Confused About CBD in Skincare? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Faith Xue has worked in digital beauty for 10 years and is currently Bustle Digital Group’s executive beauty director. She was Byrdie’s editorial director for seven years.
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
Caitlin Riley / Stocksy
In This Article
CBD is the Cady Heron of the skincare world right now—buzzy, intriguing, and full of secrets (though not as much as Gretchen Weiners’ hair). The ingredient has officially crossed over from being a wellness supplement to a beauty buzzword, but it’s not as simple as looking for “CBD” on your ingredients label and calling it a day. There’s a lot of murky marketing out there and more than a few false claims. For example, we’ve seen some major brands hop on the CBD bandwagon and blast it across their marketing channels, when in reality, their products don’t contain any actual CBD at all. We’ve enlisted Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified dermatologist; Ava Shamban, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Five in LA and co-host of The GIST; Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of cannabis education website Nice Paper, and Ashley Lewis and Meredith Schroeder, co-founders of new online CBD retailer Fleur Marché. Your skin deserves CBD—just make sure you’re buying a product that actually contains it.
Keep scrolling for your no-BS guide to understanding CBD skincare.
Type of ingredient: Antioxidant.
Main benefits: Reduces inflammation, Regulates oil production, Neutralizes free radical damage.
Who should use it: It is recommended for those with inflamed, compromised skin as well as sensitive and dry skin types. It can also benefit those with aging skin.
How often can you use it: CBD skincare can be used daily.
Works well with: Actives that calm and nourish the skin barrier, such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and niacinamides.
Don’t use with: Be cautious with CBD skincare. Since it is an unregulated industry, it is undetermined what actives it deactivates. It is not recommended to use CBD skin products that contain alcohol, as this might combat its beneficial effects and heighten inflammatory skin conditions.
What is CBD?
So, what exactly is CBD? Shamban explains that it is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in cannabis plants marijuana and hemp. “It’s one of the two primary active ingredients of cannabis, the other one being THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the active psychotropic,” she says.
According to Lewis and Schroeder, (who fell in love with the ingredient during their previous jobs curating products for Goop), it’s “a potent antioxidant, highly anti-inflammatory, and has been shown in multiple studies to reduce lipid production from the sebaceous glands (overproduction of this sebum is possibly one component of what contributes to acne formation).” One such study found that CBD could prevent acne in multiple ways.
How does CBD work? Engelman says CBD interacts with our cannabinoid receptors. “We have receptors in every layer of our skin which trigger to our body when there is pain, an itch, etc.,” she explains. “Topical CBD is designed to help those with pruritic skin conditions like eczema or painful conditions like post-herpetic neuralgia when our body’s signals are going haywire. For example, it is not necessarily targeting eczema, but the hormones that are causing the eczema flare-up.”
Typically, CBD oil is used in skincare products. You can find CBD serums, creams, masks, and body and face oils. That said, hemp seed oil—which has been a common ingredient in skincare products for a long time—is not the same thing as CBD. There’s nothing wrong with hemp seed oil, but it’s not an active ingredient (though it may help with inflammation, hydration, and controlling oil production ).
When buying a CBD skincare product, look for these words in the ingredients list, which indicate there’s actual CBD in the formula: CBD, hemp CBD, full-spectrum hemp extract, phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil, and hemp extract oil.
Benefits of CBD for Skin
- Treat Inflammatory Acne: CBD might help reduce redness, pain, and swelling associated with inflammatory acne.
- Regulate Oil Production: As previously mentioned, CBD helps regulate hormones involved in oil production, reducing excess sebum.
- Reduce Breakouts: CBD may help reduce inflammation of breakouts and, thanks to its oil production regulation, reduce breakouts in general.
- Calm Rosacea: With its ability to reduce inflammation, CBD may help calm rosacea flare-ups.
- Neutralize Free Radical Damage: CBD may work to prevent the weakening of the skin by neutralizing free radical damage.
- Soothe Eczema: CBD helps combat irritation and inflammation caused by eczema, along with chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and dermatitis, according to Shamban.
- Decrease Hormonal Conditions: Since CBD is thought to be an adaptogen, it may work to decrease the effects of hormones and other compounds that are released into the body in times of stress (ie. kinase, nitric oxide, and cortisol).
- Hydration: CBD has moisturizing properties that can help combat dehydration and dryness.
The level of benefits for CBD effects on some skin conditions is still up for debate and is a newer science being studied, according to Shamban, and more research is needed to see if CBD or the other agents found in the cannabis plant directly improve skin quality.
