Everyone has had a pimple or two in their lives. But when the occasional blemish becomes a constant, and when acne starts to create scarring and discomfort, it’s time to act. There are a lot of natural remedies out there for treating acne, including oatmeal, turmeric and rosehip oil. Today, CBD is another treatment option. Over recent years, a wave of new research has shown its benefits in reducing inflammation and balancing sebum production. But how does CBD work for treating acne? And what are the best ways to take it? Here’s what we know so far.
Why do we get acne?
Some people can go their whole life suffering from nothing more than the occasional pimple. Others see new, angry zits show up on their faces and bodies every day of the week. The reasons? Acne is often caused by a mix of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors.
That means if one of your parents suffered from acne growing up, or even into adulthood, you are predisposed to get it too.
Acne usually surfaces during your teenage years, as your hormones start acting up. Adult acne is also often linked to hormonal imbalances or hormonal changes. For example, many women see their acne flare up every month before or during their period.
Finally, environmental factors like stress, a bad diet and a lack of exercise can increase the risk of developing acne. In recent years, things like consuming dairy products or too much sugar have also been linked with a greater chance of getting pimples. So while acne is partly caused by genetics and the hormonal changes in your body, lifestyle also plays an important role.
Genetics, hormones and lifestyle are all things that can increase your odds of getting acne. But how does acne actually form on the skin?
A pimple is an angry, inflammatory reaction that happens when a pore gets blocked. Pores are little holes in your skin that allow it to breathe, as well as where hairs grow from. They can get blocked because of:
- Excess sebum production
- Excess bacteria
- Dead skin cells
That’s why treatment for acne usually involves one or more of these four things:
- Fighting inflammation
- Reducing sebum production
- Killing bacteria
- Removing excess skin cells
Treatment options for acne
There are a lot of different treatment options for acne today. They vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the skin condition.
For mild acne, the best treatment options include a new skincare routine and changes in lifestyle. For example, you may be advised to choose non-comedogenic (non-acne-causing) cosmetics and to wash your face more often. Small changes like quitting dairy and eating less sugar can also make a big difference.
For moderate acne, treatment usually involves medicated topical products. These can include things like benzoyl peroxide face washes and Differin or isotretinoin creams. These are meant to kill bacteria and help skin cells renew faster so they don’t block pores.
Finally, people with severe acne may have to take oral acne medication. Severe acne is usually characterized by large, painful pimples that leave deep scars. When topical medication doesn’t work, the last resort is usually oral tretinoin. This is a medicine that changes the size of pores, making it virtually impossible to get acne. It’s a treatment that’s usually reserved for extreme or stubborn acne cases.
Many people prefer to try natural acne remedies before resorting to drugs, whether oral or topical. For hundreds of years, ingredients like honey, lemon, vinegar, and turmeric have been used to fight acne. Natural acne remedies may not work for more severe cases of cystic acne, but they can be of great help for a lot of people. With powerful, anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to regulate sebum production, CBD is another natural acne treatment with a lot of potentials.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound found in the cannabis plant. Over recent years, it has been recognized for having a wide range of medicinal properties. For example, it can reduce pain and inflammation, prevent seizures and help with nausea.
Unlike other phytocannabinoid compounds like THC, CBD doesn’t isn’t psychoactive. So while CBD can have effects on the body and mind, it won’t alter your consciousness and doesn’t make you feel high.
CBD products that contain trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%) are now legal on a federal level in the United States. However, they are not FDA-approved, and may still be illegal in certain states. Check your local laws before making a purchase.
How does CBD fight and prevent acne?
CBD has several different effects on the skin, all of which can make it effective in fighting and preventing acne.
Cannabidiol (CBD) acts on the human endocannabinoid system, which regulates things like appetite, sleep, pain and inflammation. It does so by interacting with receptors throughout our bodies, some of which are in the skin.
The “cutaneous cannabinoid system” (the cannabinoid system located in the skin) regulates cell growth, sebum production, and has anti-inflammatory effects. This makes it a perfect candidate to treat acne, as it may be able to treat three of the four factors that contribute to acne:
- Dead skin cells
- Excess sebum production
A 2014 study set out to find whether the effects of CBD on the endocannabinoid system could actually make it effective in treating acne. Findings suggested that by interacting with receptors found in the skin, CBD could indeed lower inflammation in hair follicles.
