Can CBD Help With Cystic Acne?
Cannabidiol (CBD) has surged in popularity in recent years. Millions of people are using CBD oil and other CBD products to help with a wide range of other health issues, including skin disorders such as eczema and acne.
Early research suggests that CBD may help with acne by reducing inflammation and sebum production, and possibly other effects.
As such, CBD may be able to help with cystic acne as well — the most severe form of this common condition. Here’s how CBD can help with cystic acne and the best way to use it.
Table of Contents
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is a natural cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its close cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is non-intoxicating so it won’t get you high.
CBD has a long list of potential health benefits backed by a growing volume of scientific research.
What is Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne vulgaris — the condition that causes pus-filled pimples to form on the skin. It usually affects people with oily skin, teens, and adults (mostly women) with hormonal imbalances.
The key things that separate cystic acne from regular acne are its larger size, the fact that it forms deeper in the skin, and is usually painful or tender to the touch.
Health experts aren’t exactly sure what causes cystic acne, but factors like elevated androgen (male sex hormone) levels, oily skin, and stress seem to play a role.
Cystic acne usually develops on the face, but like regular acne, can also affect the chest, back, and other parts of the body.
How Can CBD Help With Cystic Acne?
Early research indicates that CBD can help fight some of the root causes of acne, namely:
This was demonstrated by a 2014 study where researchers applied CBD to human sebocytes, the skin cells that produce sebum.
The treatment reduced inflammation, resulting in lowered production of sebum and new sebocyte cells (2). The researchers concluded that “CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”
Studies have also shown that CBD has antimicrobial properties (3). That means it can help fight the overgrowth of Cutibacterium acnes and other skin bacteria that may play a role in causing acne (1).
CBD and Acne: The Research Evidence
So far, only a few human studies have been done to see whether CBD can help with acne.
One 2019 Italian study tested the effects of a CBD-infused gel on people with various skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, acne, and resulting scars. The study participants used the gel for 90 days.
The gel improved several markers of skin health, such as elasticity and hydration. It also reduced the appearance of acne scars (4 ). The researchers theorized that CBD helped by:
- Reducing elevated lipogenesis (the production of lipids that form sebum) caused by “pro-acne” agents
- Reducing sebocyte cell proliferation
- Preventing “pro-acne” agents from stimulating pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines
How to Use CBD for Cystic Acne
Here are some key tips to get the best results from using CBD for cystic acne.
Choose Topicals over Other CBD Products
You should use a topical CBD product for acne instead of CBD oil, capsules, or something else.
Although CBD oil is the most popular and commonly used form, you can also apply CBD to your skin in the form of a topical product. This includes creams, lotions, salves, and balms, which are the ideal option for cystic acne and other skin conditions.
Aside from CBD, these products can contain topical ingredients you might’ve already heard of, like beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, tea tree oil, and many other plant-based oils, green tea, aloe vera, and much more. Many of these natural compounds may also have anti-acne properties (5).
Look for Full-Spectrum CBD Whenever Possible
Full-spectrum CBD is a type of extract that contains all of the cannabinoids and terpenes found in the hemp plant. It can also contain other beneficial hemp compounds, such as flavonoids, fatty acids, and minerals.
Full-spectrum is the most effective form of CBD thanks to what scientists call the “entourage effect” — the synergistic relationship between all of the active compounds in cannabis (6 ).
This means you’ll benefit not only from CBD’s synergy with these other compounds but also from their individual effects.
For example, one 2016 research study demonstrated that the minor cannabinoids CBC, CBDV, and THCV — which are present in full-spectrum CBD extracts — reduced the production of sebum in sebocyte cells, suggesting that they “show promise to become highly efficient, novel anti-acne agents” (7).
How much CBD you should take is one of the most common questions we encounter. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to suggest or prescribe a single CBD dosage for cystic acne or any other condition that will work for everyone.
The optimal CBD dosage depends on many factors, such as the severity of your symptoms and the type of product you’re using.
The best advice we can give you is to look for a topical product that contains at least 4 mg of CBD per ml. This will ensure that you’re getting enough CBD to produce the desired effect.
Choose High-Quality, Third-Party Tested CBD Brands
The CBD industry is notorious for its lack of regulation. That’s why it’s important to do some research before settling on a brand you can trust.
We highly recommend only buying from CBD companies that use third-party testing. Performed by an independent lab, third-party tests verify that a CBD product contains as much CBD as it should.
These tests can also check for the presence of pesticides and other potentially harmful substances. You should be able to easily view the results of these tests on the company’s website before making a purchase. The lack of third-party testing is a huge red flag.
Aside from that, it also helps to choose transparent companies that clearly state how their CBD is sourced. You want to look for brands that use organic American hemp cultivated in states such as Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon. Hemp grown in Europe is also of high quality.