Side Effects of CBD
Engelman explains that more studies need to be done to verify the efficiency of CBD oil benefits for skin. As such, topical CBD has no known side effects.
How to Use It
How you use CBD skincare is all about the product you’re using. “Most CBD products are serums or creams,” says Engelman. “Use as you normally would, layering your skincare products from thinnest to thickest. Serums should be applied before creams.” That said, you should never self-diagnose your skin conditions. “Always read packaging and ingredients and check with a board-certified dermatologist, primary care, or other medical practitioner before starting any new supplement or topical care,” adds Shamban.
The Best Products With CBD
This CBD oil can be used on your skin and hair. It promises to help soothe and calm your scalp and skin, providing deep moisture and reducing the appearance of redness and irritation. It contains 100mg of CBD.
Palermino mentions supermodel facialist Ildi Pekar’s CBD line as containing high amounts of CBD. This luxe face oil in particular contains 250mg of CBD oil, along with soothing aloe juice, brightening vitamin c, hyaluronic acid, and more.
Engelman is a fan of these bath salts from Lord Jones. “I love [them] because they combine magnesium and Himalayan salts, essential oils, arnica, and CBD, which will reduce inflammation, promote relaxation, and increase a sense of well-being.”
Palermino also swears by this soothing sleeping mask from Kana. “Even though it’s lower on the CBD dosing scale, it’s one of the nicer lightweight sleeping masks I’ve tried,” she says.
Lewis and Schroeder are also fans of Kana, citing this this all-purpose face oil (which contains 100mg of CBD) as a favorite. “It’s formulated with a ton of other powerful botanicals that help to hydrate skin and manage redness,” they explain. “It’s a great addition to both your morning and nighttime routine.”
You get a whopping 100mg of CBD in this honey-infused stick, which is why Lewis and Schroeder cite is as a favorite. “We love the format of this product,” they say. “It’s easy to apply any time of day, and you can use it for anything. From chapped lips, to under eyes that need a little brightening, this stick is soothing, calming, and easy to pop in your bag and use anywhere.” (It was also one of our editors’ picks for the month of October).
Let’s not forget that the anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD can extend to your body, too: “This serum is formulated with an array of medicinal herbs and over 80 phytocannabinoids,” Lewis and Shroeder say. “It does triple duty by soothing, relaxing and hydrating your skin and muscles. It’s a must for anyone who’s had a long day and needs some relief.”
Fans of Lord Jones’ best-selling Body Lotion ($24) will want to try this oil alternative, which contains 100mg of CBD and comes in rollerball form for easy application (not to mention built-in massage abilities). Plus, the light, floral scent is incredibly soothing.
Saint Jane, the brainchild of a former Sephora exec, is a CBD skincare line that’s not here to mess around. Its hero product, the Luxury Beauty Serum, contains a whopping 500mg of CBD, along with 18 other 100 percent natural skin-loving oils, from frankincense to sandalwood. Massage this in morning and night for a lit-from-within glow, even in the dead of winter. Trust us, your skin will thank you.
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
Baswan SM, Klosner AE, Glynn K, et al. Therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) for skin health and disorders. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020;13:927-942. doi:10.2147/CCID.S286411
Atalay S, Jarocka-Karpowicz I, Skrzydlewska E. Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;9(1):21. doi:10.3390/antiox9010021
The Best CBD Creams & Topicals for Acne (March 2022)
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Early research on CBD’s benefits for acne, eczema, and other skin issues is promising (3).
Unfortunately, finding the right topical CBD product for acne can be difficult. The market is filled with thousands of products, many of which contain less CBD than they should, carry contaminants, or aren’t strong enough to provide an effect.
That’s why we compared dozens of CBD creams, balms, and other topical products based on their formula, third-party lab test results, hemp quality, potency, customer reviews, price, and other criteria.
Here are the best CBD creams and other topical CBD products for acne.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Best CBD Creams & Topicals for Acne
- Best Overall:CBDistillery CBDefine Cream | full review
- Best Value: Lazarus Naturals CBD Balm | full review
- Best Balm: CBDfx Calming Balm Stick | full review
- Best Formula: CBDMEDIC Acne Cream | full review
- Travel Size: PlusCBD Balm | full review
- Terpenes: aromatic plant compounds with a wide variety of beneficial properties (1).
- Minor cannabinoids: CBN, CBG, and other beneficial cannabinoids found in smaller amounts than CBD. For hemp, THC also counts as a minor cannabinoid.
