Evidence based

CBD and Acne: Current Research & Understanding

CBD has been shown to reduce the formation of acne. It improves oil production, reduces inflammation, and activates endocannabinoid receptors on the surface of the pores. Here’s how it works.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

Roughly 1 in 10 humans suffer from acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

There isn’t any single cause for acne — there are many factors to consider.

In most cases, the cause is a combination of hormonal activity and excessive oil production. Diet, genetics, age, and gender can all play a role in the causes of acne.

CBD is now being used as a treatment option for acne — and the results are looking promising.

Here, we’ll go over how CBD can be used to eliminate acne and what else you can do to improve your skin’s health.

Let’s get into it.

  • Table of Contents

Summary: Using CBD for Acne

Acne is caused by overproduction of sebum — an oily substance secreted onto the skin to improve waterproofing and add a protective layer.

When too much sebum is secreted from the sebaceous glands on the face, the pores can become clogged. The redness and swelling we refer to as acne is caused by bacterial infection of the clogged pores — primarily from a species called Propionibacterium acnes.

For this reason, acne can be thought of as an inflammatory condition of the skin — something CBD is particularly good at treating.

There are a few benefits CBD has for treating acne — but the most important by far is its anti-inflammatory properties.

CBD offers several important benefits for acne, including:

  • Lowers inflammation
  • Reduces oil production in the skin
  • Makes oil on the skin less-viscous — preventing clogging
  • Inhibits bacterial growth in the pores

Tips for Getting the Most Out of CBD for Acne

There are a lot of excellent CBD products designed specifically for treating acne.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you get the most out of your CBD skincare regime:

  1. Use a topical CBD product formulated with hemp seed extract
  2. Try transdermal patches for concentrated doses of CBD
  3. Find products specifically designed for your skin type
  4. For dry skin types, use CBD spot treatment rather than full skin coverage

What Is Acne?

Acne is a disorder of the pilosebaceous units — which comprise the hair follicles, sebaceous glands, and hair.

The pilosebaceous units are most abundant on the face, neck, and chest. They’re least abundant on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet.

These glands secrete sebum onto the surface of the skin. It mixes with dead skin cells and spreads evenly over the surface of the skin. It is designed to hydrate and waterproof the skin.

Acne forms as a result of issues with these pilosebaceous units — usually from overly viscous or abundant sebum production.

How Acne Forms

1. Increased Sebum Secretion Clogs Pores

The sebaceous glands on the skin are responsible for producing sebum. The sebum is released on the inside of the pore and mixes with skin cells before migrating out onto the surface of the skin.

Some people overproduce sebum — which can lead to a buildup inside the pores themselves.

2. Sebum Builds Up in the Pores

This stage is referred to as a microcomedone.

On the surface, it doesn’t look like anything — no signs of swelling or redness has formed yet. At this stage, the cells that slough off and mix with the sebum become sticky and start accumulating in the pores instead of flowing out toward the surface of the skin.

Bacteria living in the pores feed off the sebum. They begin to grow at an accelerated rate as the sebum builds up. Acne begins to turn red as the bacteria multiply to larger numbers.

3. Whitehead/Blackhead Formation

A) Whiteheads

As the sebum and skin cells become more compacted in the clogged pore, the top of the pore eventually becomes blocked — resulting in what we know commonly as a whitehead (closed comedones).

B) Blackheads

If the sebum and skin cells don’t become completely blocked, it forms a blackhead (open comedones) instead of a whitehead.

4. Pimple Formation

As the whiteheads or blackheads grow, the pressure inside the pore builds up. If the pressure is high enough, the sides can rupture — leaking sebaceous material into the neighboring area.

The bacteria causes small infections in the local tissue, turning it red and sore. This is what we know as a pimple.

5. Pustule Formation

Pustules are very similar to pimples but involve the presence of white blood cells in the area. These white blood cells build up as the immune system attempts to fight off the infectious bacteria in the skin.

6. Cyst/Nodule Formation

The deeper the infection goes into the skin, the more damage it causes. Very deep acne causes cysts or nodules — which can be very red, swollen, and painful. They also tend to be the most resistant to treatment options compared with other forms of acne.

Why Acne is Worse During Puberty?

Acne is most common during puberty — a time involving rapid changes in hormone levels in both boys and girls.

Androgens (male hormones) in particular cause the sebaceous glands to grow in size and release more oil — therefore, increasing the chances of clogging.

Around age 20, as hormone changes become less severe, the sebaceous glands begin producing less sebum, which is why acne tends to decrease around this time.

Common Aggravating Factors for Acne

  • Smoking
  • Poor hygiene
  • High-fat diets
  • Dairy
  • High processed sugar diets
  • Stress
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Poor sun exposure
  • Genetic factors

Conventional Treatments for Acne

Depending on the type of acne, there are a number of different treatment options available.

The first line of treatment for acne is to use topical skincare products designed to improve the flow of sebum from the pores, reduce oil production, or provide topical antibacterial support to fight bacterial growth responsible for the redness and inflammation involved with acne.

