Cannabidiol (CBD) probably needs no introduction, since today you can find it in everything from hummus to bedsheets. You can grab some CBD-infused gummies at your local pharmacy or a bottle of CBD oil at a corner gas station. As the non-intoxicating cannabinoid du-jour, it continues to pique consumers' interest with more than 60 million Americans having tried CBD.
And while sleep, pain, and anxiety continue to be three of the most commonly cited reasons people seek out CBD, soon enough we'll be adding wrinkles, sunburn, and skin tone to that list.
CBD has gone from cannabinoid du-jour to en vogue active, with the infused beauty industry blowing up and big brands like Sephora, Herbivore, Kiehl's, Peter Thomas Roth, Milk, Josie Maran, Saint Jane, and NYX all offering CBD-infused products. What do we know about CBD for these types of applications? How does CBD impact our skin? Are premium prices worth it? Let's unpack how products like a CBD body wash might benefit you.
The endocannabinoid system and skin
While CBD might need no introduction, let's briefly cover the innate physical system that makes use of it: the endocannabinoids system (or ECS).
The ECS is an ancient bodily system that has been present in life on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. Even still, we humans only discovered it about 30 years ago, and the more we uncover about the ECS, the more we come to appreciate just how complex and far-reaching it is. While we still have a lot to learn about it, we do know that the ECS acts as a master regulatory system whose main job is in helping us maintain body-wide balance (called homeostasis) in the face of ongoing internal and external stressors.
The ECS is made up of a system of receptors located throughout the body. These receptors pick up compounds like THC and CBD to make use of them and produce an effect. Our skin contains lots of these receptors, and, in fact, they have been found everywhere from the top layers of our skin (the epidermis) down deeper into foundational structures like nerve endings, sweat glands, oil glands, and even follicles.
This means that there is potential for CBD, along with all the other cannabinoids cannabis produces, to influence how the ECS functions in balancing our skin. Some researchers theorize that disruptions in the ECS might be the root cause of skin disorders like acne, excessive oil production, allergic dermatitis, itching and pain, and psoriasis. And in addition to that, some evidence suggests that cannabinoids might interact with receptors and other systems outside the ECS to impact our skin.
What we know about CBD and skin
Research on CBD and its impacts on skin health is still in the very early days. Most of the research done thus far has been preclinical, meaning we still don't know how our current hypotheses around CBD for skin problems (derived from test tube and animal studies) will play out in humans. That said, we do have some promising leads and it will be exciting to see what we uncover moving forward.
Initial research seems to be affirming CBD's global property as an anti-inflammatory agent, a property that could have a wide range of benefits for the skin. Not only might CBD be useful for soothing irritation caused by things like dermatitis, acne, psoriasis, or eczema, but it might also be helpful in more common everyday skin complaints like minor scrapes and burns, sunburn, or itchiness.
As an antioxidant, CBD might be helpful in protecting skin from environmental stressors like UV and pollution, while fighting against the impacts these stressors have on skin aging. CBD also seems to have an impact on our sebaceous (oil) glands, which could be another way it helps treat acne.
Since cannabis plants are made up of hundreds of active compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, there is a lot to understand about the synergistic action these compounds have (called the entourage effect) and what that means for the skin. This might be an important consideration for folks with allergies or sensitive skin to consider when choosing full- or broad-spectrum topicals which contain the full (or near full) spectrum of active compounds found in the plants.
Research also suggests that some cannabinoids might have opposite or opposing effects on skin, as well. Cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabigerovarin (CBGV) seem to increase oil production, while cannabichromene (CBC) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) seem to suppress it, for example.
When it comes to beauty formulations, however, the picture gets even foggier. Research on the specific doses, concentrations, or types of formulations that are beneficial for beauty and wellness applications like serums, face masks, bath bombs and, yes, body wash, is scant. On top of that, many products come in clear packaging that is detrimental to cannabinoids since they are light and heat sensitive.
So what about CBD body wash?
Does that mean you should toss the CBD-infused body wash you love so much or avoid trying products in the future? Not necessarily. If you find a product you love and it's doing what you want it to for your skin, there's no reason you shouldn't use it since CBD is a safe and non-toxic compound. But keep in mind that because body wash spends so little time on the skin, if you're turning to CBD for specific skin concerns, you might get more bang for your buck from a cream or lotion since these leave-on products have a better chance to penetrate the skin and provide benefits.
Like all things beauty and CBD, you might also want to do a little homework vetting your products before purchasing. Neither the cosmetics nor CBD industry is heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The cosmetics industry really never has been, and the CBD market is so new and grew so quickly that the FDA is still struggling to catch up. Currently, cannabis-infused cosmetics do not need to be pre-approved before going to market.
Look for opaque packaging that will protect light-sensitive cannabinoids from degrading. Read the labels and list of ingredients. Take note of other ingredients and know what they can and cannot do for your skin. If you're looking for a body wash that might be helpful for acne, psoriasis, or dermatitis, look for other beneficial ingredients like aloe leaf juice or roman chamomile flower, for example.
Other ingredients you might see that may have universal benefits for skin health include rosehip seed oil, jojoba seed oil, sunflower seed oil, hemp seed oil, and cannabis sativa seed oil (which, like hemp seed oil, does not contain cannabinoids like CBD but has similar benefits for the skin).
Finally, how transparent is the brand? What kind of testing have they done? Like any CBD product, always check the certificate of analysis (COA) to ensure the CBD content is accurately labeled and it's been tested to be free of heavy metals, pesticides, and other contaminants.
The bottom line
CBD is showing promise for a variety of applications that could be good for the health of our skin, though research is still in the early days. We know that our skin is home to many cannabinoid receptors and that these receptors can impact our skin health in a variety of ways.
A body wash infused with CBD might confer some general anti-inflammatory or antioxidant benefits to your skin, but always check to see what other ingredients are in the product and how they might help (or hurt) your skin or any issues you might be looking to resolve with CBD. Do your homework, look at the COA, and find a company and body wash or shower gel that you trust and love.