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Cannabidiol (CBD) is everywhere these days: oils, gummies, capsules, and just about any kind of skin care product you can imagine.
But what exactly is a cannabis compound doing in your cleanser, moisturizer, or bathwater? What’s the benefit for your skin? What makes it worth the premium price tag?
I wondered myself, so I took a deep dive into the world of CBD skin care. Here’s what I found behind the marketing claims, plus all the products I tried (and actually loved), so you can decide for yourself if the payoff is worth the hype.
For the uninitiated, CBD is one of more than 100 identified cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Unlike its sister compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t have psychoactive effects. In other words, there’s little chance that your CBD lotion will make you feel high.
Instead, the buzz around CBD is in its therapeutic benefits. While many of these are related to whole-body symptoms of pain, anxiety, or insomnia, there are a few related to skin care as well.
What can CBD do for your skin?
According to Danielle Frey, owner and licensed aesthetician at Bloom Skincare Mendocino, the two leading causes of skin aging and common skin issues like acne and hyperpigmentation are:
free radical damageto the epidermis
- inflammation caused by irregular functions in the endocannabinoid system
“The endocannabinoid system is a complex matrix of cell receptors responsible for balancing
She adds, “CBD is an incredibly effective ingredient in skin care due to it being a powerful antioxidant and providing anti-inflammatory benefits.”
While research into CBD is ongoing, what we do know so far seems to back this up. Here’s how the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD affect the body’s largest organ:
Regulates oil production. The overproduction of sebum is thought to be a contributing factor of acne. According to a
2014 study, CBD may have an anti-inflammatory effect on sebocytes, the skin cells that produce sebum.
- Helps reduce inflammation. As an anti-inflammatory, CBD may be able to help reduce swelling, pain, and redness from existing breakouts, or irritation from skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Hydrates dry skin.
Research from 2009suggests that CBD may be effective for dry, dehydrated skin.
While we’re still scratching the surface of CBD, “It really is incredibly fascinating and promising in terms of the many benefits phytocannabinoids provide for the skin,” says Frey. “I think we will only see more and more use of these type of phytocannabinoids in skin care and wellness formulations in the years to come.”
How to use CBD for skin care
CBD skin care products are, obviously, applied to the skin. But application depends on the specific product. If you’re using a serum, spray, cleanser, mask, or moisturizer, you’ll use them in the same order as regular skin care. Follow the directions on the label, and you should be all set.
Before trying it, I wondered if I could go overboard on the CBD in my skin care products — is it an issue if my cleanser, essence, serum and moisturizer all contain CBD? While I don’t personally have any problems, less is probably more.
“Too much of anything on your skin can be irritating,” cautions Claudia Mata, herbalist and co-founder of Vertly. “The key is to start slow and see how your skin responds to any product.”
CBD brands to try
I’ll admit I was a skeptic when I started using skin care products made with CBD, so I wasn’t expecting any miracles.
But seeing is believing. I’ve always been diligent about my bedtime skin care routine, and I always use high-quality products, so I can’t chalk up my suddenly luminous skin to better habits or more natural ingredients. Really, the only switch is the addition of CBD, so let’s give credit where credit is due.
Here’s what I’ve tried in my exploration of CBD skin care.
A note on prices and testing
Prices for CBD products can vary widely. This pricing key here lets you know where these products fall.
- $ = under $30
- $$ = $30–$60
- $$$ = $61–$100
- $$$$ = over $100
You’ll also see info on where you can find the certificate of analysis (COA) for each product. The COA is used to verify the product’s CBD potency and to see which contaminants it’s tested for.
- What to try: Glowing Face Serum, Soothing Floral Face Mist, and Lip Butter
- COA: Available on product pages, and contaminant testing information is available upon request.
Start researching CBD skin care, and it’s hard to miss Vertly. The small-batch brand is straight out of California, with the slow-extracted botanicals to prove it. They call it “garden-to-bottle” skin care, which describes the use of powerful herbs to magnify the benefits of CBD.
And, get this, their products are made fresh daily, which is probably why the Glowing Face Serum smells so incredible. That’s not easy to do with CBD-infused products, so Vertly is clearly on to something. The mix of infused herbs, flowers, and CBD come together in a luxurious oil that soaks into the skin, and it leaves me dewy and positively glowing.
I read a beauty tip somewhere that says skin care products are more effective on damp skin, so I use a few spritzes of the Soothing Floral Face Mist first, which is equally delightful.
Then there’s Vertly’s Lip Butter, which is truly the holy grail of lip balms. Chapped lips were a constant in my life for longer than I care to admit, so I’m a complete snob when it comes to lip balms. I don’t like products that leave my lips greasy, overly shiny, or bad tasting — and I try to stay away from any suspect ingredients.