- Hemp: non-intoxicating cannabis variety with high CBD and low THC levels (less than 0.3%).
- Full-spectrum: whole-plant hemp extract containing multiple cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. This form of CBD is about 4 times more potent than pure CBD (2).
- Broad-spectrum: whole-plant hemp extract similar to full-spectrum CBD, but with THC removed (may contain trace amounts).
- CBD isolate: pure CBD with all other hemp compounds removed.
CBDefine Skin Care Cream (Best Overall)
|CBD Potency||17.6 mg/g|
|Total CBD||500 mg|
|Cost per mg CBD||$0.10|
|Third-Party Test||View report|
Use coupon code CBDTHINKER for 15% off
- Full-spectrum CBD
- Additional anti-acne ingredients
- U.S. Hemp Authority-certified
- Only one strength
Our top choice for acne goes to CBDistillery’s skincare cream. It contains 500 mg of full-spectrum CBD, so you’re getting the complete benefits of hemp. It also has other natural compounds that can help with inflammation and acne, including tea tree oil and hemp seed oil.
CBDistillery’s third-party tested cream is derived from organic hemp cultivated in Colorado, the unofficial center of the American hemp industry. It’s certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority, which means adherence to strict hemp production standards.
This cream costs $0.10 per mg of CBD. Compared to other CBD topicals on the market, this price is considered below-average.
Founded in 2016, CBDistillery is a popular Colorado brand known for its high quality and transparency.
Lazarus Naturals CBD Balm (Best Value)
|CBD Potency||50 mg/g|
|Total CBD||1000-3000 mg|
|Cost per mg CBD||$0.01-0.02|
|Third-Party Tests||View report|
- Unbeatable value
- Full-spectrum CBD
- USDA-certified organic hemp source
- Lacks additional active ingredients
If you’re looking for the best value, we recommend the full-spectrum CBD balm from Oregon’s Lazarus Naturals.
It costs only $0.01–0.02 per mg of CBD. Not only is this one of the lowest prices on the market but it also comes with the quality that Lazarus Naturals is known for.
This balm contains 1000-3000 mg of full-spectrum CBD plus standard skincare ingredients such as beeswax and mango butter. It’s also one of the most potent CBD topicals available, providing 50 mg CBD per gram.
Although you don’t necessarily need a high-potency CBD product for acne, this does mean you can use smaller doses to get even more value.
Lazarus Naturals is an employee-owned company and directly grows its hemp in Central Oregon — a rarity among CBD companies. It also provides comprehensive third-party test reports directly on each product page to confirm the safety and potency of its products.
CBDfx Calming CBD Balm Stick (Best Balm)
|CBD Potency||12.5-50 mg/ml|
|Total CBD||750-3000 mg|
|Cost per mg CBD||$0.03-0.05|
|Third-Party Test||View report|
Use coupon code TAKE15 for 15% off
- Additional anti-acne ingredients
- Excellent price
- Not a full-spectrum CBD product
One of America’s top CBD brands, CBDfx is our go-to pick for an anti-acne balm. It contains 750 or 3000 mg of pure CBD in a 2 oz (60 ml) jar.
Each balm stick includes all-natural skincare ingredients that can moisturize, reduce inflammation, and help with other acne symptoms, including tea tree oil, lavender, and chamomile.
This balm is derived from organic Kentucky hemp. Like all CBDfx products, it undergoes comprehensive third-party testing to verify its safety and potency, with the results available online.
CBDfx’s calming balm costs only $0.03-0.05 per mg of CBD. Relative to other CBD topicals, that’s an exceptionally low cost.
CBDMEDIC Acne Treatment Medicated Cream (Best Formula)
|CBD Potency||5 mg/g|
|Total CBD||200 mg|
|Cost per mg CBD||$0.15|
|Third-Party Test||View report|
Use coupon code CWEB10 for 10% off
- Contains anti-acne salicylic acid and other anti-acne compounds
- Made specifically for acne
- Need product batch number to view third-party test report
This cream from CBDMEDIC has an impressive anti-acne formula. It contains 200 mg of broad-spectrum CBD alongside 1% salicylic acid, one of the most reliable anti-acne ingredients out there (4).
It also carries other natural compounds that can help with acne, including bentonite, tea tree oil, and zinc.
This cream is sourced from organic American hemp and tested by a third-party lab to verify its CBD content. It costs $0.15 per mg of CBD. Considering that you’re also getting salicylic acid, that’s a good price point for a CBD topical.
