CBD: Skincare’s Most Over-Hyped Ingredient

CBD has recently been tied to some high-in-the-sky assertions in the blogosphere lately. A good chunk of these have been quite trigger happy in naming it the next supernatural skincare occurrence. Consumers are certainly buying in, too, adding it to protein shakes, morning coffee, or even as an additive in dog food. And of course, CBD has seeped into skincare products. But what are the benefits we can get from using it on our skin, if any?

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CBD in Medicine

CBD oil is extracted from the marijuana plant. It is the second largest active ingredient in cannabis. But it doesn’t have the psychoactive effects many people equate it with. Weed’s main active ingredient is THC. That’s the stuff that actually makes people high.

Pure CBD (emphasis on pure) does not induce a high in the traditional sense—at least not on its own. This has been documented extensively by the World Health Organization. CBD nowadays is assumed to help alleviate a variety of health issues. But the strongest concrete science in favor of its medicinal properties is for epilepsy. The breakthrough is significant, considering many epilepsy syndromes don’t respond to anti-seizure medications. But recent evidence has demonstrated CBD can be an effective method of seizure control when combined with first-line medications. In 2018, the FDA approved the first cannabis-derived medicine for epilepsy.

CBD is also commonly used to alleviate anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. A study from the European Journal of Pain showed that CBD helped lower arthritis-related pain and inflammation in rat testing. Still not satisfied? Anecdotal accounts of its ability to treat human inflammation and joint pain flood the internet. There’s also evidence showing that CBD can help with inflammatory and neuropathic pain, which are notoriously difficult to treat.

So far so good.

But Does CBD Belong in Skincare?

A great deal of beauty brands have incorporated CBD in their collections. Not just newer, lesser-known brands. It’s penetrated mainstream skincare.

CBD is a strong antioxidant—actually stronger than vitamin C and vitamin E. We know antioxidants fight DNA damage resulting from UV exposure and environmental pollution. While this is a fabulous skincare benefit, we already have a number of antioxidants in skincare that serve the exact same function.

The Journal of Clinical Investigation concluded that it can act as an anti-inflammatory. So in theory, it should be good for people with rosacea, eczema, or acne. But there are no actual studies that tested CBD for rosacea, eczema, or acne in practice.

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Is CBD Safe?

CBD when taken orally is associated with side-effects like nausea, fatigue and irritability. It can also interact with other medications in your bloodstream, especially blood thinners

There also is some indication that CBD may have the potential to harm the liver. In a clinical trial using mice, 5-20% of the patients developed elevated liver enzymes and a handful of subjects were withdrawn from the trials. However, the toxicity levels were observed in extremely high doses. We’ll also have to wait for human studies in this area.

The biggest safety concern is that CBD is unregulated by the FDA, so you don’t really know what you’re buying.

In 2017, researchers tested 84 different consumer products containing CBD and found that 26% of them contained less CBD than the label indicated, while 42% contained more than they suggested.

Making waters murkier, a number of the products tested also contained THC: the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant. Although it is unlikely to induce a high if a person applies it topically, it’s certainly something to be aware of—especially for sensitive skin types.

The Consensus

It’s simply too early to invest too much faith or trust in CBD, at least in regards to skincare. For now, stick to more tried-and-true methods like acids, retinoids, and peptides for safe, guaranteed results.