Vertly’s peppermint and rose tint versions are incredible: chic packaging, subtle sheen, pleasing flavor, and recognizable ingredients. And they leave my lips perfectly moisturized. It’s my lip balm for life.
Beekman 1802 CBD Collection
- What to try: Milk Bar + CBD Facial Cleansing Bar, CBD Goat Milk Body Cream, Milk Drops + CBD High & Dry Facial Oil, and CBD Goat Milk Stick of Butter
- COA: Available online (CBD concentrate only)
Beekman 1802 makes my hands-down favorite bar soap and body lotion. They use goat milk, an ingredient that works absolute wonders on the skin. Really, I think the only way to boost the benefits of goat milk skin care is to add CBD. And that’s exactly what Beekman 1802 did.
Their limited line of products includes a facial cleansing bar, body cream, facial oil, and a solid-to-oil massage stick. The massage stick is ideal for on-the-spot treatment of aching muscles. I like it along my shoulders and the sides of my neck. I’m a sucker for Beekman’s milk bar cleanser, and the addition of CBD is an antioxidant-filled bonus.
But it’s the Milk Drops + CBD High & Dry Facial Oil that really stands out to me. This dry oil is a blend of goat milk and CBD that sinks into my skin without heaviness, greasiness, or fragrance — just a subtle, amazing glow.
- What to try: Unforgettable CBD Aloe Vera Lotion
- COA: Available on product page
Red hair and fair skin means I’m intimately acquainted with the soothing properties of aloe vera, so a CBD-infused aloe vera lotion is intriguing to me.
Lily CBD’s version is a collaboration between founder Russell Markus and his mother, and it’s a throwback to the aloe vera plant they kept at home to hydrate sun-parched skin. The finished product is less of a traditional lotion and more of a thick and airy cream — the texture really is lovely.
It does have the telltale CBD fragrance in the jar, but I found it to be mild and almost herbal after application. And, really, that speaks to the care that went into choosing ingredients for this lotion. It’s made with the exact organic ingredients necessary to hydrate and rejuvenate and nothing more — no fillers, preservatives, or essential oils.
The instant hydration I get with this infused lotion is impressive. I can feel it soaking in as I smooth it on, and there’s no greasy, “coated” feeling — just soft, perfectly moisturized skin. I’ve been using it on my dry knuckles, and I’m pleased to report they’re looking fresh and youthful these days, with nary a crack to be seen.
Lily CBD’s Unforgettable is a limited-edition product, so don’t wait on this one.
- What to try: Green Tea Facial Cleanser, Aloe & Rose Hydrating Mist, Spirulina & Algae Regenerating Mask, and Cucumber & Lilac Moisturizer
- COA: Available on product pages (potency only)
Seabedee’s four-step skin care line came about the way many successful products do: by identifying a need in the market.
“After researching several competitors in the CBD space that offered skin care products, we noticed a lack of full routines,” says Paul Clotar, Seabedee co-founder. “An easy-to-use, full routine just didn’t exist.” While many competitors had moisturizers, lotions, and serums, they were offered à la carte.
So the Seabedee crew partnered with professionals in skin care, including a formulator who had spent decades at L’Oréal. They came up with a natural, clean, CBD-infused line that ticked all the boxes of effective skin care.
A facial cleanser, hydrating mist, mask, and moisturizer round out the set, which is entirely free of sulfates, parabens, dimethicone, and fragrance. And it has a bonus secret weapon —
This is skin care simplicity at its best: cleanse, mist, mask, moisturize, and, boom, done. The face mask in particular is a treat. Thick and cool, it leaves my skin feeling fresh and clean, with no tightness or dry spots. All four products have an earthy CBD aroma, and I like the fact that Seabedee doesn’t add anything non-essential to mask the natural fragrance.
- What to try: Wellness Bath Salts with CBD & Lavender and Relief Bath Salts with CBD & Kava
- COA: Available online
Full disclosure: I prefer showering to bathing. But I take part in this quintessential “me-time” ritual pretty routinely now, just to enjoy Foria’s bath salts.
The fragrance of the Wellness Bath Salts and Relief Bath Salts alone is deeply relaxing. It’s hard to go wrong with a long soak in warm water that’s been infused with mineral-rich Epsom salts, organically grown kava, lavender, calendula, ginger, and hemp.
I wondered about the actual value of CBD in bath water, but there is
Plus, this is a great entry-level product if you’re curious about CBD but hesitant to go all-in. “These bath soaks are a wonderful, gentle invitation to explore the benefits of CBD, and in a medium with which we’re all familiar,” says Kiana Reeves, chief brand officer at Foria. “Soaking in hot water is an ancient healing practice, and further enriching the soak with minerals, plants, oils and aromatherapy can heighten the therapeutic potential and experience.”