CBDMEDIC is part of Charlotte’s Web, one of the oldest and most reputable CBD brands in the industry.
PlusCBD CBD Balm (Travel-Size)
|CBD Potency||3.8 mg/g|
|Volume||12 g (0.4 oz)|
|Total CBD||45 mg|
|Cost per mg CBD||$0.33|
|Third-Party Test||View report|
Use coupon code FIRST20 for 20% off
- Full-spectrum CBD
- Added ingredients that can help with acne
For those who want a product they can use on the go, PlusCBD Oil’s hemp stick is a great option. This balm is made with 45 mg of full-spectrum CBD and other ingredients that can reduce inflammation and help with acne, such as sweet almond oil and white willow bark.
PlusCBD’s travel-size balm costs $0.33 per mg of CBD, which is a bit pricey. But it makes sense since the product is small and contains many added ingredients.
One of the first companies to offer CBD products in the U.S., PlusCBD is known for its scientific approach. It tests all of its products in-house in addition to third-party testing.
On top of that, it’s one of the only CBD brands that holds both self-affirmed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status and U.S. Hemp Authority Certification, two programs that highlight high quality manufacturing standards.
How We Choose CBD Products
Here are the key criteria we use to choose the best CBD creams and other CBD products.
Look for Third-Party Tested Brands
Third-party testing is the best way to confirm the efficacy and safety of CBD products. These tests are done by an independent laboratory that checks whether a given product carries as much CBD as it says on the label.
Third-party tests can also look for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants that may be harmful to the skin.
In this day and age, all reputable CBD companies utilize third-party testing and share the test results publicly on their websites. A lack of these tests is a big red flag.
Check the Hemp Source
CBD comes from hemp, which means the plant quality and cultivation process are important. The best American hemp is organic and grown in one of three states: Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon.
European countries are also an excellent source of hemp because many have been growing it continuously for centuries.
It’s even better if the company grows and extracts its hemp directly instead of buying it from another producer or uses USDA-certified organic hemp. You can find all of this info on the company website.
Choose Full-Spectrum CBD When Possible
As we highlighted at the beginning of the article, there are three main types of CBD: isolate, full-spectrum, and broad-spectrum.
If you want to get the best effects out of a CBD product for acne or any other health issue, it’s best to use a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum product because they contain multiple cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial hemp compounds.
Whole-plant CBD products benefit from the cannabis “entourage effect” — the combined effects of all these compounds working together in synergy, rather than CBD by itself (2).
Buying Guide for CBD Products for Acne
In this section, we’ll cover everything you need to know about topical CBD products and how they can help with acne.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 121 compounds called cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the cannabinoid most of us are familiar with — CBD is non-intoxicating. That means it doesn’t get you high.
That’s why many people are using CBD-based products to benefit their health without any of the mind-altering effects of cannabis. CBD can provide numerous health benefits ranging from reducing anxiety to alleviating seizures.
What are CBD Topicals?
Unlike CBD oil, topical CBD products are designed to be used directly on the skin. They can’t penetrate deep enough to reach the bloodstream, so they’re highly unlikely to cause any side effects.
CBD topicals come in many forms, including lotions and creams, balms and salves, oils and serums, and even cleansers. Although these products can have different uses, they all work as a way of applying CBD to your skin for beneficial effects.
Aside from CBD, topicals often contain many of the same natural, beneficial ingredients you’d see in standard skincare products. These can include common substances such as:
- essential oils, like lavender and peppermint oil
- shea and cocoa butter
- coconut oil
- aloe vera
- vitamin E
Also, CBD topicals designed specifically for acne can contain popular anti-acne ingredients such as salicylic acid and charcoal. The precise ingredient list will vary depending on the product.
What is Acne?
Also known as acne vulgaris, acne is a skin disorder characterized by pimples (blackheads and whiteheads), oily skin, and scarring. Acne occurs as a result of your hair follicles becoming clogged with dead skin cells and oil.
Acne usually appears on the face, but can also occur on your chest, shoulders, back, and other parts of the body. It can happen in people of all ages, although teenagers are the most commonly affected group.
Health experts estimate that acne affects about 9.4% of the world population, making it the 8th most prevalent disease (5).
The causal factors of acne include:
- Overproduction of sebum, the oily substance produced by your sebaceous glands to lubricate the skin
- Inflammation of sebocytes, the skin cells that make up the sebaceous glands
- Overgrowth of Cutibacterium acnes bacteria
Acne can be treated with a wide variety of approaches, including drugs and dietary changes. However, standard treatments are not always effective and can cause significant side effects.
