How CBD Can Transform Your Skincare Routine

Of all the cure-all associations of CBD, skincare is one arena where this cannabinoid actually proves quite effective. Here's what you need to know.

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Grace Han/Thrillist
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Of all the medical claims and cure-all associations of CBD, skincare is one arena where this cannabinoid actually proves quite effective. Sure, cannabidiol can be used topically for nerve or joint issues, but on the surface layers of the skin, the compound’s anti-inflammatory properties  make it an ideal ingredient for beauty and skincare products. Inflammation is a contributing factor to blemishes, redness, eczema, and many other skin concerns. It’s also a side effect of dry skin in general—the chronic villain in the battle for good skin. The endocannabinoid system (the receptors that interact with cannabinoids when consumed) helps regulate processes like cell turnover and sebum production in our epidermis. Our rate of skin cell turnover slows down as we age, which is why exfoliating products and acids that increase cell turnover advertise anti-aging effects, and imbalanced sebum is what leads to breakouts when skin is too oily or too dry. So a healthy, well-nourished endocannabinoid skin can lead to healthier, more youthful skin.

In addition to beefing up the endocannabinoid system, the presence of terpenes or non-intoxicating acid cannabinoids like CBD seem to increase skin permeation, meaning cannabis/hemp derived cannabinoids help other ingredients work more effectively. No matter the enhanced permeation, when topically applied, cannabinoids still cannot enter the bloodstream. So these products will never get you high, mentally. They won’t have a “calming effect,” contrary to any marketing language. They will, however, potentially help regulate oil production, allow moisturizing ingredients to penetrate more effectively and bring down any inflammation. 

Skincare brands like Lord Jones, Lab To Beauty and Saint Jane have been pioneers in this space, using full spectrum ingredients and highlighting other cannabinoids like CBG that could also benefit skin conditions. Although Dieux—co-founded by Instagram’s science-based, CBD-savvy, mythbusting skinfluencer, Charlotte Palermino—hasn’t yet released a CBD product, it’s only a matter of time. Numerous indie brands pride themselves on a single, potent skin oil, distinguishing themselves with complementary ingredients like the argan oil, Kalahari melon, meadowfoam, and CBG in Undefined Beauty’s Glow Elixir. After realizing all her friends were putting cannabis topicals in their hair to soothe itchy scalps, Kimberly Dillon founded Frigg, a brand with products made to fill the white space (or rather, the “Black space”) in beauty with an oil made for all hair types and a versatile CBD “beauty tea.”

Although CBD’s potential as a beautifying, skin-supporting ingredient shows promise, maxing out on CBD isn’t the goal. More is not necessarily better—just like implementing a harsh acid serum into your routine can irritate skin, large concentrations of terpenes in topical products may cause similar irritation. What about the difference between CBD isolate and full-spectrum oil? While pure, exclusively CBD extract has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in preclinical models, a 2019 study found that the anti-inflammatory impact of cannabis oil exceeded that of pure CBD, indicating that compounds other than CBD contribute to the inhibition of pro-inflammatory triggers in the skin.

Just like the importance of a trustworthy supply chain when choosing flower to smoke, it’s vital to shop skincare and makeup products from brands who know what they’re talking about and have the third-party test results to show for it. Here are some standbys, splurges and skincare heroes defining the CBD beauty space right now.

Lauren Yoshiko is a Portland-based writer and co-host of Broccoli Magazine's podcast, Broccoli Talk. She was among the first journalists to cover the commerce and culture of cannabis starting in 2014 and her work has since appeared in Willamette WeekForbesRolling Stone, and Broccoli Magazine, among others. Follow her on Instagram at @laurenyoshiko for Portland breakfast sandwich recs, stoned nail art, and moderate cat content.
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