The study also found that CBD lowered the production of skin cells and sebum.
However, the study was conducted on in-vitro cells, which doesn’t allow us to demonstrate with certainty that CBD will have the same effect on a person’s skin.
However, some other findings show that it might be a promising treatment option. For example, multiple reviews (like this one) show that CBD and cannabis have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. When we know that acne cannot develop without the proliferation of the bacteria P. acnes (propionibacterium acnes), it means CBD could address yet another of the factors that create acne.
So, can CBD help to fight and prevent acne? Studies suggest it has all the necessary qualities to do so:
- It regulates sebum production.
- It calms down inflammation.
- It reduces the proliferation of skin cells.
- It reduces the proliferation of bacteria.
That being said, no clinical trial has shown the effect of CBD on people with acne yet.
It’s also worth giving some attention to the ways in which CBD might help to prevent acne. Anyone who suffers from pimples during exam season or stressful situations at work knows that anxiety is closely related to skin problems. With an impressive track record for lowering levels of stress and anxiety, CBD could also address one of the risk factors for developing acne.
Can CBD help with acne scars?
One of the most devastating effects of acne is the scarring it can leave. While not everyone gets acne scars, more severe types of acne can leave deep scars that don’t disappear on their own.
Over recent years, there has been some research on the uses of topical CBD for scarring. For example, a 2019 study found that people with psoriasis and atopic dermatitis scars who used a CBD ointment every day for three months experienced less scarring, as well as greater skin elasticity.
While this doesn’t tell us whether CBD is effective in treating acne scars, it is a promising discovery. Scar tissue is relatively similar in different conditions and improving skin elasticity can be helpful for people with acne as well as those with other conditions.
How to use CBD for acne
There are two main ways that you can use CBD to treat acne: as an oral medicine, or in a topical cream or ointment.
When ingested orally or smoked, CBD enters the body and starts creating changes in the endocannabinoid system. For example, it will lower markers of inflammation and reduce the proliferation of bacteria. Therefore, a simple dose of CBD oil taken daily could help to reduce acne while providing benefits for the whole body.
To find a dose that works well for you, we recommend starting slow. Five or 10 mg is usually enough to test it out and see if it has any adverse effects on you (in some people, it can cause nausea or changes in appetite). Then, slowly increase the dose until you find a dosage that alleviates your symptoms. That dose will vary greatly depending on the person, and only a trained professional will be able to recommend how much CBD you should take daily.
Another option that may be more effective in treating acne is to use a CBD topical. For example, you may be able to treat acne by switching out your moisturizer for a CBD-based one, by using a CBD serum, or a CBD face or body wash. When used in this way, CBD enters the skin and activates CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. This will help to regulate sebum production, lower inflammation and fight bacteria and excess cell growth.
Not all CBD topicals are created equal, so be careful about which one you choose. With the recent growth of a market for CBD products, we’ve seen a lot of companies using the word “CBD” to sell products with little therapeutic benefits. When buying a CBD topical, make sure it specifies the concentration of CBD in the product. Otherwise, you risk spending money on a cream or serum that only has traces of CBD and won’t have any real effects on your acne.
Can CBD treat acne? Findings over the past decade show that CBD has all the necessary qualities to be an effective acne remedy. It calms down inflammation, reduces sebum production, slows down the production of skin cells and fights harmful bacteria. We are still lacking clinical studies that prove the benefits of CBD on problem skin, but research so far is promising. With very few side effects and a range of additional benefits, CBD is definitely worth trying out for acne sufferers in search of a natural treatment option.
CBD for acne
2014 study on the effects of CBD for acneic skin
CBD and bacterial growth
2016 study of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis
CBD for stress and anxiety
2019 study on the effects of CBD for stress reduction
2018 review of the effects of CBD on physical and mental health conditions
CBD and scarring
2019 study on the effects of CBD for scarred skin