The in-demand ingredient is popping up in a variety of beauty products—we find out if you should give it a shot.

By Elizabeth Swanson
September 30, 2019

If you haven't heard, CBD oil is making waves in the beauty industry. Used in everything from face cream to mascara, it's quickly becoming the "it" oil with celebrities, influencers thanks to its various benefits, including helping users achieve a glowing, healthy complexion. And it's not just used in crunchy, organic creams and lotions—niche brands are incorporating the ingredient into their products, too. Popular companies such as Kiehl's and Peter Thomas Roth are right there alongside natural brands like Josie Maran and Herbivore Botanicals, churning out oils, lotions, and serums with CBD oil. Briogeo, one of our favorite hair brands, even launched a CBD treatment that promotes a healthy scalp. And Lord Jones, which launched in 2015, makes boutique CBD-infused beauty products and gourmet gumdrops. But with all of the hype around the category, we wanted to investigate the scientifically proven benefits of CBD in skincare. Here, we break it down.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About CBD

Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, what is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 naturally occurring chemicals, called cannabinoids, that are found in cannabis and hemp plants. CBD is non-psychotropic, so it won't make you high, says Dr. Richard Firshein, founder of the Firshein Center for Integrative Medicine in New York City. (THC is another one of those cannabinoids, and that's the one that will make you high.) Ingested, CBD acts a powerful adaptogen that decreases the effects of hormones, like cortisol, that are released during times of stress, says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist in New York City.

What does it have to do with skincare?

Our bodies have what's called an endocannabinoid system, and this system contains cannabinoid receptors in every layer of our skin that work to keep our cells functioning properly, Dr. Engelman says. This means we're already designed to receive CBD, and that's a main reason why these products are so exciting when it comes to skincare. "Topical CBD has an effect on the skin because it will be picked up by receptors that are close to the surface of the skin," adds esthetician Jeannel Astarita, founder of Just Ageless Body and Beauty Lab in New York City.

What benefits does it have on the skin?

While there are, in fact, precious few studies establishing the efficacy of CBD, research suggests that CBD holds promise as a treatment for inflammatory conditions, Dr. Firshein says. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to calm, soothe, and reduce redness, he says, making it beneficial for a variety of skin conditions, especially acne. "I'm always a skeptic, but my patients with acne have had significant improvement with CBD," he says. "One laboratory study showed that it might not only act as an anti-inflammatory, but that it also helps to reduce excess oil production, a contributing factor in acne."

Those same redness-reducing properties could make CBD helpful for those with sensitive skin, too, Dr. Firshein adds. Plus, CBD contains antioxidants that help strengthen the skin barrier to retain moisture and keep pathogens out, leading to healthy skin that won't become easily compromised or irritated, explains Astarita "Healthy, resilient skin has an acid mantle that is responsible for keeping bacteria out and hydration in," she says. "Dry, dehydrated skin is fragile, easily irritated, and vulnerable to pathogens that exacerbate the conditions associated with sensitive skin, such as rosacea and eczema."

Perhaps the most significant bonus? The antioxidants in CBD are also potent anti-aging ingredients. "Antioxidants reduce free-radical damage caused by environmental factors like pollution and sun exposure," Astarita says. "This damage accumulates gradually over time, so the anti-aging benefits of antioxidants in CBD are more preventative."

Is it safe?

While there is still a lot to learn, CBD seems promising, Dr. Firshein says, and is generally considered safe. "There are certain restrictions I would consider if you are pregnant, taking other medications, or needing CBD too frequently—that could be a sign that you have a more significant, underlying condition," he says. "But there doesn't appear to be any significant side effects noted, and in time, more research will likely bear this out."

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