the same receptors as our skin, our skin can respond really well to the compound. By stimulating our skin’s cannabinoid receptors, it helps to ease pain, relieve inflammation, fight bacteria, reduce lipid and sebum production (which can lead to acne), and release histamines. It can also control skin cell proliferation that causes psoriasis, and treat dry skin, eczema, and other difficult skin conditions, which is why it's is popping up in so many of our everyday use products.

When it comes to skin care, from acne to signs of aging, inflammation is the real super villain. In addition to being highly anti-inflammatory, CBD is known to be a potent antioxidant, the combination of which could be effective in calming irritated skin and reducing redness, helping to lessen visible signs of aging, and as a potentially powerful way to combat acne.

Here are just a few ways that CBD helps with your beauty routine:

CBD Oil for Acne

Acne is caused by so many different moving parts—excess sebum, blocked pores, inflammation, and bacteria. Interestingly, while acne rates are going up, there aren’t a lot of new options for the people suffering from them. It's a pain in the ass to deal with, and most of the best solutions are retinol-based products that make skin worse (dry skin, redness and puffiness, peeling) before making it better.

We all know that CBD is anti-inflammatory, and because acne is an inflammatory condition, CBD’s soothing properties can help diminish breakouts and reduce redness. Recent findings about CBD's impact on our lipid production indicates that it can also limit excessive sebum (oil) production and help offset other triggers of acne. And with its supremely low comedogenic rating of 0, CBD might be the ticket to clear skin for this growing population of people looking for better, natural alternatives to today's Accutanes and spironolactones.

Our favourite acne fighting products are Smooth CBD Cream by Calyx, Calm CBD Cream and Support CBD Cream by Herb Angels, and CBD Infused Facial Serum by Nectar.


CBD Oil for Anti-Aging and Wrinkles

CBD oil's antioxidant properties indicate that it can help lessen the visible signs of aging skin. By counteracting free-radical damage, CBD anti-aging creams may be able to help visibly diminish issues like firmness, wrinkles, skin dullness, and ruddy skin tone. And of course, there are lot of antioxidants in the sea, so CBD is just one of many to consider, especially if you're looking to compound its other benefits.

Our favourite regenerative and anti-aging products are Smooth+ CBD Cream by Calyx  and CBD Infused Facial Serum by Nectar.


CBD Oil for Sensitive Skin

Another benefit of CBD oil is that it has been found to have significant soothing properties. Its substantial skin-calming and skin-normalizing effects can help minimize issues related to skin sensitivity, including redness. Even if you don’t think of your skin as “sensitive” per se, all skin types are affected by environmental stressors, so CBD’s soothing mechanism can help keep skin in check.

Our favourite products for sensitive skin are CBD Infused Facial Serum by Nectar, and Calm CBD Cream by Herb Angels.


What’s the difference between CBD isolate and “full-spectrum” ("whole-plant") CBD?

As you probably guessed, CBD isolate is exactly what it sounds like—CBD and nothing but CBD. Some people prefer knowing that it won’t be affected by any other cannabinoids, while others believe that cannabinoids work better together than alone, dubbed the entourage effect.

A recent study from Israel showed that CBD isolate didn’t work as well for pain as whole plant extract. The research indicated that a full cannabinoid profile, including CBN AND CBG, is required to be effective. Other research indicates that isolates deliver the most effective ingredient consistently, providing transformative benefits without the strong, pungent odor.


Wait, but what's the difference between hemp oil and CBD oil? When should I go for which?

If you're looking for a lightweight oil to add some extra moisture and boost your nutrient intake, hemp oil is generally a more affordable way to get those benefits. However, if you want an oil that'll calm irritated skin or combat acne the experts, CBD would be more effective and therefore, the better choice.


The real problem with the mix-up

Both are wellness ingredients that can fit pretty much anywhere in your self-care routine, so there's no harm done if you use one over the other... unless you're trying to reap the potential benefits of CBD oil. So if you've mixed these oils up, you've probably experienced a financially painful mistake more than anything.

Unfortunately, a number of brands are attempting to cash in on the rising popularity around cannabis and the lack of education around it, making claims that their products contain CBD and calling it cannabis sativa oil, which is misleading. While they make come from the same plant, they're no Patty and Selma. They're more like the Hemsworth brothers Chris and Liam (sorry Luke), both sexy for their own reasons, but very different makeups and benefits.

Our advice is to always check the product label, ask questions, and make sure you know what you're buying. An educated consumer market will help the wellness industry continue to destigmatize and normalize the plants benefits. It's the only way everybody wins.

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