CBD and Acne: The Research Evidence
Research into CBD’s anti-acne effects has only just begun. However, the findings are promising and suggest that CBD can help with acne in several ways.
One 2019 study looked at the effects of a CBD-infused gel in people with psoriasis, eczema, and scars from acne and these two conditions. The researchers found that CBD alleviated psoriasis symptoms, reduced scars and blemishes, and improved measures of skin health such as elasticity and hydration (6).
Meanwhile, the researchers of a 2014 study applied CBD to human sebocytes, skin cells that produce the oily sebum implicated in acne.
They found that CBD lowered inflammation, the production of new sebocyte cells, and the secretion of sebum, three processes involved in causing acne (7). The researchers concluded that “CBD has potential…for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”
How Does CBD Help With Acne?
As noted by the study above, CBD can improve acne by reducing inflammation and the production of sebum. It achieves this by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) (8).
This system helps our bodies maintain a healthy state of balance called homeostasis. To do so, it regulates key processes, such as pain, immune function, sleep, mood, appetite, and digestion.
The ECS and its receptors are present in every part of the body, including the skin. Research suggests that it plays an important role in skin health by regulating inflammation, skin cell growth, and other processes (9).
CBD supports healthy endocannabinoid system function by reducing the breakdown of anandamide, one of the two main endocannabinoid made by our bodies (10).
Another way CBD can fight acne is through its antimicrobial properties (11). There’s some evidence that overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes and other skin bacteria is involved in acne (12).
Are CBD Topicals Safe?
CBD is considered a generally safe compound with few and minor side effects (13).
More importantly, because CBD cannot penetrate the skin effectively enough to reach the bloodstream, topical products are unlikely to cause drowsiness or other side effects that can occur with ingested products such as tinctures.
Having said that, it’s possible to experience an allergic skin reaction from other ingredients present in CBD topicals, such as terpenes.
Topical CBD Dosage for Acne
Topical CBD products can range in potency from as little as 0.5 mg of CBD per ml to as high as 20 mg/ml.
There isn’t enough research to suggest the ideal dosage of CBD for acne. Furthermore, the dose can depend on multiple factors, such as the severity of your symptoms and the formulation you’re using.
As such, the best approach is to start with the dose recommended by your product, assess the effects, and gradually increase until you start experiencing the desired effects.
Topicals vs. Other CBD Products
There are some key differences between topicals and other types of CBD products:
- Application: Topicals are applied to the skin rather than taken internally.
- Effects: The effects of topicals are felt in the area applied rather than the whole body (14).
- Onset time: Topicals typically start working within minutes and their effects can last about as long as tinctures.
- Dosage: Topicals are harder to dose because you can’t measure the amount as easily as other methods.
- Price: Topicals tend to cost more than most other CBD products, especially if you use a specialized, multi-ingredient product like a lotion.
How To Apply CBD Topicals for Acne
As with any skincare product, you can apply a CBD topical directly to the area of skin affected by acne pimples or scarring. Make sure the area is clean and dry and massage the product into the skin for best results.
It’s best to start with a small amount and see if you achieve the desired effects. You can always apply more later if needed or use a higher dose next time.
Can Topical CBD Cause a Failed Drug Test for THC?
As noted above, it’s highly unlikely that a topical CBD product containing THC will cause you to fail a drug test. That’s because cannabinoids cannot effectively penetrate the skin to reach the bloodstream.
However, research in this area is still ongoing. If you don’t want to take any risks, it’s best to use products made with CBD isolate (pure CBD) or broad-spectrum CBD.
Can You Apply Regular CBD Oil to Acne?
You can also apply regular CBD oil to your skin to help with acne and other conditions. However, this won’t produce the best results because it’s meant to be taken sublingually (under the tongue).
Summing Up: CBD for Acne
Our top pick for the best CBD cream for acne is the CBDefine skincare cream from CBDistillery. It’s full-spectrum, contains other anti-acne ingredients, made by one of the most reputable CBD brands, and comes at an affordable price.
If you’re interested in trying out CBD for acne we recommend using a topical product rather than a sublingual CBD oil. Topical CBD products act directly on the skin area they’re applied to, which is the best way to combat acne.
As an added benefit, you don’t need to worry about any side effects because CBD is highly unlikely to reach the bloodstream when applied to the skin.
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.