Herbal or nutritional supplements are also popular forms of acne treatment — such as calendula (Calendula officinalis), black walnut (Juglans nigra), and rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora).

There are also more dramatic treatment options, including medications that reduce sebum and skin cell production, or oral antibiotics that kill bacteria living inside the pores. Both of these treatment options come with a long list of negative side-effects and should only be used under the supervision of a medical doctor.

Treatments for Acne

  • Isotretinoin (Accutane)
  • Benzoyl peroxide — kills the bacteria responsible for most acne
  • Tretinoin products (Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, and Avita) — make the skin cells that mix with sebum less sticky and therefore less likely to clog the pores, and increase cell regeneration
  • Salicylic acid 2% lotion — stops stickiness and limits inflammation
  • Prescription topical antibiotics — kill the bacteria involved
  • Prescription oral antibiotics — kill bacteria more aggressively
  • Topical herbal products — calendula, rosewood, black walnut salves and ointments
  • Internal herbal products — herbal bitters, bearberry, and vitex.

Guide to Using CBD for Acne

One study referred to CBD as having a “trinity of cellular anti-acne actions” [1].

CBD’s Trinity of Cellular Anti-Acne Actions:

  1. Normalized problematic oil production in the sebaceous glands
  2. Suppressed cell proliferation (preventing the buildup of “sticky” skin cells in the pores)
  3. Reduced inflammation of the pores responsible for the production of acne

CBD can be used to reduce acne formation in a few different ways: starting with its robust array of anti-inflammatory benefits — which is a key process in the formation of acne. Without inflammation, we would hardly notice pimples on the skin. The stages before inflammation are virtually unnoticeable on the skin. It’s only once the area becomes inflamed and swollen that acne tends to become a problem.

CBD (and some of the other cannabinoids) provide additional benefits through their ability to interact with the endocannabinoid receptors and vanilloid receptors (TRPV4) [1]. Both the TRPV4 vanilloid receptors and endocannabinoid receptors (CB2) were shown to play a role in the regulation of sebum production in the skin [1].

In Summary

CBD can lower oil production, reduce inflammation, and reduce skin cell proliferation inside the pores — all leading to an overall reduction in acne symptoms. 

Some reports even suggest CBD is more effective at treating acne than vitamin A derivatives such as Accutane.

Other cannabinoids have also been found to offer benefits for acne, especially cannabigerol (CBG) [2].

Choosing a CBD Product for Acne

There are a lot of excellent CBD skincare products designed for the sole purpose of treating or preventing acne formation.

The best CBD products for treating acne are specifically designed for this purpose and include other ingredients that support this effect.

Topical CBD products that are too broad or designed with a focus on other uses (such as arthritis or pain reduction) should be avoided because they may include other ingredients that can irritate and clog the pores.

When shopping for these products, it’s important to consider a few key points.

1. What’s the CBD Concentration?

There are a lot of products on the market that promote CBD as an active ingredient but don’t contain enough CBD to do what’s advertised.

A good CBD topical will contain at least 10 mg of CBD per mL of cream or salve.

Anything less than this isn’t likely to provide enough cannabinoids to do what the product is advertising.

2. What Other Ingredients Are In the Formula?

A good CBD acne salve or cream will contain other beneficial ingredients as well instead of relying purely on the CBD content.

Ingredients such as calendula, aloe vera, hemp seed oil, and essential oils of herbs such as lavender, frankincense, or grapefruit can make a big difference in how effective the product is for preventing or treating acne formation.

Some ingredients, such as certain oils, benzaldehyde, waxes, or coloring agents, are comedogenic — meaning they clog the pores and aggravate the symptoms of acne. Therefore, avoid products that contain these comedogenic ingredients if you’re considering incorporating CBD to your skincare routine.


References

  1. Oláh, A., Tóth, B. I., Borbíró, I., Sugawara, K., Szöllõsi, A. G., Czifra, G., … & Ludovici, M. (2014). Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes. The Journal of clinical investigation, 124(9), 3713-3724.
  2. Oláh, A., Markovics, A., Szabó‐Papp, J., Szabó, P. T., Stott, C., Zouboulis, C. C., & Bíró, T. (2016). Differential effectiveness of selected non‐psychotropic phytocannabinoids on human sebocyte functions implicates their introduction in dry/seborrhoeic skin and acne treatment. Experimental dermatology, 25(9), 701-707.
  3. Oláh, A., Ambrus, L., Nicolussi, S., Gertsch, J., Tubak, V., Kemény, L., … & Bíró, T. (2016). Inhibition of fatty acid amide hydrolase exerts cutaneous anti‐inflammatory effects both in vitro and in vivo. Experimental dermatology, 25(4), 328-330.
  4. Dobrosi, N., Tóth, B. I., Nagy, G., Dózsa, A., Géczy, T., Nagy, L., … & Bíró, T. (2008). Endocannabinoids enhance lipid synthesis and apoptosis of human sebocytes via cannabinoid receptor-2-mediated signaling. The FASEB Journal, 22(10), 3685-3695.

Conditions that May Respond to Cannabidiol