If baths are your thing, these indulgent salts seriously up the calming, purifying, and relaxing element. Add some soft music, dim lighting, and a nutrient-rich face mask (see above), and suddenly I’m on board with the whole bath thing.
Foria’s bath salts come with a little muslin bag, which is completely brilliant. I neglected to use it the first time, but I didn’t make that mistake twice. This way, the salts dissolve, the botanical infusions steep, and the whole thing is very tidy.
- What to try: Lotus CBD Essence Toner and Active Botanical Essence
- COA: Available by request (potency only)
Korean beauty — also known as K-beauty — launched some of the most popular beauty trends ever, including sheet masks and the now-iconic BB cream. Now, KANA is combining K-beauty, aromatherapy, and CBD in a plant-based line with zero fragrances, dyes, or “dirty” ingredients.
KANA’s Lotus CBD Essence Toner was my first experience with a K-beauty essence, which is a skin care step between cleansing and serum. It’s loaded with powerhouse ingredients — CBD, of course, as well as pink lotus — to nourish and prep the skin, so it can effectively absorb the rest of your skin care routine.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but patting a few drops into my skin left it feeling smooth and deeply hydrated. I also tried the Active Botanical Essence, which is a secondary essence to be used after the CBD toner. This one helps smooth and even skin texture and tone for a youthful look, thanks to ingredients like barley-derived epidermal growth factor (EGF).
It’s surprisingly lightweight for such a concentrated product, and it sinks right into my skin. Usually, skipping moisturizer means I’ll be dealing with dry skin later, but this one-two punch leaves me feeling perfectly hydrated all day long.
KHUS + KHUS Modern Herbal Fusion Cannabinoid Collection
- What to try: BLEU Body Wax + Cannabinoids and The FIX Face Potion
- COA: Available on product pages (potency only). Full COA with contaminant info available by request.
KHUS + KHUS had me at “modern herbal fusion,” and I’m happy to say that the products absolutely live up to my expectations.
Founder Kristi Blustein is an Ayurvedic specialist and health practitioner, aromatherapist, and herbalist, and her plant-based formulas are truly divine. Every ingredient is chosen with great care and purpose, and the addition of CBD to certain KHUS + KHUS products is as intentional as every other botanical she uses. “It’s all about the synergy of plant constituents,” Blustein explains.
Efficacy is at the heart of KHUS + KHUS. The brand is based on the idea that plants support the healing of both the body and mind. And I see that play out in both of the products I have.
The BLEU Body Wax + Cannabinoids is a concentrated oil that’s solid at room temperature (and, yes, it’s a beautiful pale blue). Warming a little in my hands turns it into a fluid oil that spreads easily, absorbs quickly, and smells absolutely incredible. A little goes a very long way, and I find myself applying a dab here and there throughout the day just for the fragrance — although the skin-softening benefits are definitely a perk.
The FIX Face Potion is a vibrant yellow, silky smooth moisturizer that is neither sticky nor greasy. It leaves my skin bright, calm, and soothed, and, again, the fragrance is unreal. It’s a new, can’t-miss last step in my nighttime routine.
CBD shopping tips
There’s a whole wide world of CBD skin care products out there, and some claims are hard to believe. Still, research and personal experience have me convinced that there are real benefits to CBD as an ingredient in skin care — with the important caveat of shopping wisely. The addition of CBD alone doesn’t mean much if the other ingredients aren’t benefiting your skin.
“I advise people to look beyond the CBD,” says Mata. “If a product has a high milligram content [of CBD] but the rest of the ingredients aren’t great, then you aren’t going to have optimal results.”
So, before you dive in, arm yourself with a few notes.
- Check the label for true CBD. “If the ingredient list simply says ‘hemp seed oil,’ this is not CBD,” cautions Frey. “There is a lot of greenwashing happening in the skin care world and very little regulation, so it will be up to you to ensure you are actually getting what you are paying for. Hemp seed oil provides great moisturizing properties but is not CBD.”
- Check testing results. “Most leading CBD skin care companies will provide lab results for their CBD extract to ensure you know exactly what you are putting on your skin,” says Frey. “You want to be sure that the hemp plants used to extract the CBD were farmed without pesticides and other harmful properties. [These] would defeat the purpose of using the healing compounds.”
- Check the directions and follow them. “Like most topical [treatments], in order for the skin to absorb the product and its healing properties, it must stay on the skin for a while,” says Frey. “I suggest looking for a CBD-infused product such as a serum, oil, or mask that has time to penetrate the tough outer layers of the epidermis and make changes on a cellular level.”
Keep in mind that much of the CBD experience is highly personal, so a little trial and error may be in order. As for me, I’ll absolutely keep CBD in my skin care routine.
After experimenting with countless cleansers, moisturizers, lotions, serums, essences, bath salts, and that incredible lip balm — and enjoying the smooth, glowing skin that comes with it — I’m a believer.
Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.