Collagen loss and texture changes are an inevitable part of aging skin, but many of us engage in seemingly innocuous behaviors that actively damage our skin. As good as the sun on your face feels, if it’s unprotected, those rays can be harmful. Likewise, exposure to urban air and the elements can wreak havoc on sensitive or combination complexions, which is why free-radical targeting ingredients are often found in products for aging skin. Antioxidants target free radicals, promoting cell turnover, vitamin E improves skin tone, vitamin D promotes proper hydration, and when CBD is included, the regulatory stress-diminishing work of the endocannabinoid system is triggered. In its capacity as an overall regulator, the natural cannabis compound CBD can target an array of skin issues like acne, eczema, rosacea, and dry or inflamed skin. Its use in product formulas with other known effective botanical ingredients can enhance the results we see when targeting damage caused by the environment, our lifestyles, and aging.
Why does it work?
“CBD is an extremely potent antioxidant, which helps our skin fight the deleterious effects of toxins,” says Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, M.D, owner of Greenwich Village-based Mudgil Dermatology. “Although more studies are needed, CBD-containing topical products have been reported to be helpful in patients with acne, rosacea, and eczema.” Studies as early as 1998 indicate CBD to be a more potent antioxidant than both vitamin C and vitamin E.
An early adopter of CBD in skincare, facialist Ildi Pekar has specialty training in aging skin and adult acne. She advises that her clients report improvement with CBD’s inclusion in spa and facial treatments, via ingestible tincture, serum, mask, and fragrance forms. Despite a focus on skincare, Pekar’s approach to formula development expands beyond topicals, because her philosophy that beautiful skin starts from the inside.
In the study Topical Cannabinoids in Dermatology by Peter W. Hashim et al, conducted in the United States, results indicate cannabinoid-enriched topicals may treat a number of skin issues ranging from acne to dermatitis to eczema, by lowering inflammation levels, improving the cell health of the epidermis, and promoting barrier recovery. Moisturized skin will have improved retention of elasticity, and dry skin is more prone to cracking. To minimize lines, keep your facial, neck, and decolletage skin moisturized with nourishing formulas suited to your concerns and skin type. Counterintuitively, oiliness can sometimes be an indicator of thirsty skin, and CBD may help regulate one of the key culprits: your skin’s sebum production. It’s not that sebum production is bad — it actually helps your skin retain protective moisture — but imbalanced routines and the elements can cause disruptions like breakouts.
Hemp also contains antioxidative vitamin E, and an optimal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, which is important from everything from promoting skin health to balancing your immune system.
“Plants are the pillars of health,” says Khus + Khus founder Kristi Blustein, whose products for face and body also feature adaptogens like ashwagandha and licorice to nourish and protect the skin. A graduate of the California College of Ayurveda, Blustein has spent over 3,000 hours studying Ayurvedic medicine and teaching, and her body serum is a traditional formula based on the Ayurvedic practice of Abhyanga, a lifestyle routine that involves daily application of plant-based oils.
“If you want the healing capacity within the body, you must use healthy plants. So any plant sprayed with pesticides with be quite harmful. Our products are 100% botanical, we use antioxidants for stabilization against oxidation. We don’t use water so preservatives aren’t necessary. Plants contain antimicrobial and antibacterial compounds naturally; we are in effect harvesting the plant’s immune system,” Blustein says. The Khus + Khus Copious Body Serum has more than 80 phytocannabinoids along its other protective components like nettle and black cumin seed oil.
Terpenes, another class of organic compounds found widely in the plant kingdom (and the basis for aromatic essential oils), also figure into cannabis’ use in skincare. Because terpenes are lipophilic, or fat-soluble, applying them in a format with a carrier oil is an effective application. In research at the Department of Environmental Medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, Professor Fredric J. Burns’ findings suggest terpenes can be used for conditions from canker sores and scarring to dryness and UV damage.
Minding the details
It’s important to pay special attention to the delicate areas of your face like skin around your brow bones and eyelids, as well as your lips. Your lips have thinner epidermis than most elsewhere on your body, and your hydration or even the climate can dry them out or cause damage. Vertly’s Lip Butter blends CBD and organic coconut oil and nourishing shea butter to replenish your cells. Pro tip from Vertly founder Claudia Mata herself: “In a pinch, both my husband and I use it as a spot treatment for skin issues. It works as a universal salve too.” If your lips are very dry, you can apply a nourishing serum as a treatment (and drink a glass of water or three). Many serums, like the Hora Super Serum + CBD contain hyaluronic acid, which can give your skin a heavy dose of hydration and increase firmness.
It’s worth noting that some products may list CBD as an ingredient when in reality it contains only hemp seed oil, the difference being the part of the plant that is processed (seeds versus flowers, stems, and leaves). Hemp seed oil is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, meaning it is still very good for your skin, but the compound is absent the specific CBD compound that has its own benefits. Because hemp seed oil is non-comedogenic and an effective moisturizer, it’s a common carrier in beauty products (like almond, or Camellia Japonica), leading to some consumer confusion. When sourcing active ingredients, scan the ingredients list to see whether they are buried under other components, or appear early in the list.
Researchers conducting skincare-centric studies have been calling for the approval and execution of more rigorous, controlled clinical trials to further assess potential. “Topical cannabinoids are increasingly utilized by dermatology patients for a range of disorders; however, the acceptance of these over-the-counter products has far outpaced scientific investigation into their safety and efficacy,” write the authors of Topical Cannabinoids in Dermatology, because prior legal status has compromised regulations and thus far stymied effective, expansive research.