Can You Apply CBD Oil to Cystic Acne?
Yes, you can apply regular CBD oil directly to cystic acne on your skin, and there’s a good chance you’ll see some improvements. And if you’ve already purchased a CBD oil tincture for other benefits, that’s a great way to check whether CBD will help your cystic acne or not.
Having said that, CBD oil is designed to be put under the tongue — what’s called sublingual absorption.
That’s why we recommend using dedicated, CBD-infused topical products instead. As an added benefit, you’ll also be getting many other beneficial topical compounds that might help with cystic acne, such as tea tree oil.
CBD and Cystic Acne: Worth a Try
Although CBD seems to be remarkably effective for many people, especially for common issues such as anxiety, insomnia, and pain, it’s not a magical pill. The point being, not everyone with cystic or regular acne will see positive results from CBD for one reason or another.
Having said that, it’s certainly worth a try, especially if you’ve tried other products and either found them ineffective or undesirable due to significant side effects (hello Accutane).
We’ve put together a list of the best CBD topicals for acne if you’re interested in trying out effective and reliable products.
Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.
CBD Oil For Acne: Everything You Need to Know
Bryan is a contributing writer for Byrdie covering all things beauty and grooming. He has over 16 years of experience in beauty editorial and has been with Byrdie since 2020.
Rachel is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology. She has contributed to Byrdie, as well as Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire, Allure, Vogue, and the New York Times, and more
Madeline has been with Byrdie and Brides since 2021. Most recently, she lead social media at Glamour magazine where she covered pop culture, beauty, and fashion.
Liz DeSousa for Byrdie
In This Article
CBD oil is seeping into virtually every beauty product category nowadays—even in deodorant and toothpaste. With its anti-stress, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory claims, it’s no wonder this so-called “wonder ingredient” is pushing its way into our self-care routines. Even more, according to the latest studies, CBD oil may be exactly what your breakout-prone, irritated skin needs to get back into shape.
Although there’s still a great deal of required research ahead to determine how best to use CBD to treat acne, we talked to a panel of experts, including cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of BeautyStat, Michele Green, board-certified dermatologist, Kenneth Howe of Wexler Dermatology, and Rachel Nazarian of the Schweiger Dermatology Group to get the facts as well as the potential of using CBD oil for acne.
Keep reading to determine if CBD’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and oil-regulating properties actually work wonders for acne.
Meet the Expert
- Ron Robinson is a cosmetic chemist at BeautyStat. is a board-certified dermatologist based in Manhattan.
- Kenneth Howe is a board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology.
- Rachel Nazarian is a New York City-based dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Type of Ingredient: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, sebum-regulating.
Main Benefits: Reduces inflammation, healing and calming, regulates oil production, neutralizes free radicals.
Who Should Use It: It is recommended for those looking to treat mild to moderate inflammatory acne lesions at home. It’s also great for sensitive or those allergic to typical anti-acne ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol.
How Often Can You Use It: Products containing CBD oil can be used twice per day as part of your usual anti-acne skincare routine.
Works Well With: Ingredients designed to calm skin and decrease inflammation, including arnica, hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
Don’t Use With: Ingredients that can counteract the anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD, such as alcohol. Also, be aware that CBD is still an unregulated ingredient, and ongoing research is still exploring CBD’s pathways and other ingredients it may or may not work well with.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD—which stands for Cannabidiol—oil is a compound derived from both hemp (cannabis sativa) and marijuana (cannabis sativa indica) plants, both of which are part of the cannabis family. When it comes to acne’s root causes—a combination of bacteria, oil, and dry skin cells getting trapped in your pores—CBD oil seems to have all bases covered. “CBD oil is beneficial to these conditions due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It reduces sebum production and is also antimicrobial, so it works great for acne-prone skin,” says Green. She also cited a 2007 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science that showed CBD oil applied to the skin may inhibit the overproduction of keratinocytes (skin cells), thus eliminating yet another acne-causing culprit.
Benefits of CBD Oil for Acne
- Reduces inflammation: CBD oil helps soothe irritation caused by acne, noticeably reducing overall redness and making breakouts appear smaller and less painful. This is especially helpful for acne-prone skin sensitivity, as CBD oil works without the dryness, redness, or irritation of conventional ingredients.
- Controls oil production: “The most exciting finding of CBD oil is that it’s ‘sebostatic’—it cuts down on oil production in the skin,” says Howe. “Current evidence suggests the skin has its own endocannabinoid system, which is to say cannabinoids are active in the skin, binding to their receptors, and signaling for certain activities to occur or not occur.” How does that relate to oil production? Green explained that “the increase in sebum production is a result of endogenous cannabinoids (anandamide and 2AG) which are produced in the sebaceous glands. These endogenous cannabinoids act on CB2 receptors inhibiting the lipogenic action, therefore regulating sebum production.”
