CBD for skin

Hey, thanks for being here. I know you’ve been bombarded with clickbait headlines about CBD for years now—first framing the hemp-derived compound as a topical pain reliever, then as an ingestible anxiety aide, and most recently as a skin savior. And yet…you continue to click. You clicked on this one! (Again, thanks for that.) Why, though? Why are you still reading? Why am I still writing? Why do we care?

Say it with me: Cannabis Culture.

Sure, CBD is a lovely skin-care ingredient. Dermatologists agree that it has the potential to calm inflammation, balance oil production, soothe eczema, and more. While all of that is wonderful, one has to wonder why other derm-approved naturals haven’t earned the same kind of attention—like spearmint tea, which is shown to lessen acne lesions by 51 percent over three months (on par with oral antibiotics, minus the side effects), or Manuka honey, used in hospital burn units for its skin-healing power.

The answer, of course, is that CBD comes from cannabis plants. It exists in close proximity to marijuana. It’s “edgy,” it’s cool, it’s inherently clickable. Simply put: CBD is easy to capitalize on—and where there’s money, there’s usually misinformation, marketing myths, and overblown claims of miraculousness.

To cut through the BS of CBD, read on.

 

WHAT IS CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, “one of many naturally occurring molecules called ‘cannabinoids’ found in both hemp and [marijuana] plants,” Laura White, a North Carolina–based hemp farmer and founder of Soul Addict, tells Coveteur. Both of these CBD-producing plants belong to the cannabis family; scientifically, hemp is any cannabis sativa plant that produces less than 0.3 percent THC, meaning it can’t get you high. Even if the THC content is only 0.4 percent, which still isn’t likely to get you high, it’s still classified as marijuana.

 

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CBD & CANNABIS

“The only difference between [marijuana] and hemp is a legal one,” says Kimberly Dillon, the founder of Frigg Wellness. Marijuana plants contain higher levels of THC, the not-fully-legal psychoactive compound that gets you high, and hemp plants contain little to no THC. This is why almost all of the CBD in consumer goods is derived from hemp.

Even though CBD products do not and will not get you high—nope, not ever—beauty brands often rely on this familial marijuana-hemp relationship in their marketing materials. See: the exhausting and endless parade of puns involving the words “kush,” “dank,” “high,” “dope,” and “take a hit.”

 

UH, ISN’T THAT A LITTLE PROBLEMATIC?

So glad you asked. Yes, it is! When (mostly white-owned) beauty brands use CBD’s proximity to cannabis to sell makeup and skin care, it capitalizes on a system that disproportionately punishes people of color for weed-related drug offenses. As the American Civil Liberties Union reports, “Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”

On one hand, “the CBD movement is normalizing the plant, which has been historically demonized through racially provoked propaganda and reframing it as a plant-based wellness solution instead of a drug,” Dorian Morris, the self-described Black, queer, female founder of Undefined Beauty, tells Coveteur. On the other, “we also can’t ignore the lives and communities that have been permanently impacted by the War on Drugs.”

“If you are putting CBD on your body, you should at least acknowledge that countless people paid the price for that—including the LGBTQ activists that pushed for legalization, along with the number of Black and brown people and low-income folks in prison,” adds Dillon. More on how to consciously consume CBD later.

 

BUT FIRST, HOW CBD WORKS

“Each of us has what we call an endocannabinoid system found throughout our body,” White explains. “Its main function is to create bodily balance, aka homeostasis, from our mood to sleep to skin function.” (Yes, this means your body produces its own version of CBD.) As a phytocannabinoid, cannabis-derived CBD “can bind certain receptors in the brain and various other areas of the body,” says cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos—including the skin, which has its own endocannabinoid system, complete with cannabinoid receptors. Theoretically, when you slather CBD on your skin, it interacts with said receptors to create homeostasis.

 

SO, DOES CBD SKIN CARE DESERVE ALL THE HYPE?

Yes. But also, no.

According to dermatologists and cosmetic chemists, CBD skin care is worthy of some of the attention it’s garnered. Although “large, randomized studies with CBD are lacking,” says Dr. Aanand Geria, a board-certified dermatologist with Geria Dermatology, the studies that have been conducted “show that CBD might normalize keratinization—meaning pores are less likely to be clogged—possibly lead to fewer wrinkles, and [has] anti-inflammatory activity.”

“It has been studied as a treatment for a variety of skin issues including eczema, psoriasis, and even acne,” adds board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner in an email to Coveteur. “It has calming and hydrating effects, and there is some data to suggest that it may inhibit oil production.”

This is all impressive, if not unique. “Plant healing is not new; it is ancestral,” as Dillon says. Or, in more scientific terms, “A great number of effective and commonly used pharmaceuticals, like aspirin and its analog, salicylic acid, have their roots in botanical sources,” says Dobos. CBD is just one of many effective, plant-based skin-care solutions—a miracle of nature, but not necessarily a miracle to worship above all others.

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