- It’s an antioxidant: CBD oil is packed with potent antioxidants that help protect skin from free radicals resulting from environmental damage and improve texture and tone over time. While none of the dermatologists could vouch for CBD oil’s ability to fade post-acne marks, it could provide an extra measure of antioxidant protection into your anti-acne routine.
- Acne multi-tasker: Rather than act as a spot treatment, acne-targeting products containing CBD oil may help manage the overall issues that contribute to acne formation. Nazarian says, “Because it works as both an anti-inflammatory and can decrease oil production, it has the ability to multitask as an acne product. It may be considered a gentler option and a safe option for many different skin types.”
Other Skin Benefits
One thing worth pointing out about incorporating CBD oil into your skincare routine is how kind it is to skin. “It’s gentle, and that’s what makes it stand out from other options,” said Nazarian. “Additionally, there are many skin types that are either too sensitive to use ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol on, or they have allergies to these ingredients. Having an additional tool in the ‘acne toolkit’ will always be useful in the fight for healthy skin.”
Side Effects of CBD Oil
Though rare, the known side effects of using CBD oil for acne include dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness, and fatigue. CBD oil is also known to interact with certain medications such as blood thinners. While there are no known interactions with other topical products, you should start with a patch test if you’re concerned about a reaction. If you experience irritation, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re sensitive to CBD oil, and you should stop using it.
How to Use It
When it comes to actually using CBD oil to treat acne, you may find yourself wondering: supplement or product? Nazarian says, “The evidence supporting use of CBD in treating acne is purely topical at this point. Use of CBD was tested topically on skin cells and has shown promise. Oral supplementation or smoking of CBD formulations has not been evaluated in this manner and can not be recommended.”
The good news is, there’s no shortage of CBD-laced products. One of the most popular routes is face oil. Oils are still having their moment in skincare, as they’re ideal for virtually every skin type (depending on the formulation) and act as an excellent carrier for a variety of potent compounds—like CBD. Oils are also easy to incorporate into a multiple-step skincare regimen, so if you’re looking to up your anti-acne game with an extra product that has very little likelihood to interact with your existing products, a face oil containing CBD oil might be the perfect fit. There are also various cleansers, creams, lotions, and oils for the face and body, but it’s important to steer clear of any that might contain potential comedogenic ingredients.
While the doctors we spoke to were happy to recommend products, they were also quick to remind us that CBD is still an unregulated ingredient, making it difficult to gauge a product’s efficacy. There’s no way to specify the purity or optimal percentage of active ingredients required for the product to be effective.
The Best Products with CBD Oil for Acne
“This product packs a 100mg hemp oil lightweight formulation which also contains adaptogens” (plant-based roots and herbs that help calm our body’s reaction to stress), says Green.
This anti-blemish cream combines 200mg of CBD hemp extract with 1% salicylic acid to calm and soothe active breakouts and clear up blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads while keeping skin smooth and hydrated.
These concentrated patches will help you forget everything you knew about spot treatments that dry zits into painful oblivion. It is packed with the ideal ratio of salicylic acid and hemp to reduce inflammation and speed healing, while hydrocolloid action stops the infection in its tracks.
Each scoop of these luxe bath salts contains approximately 20mg of CBD oil and a host of other de-stressing and body-boosting ingredients, including pink Himalayan salt, arnica, Epsom salts, and calendula. Plus, they get two thumbs up from Nazarian, who praises their ability to decrease inflammation and encourage relaxation. Great for a bacne-busting soak—make sure the water isn’t too hot.
When cleansing broken-out skin, it’s important to be thorough while still respecting the skin’s moisture barrier. While this refreshing gel cleanser doesn’t contain actual CBD oil, it’s stacked with Cannabis Sativa seed and green oregano oils.
The skin around the eye area is the thinnest and most delicate on the face, so while an eye cream isn’t exactly first on the list of anti-acne products, one containing CBD could tick off two essential boxes of your skincare regimen: eye care and soothing anti-acne action.
Rather than applied topically, a few drops of this ultra-pure, ultra-potent CBD oil taken each day orally may help balance out the stress levels and reduce inflammation.
CBD oil is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation, controls oil production, and manages the overall issues that contribute to acne formation.
Yes, it’s especially beneficial for acne-prone skin. “It’s gentle, and that’s what makes it stand out from other options,” said Nazarian. “Additionally, there are many skin types that are either too sensitive to use ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol on, or they have allergies to these ingredients. Having an additional tool in the ‘acne toolkit’ will always be useful in the fight for healthy skin.”
Nazarian says, “The evidence supporting use of CBD in treating acne is purely topical at this point. Use of CBD was tested topically on skin cells and has shown promise. Oral supplementation or smoking of CBD formulations has not been evaluated in this manner and can not be recommended.”
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