CBD Oil Gets the Green Light for Sensitive Skin
Not since K-beauty and sheet masks hit the shores (and faces) on this side of the world has beauty been so head over heels for something as it is now for CBD oil. There have been so many CBD product launches that we’re starting to run out of smoking puns and product names. CBD oil, or cannabidiol, has quickly gained a dope (sorry) rep in beauty — and health in general — thanks to its many uses.
CBD oil reportedly helps with everything from anxiety to heart disease to inflammation. In regards to beauty, it has been hyped for fighting acne, its moisturizing abilities and for fighting free radicals. Given CBD oil’s soothing rep, it’s also being promoted as a calming option for sensitive skin. We investigate whether CBD oil is good for reactive skin or whether the claims are just hot air.
What Is CBD Oil?
Let’s start with the basics: CBD oil is one of the major cannabinoids (chemical compounds) found in the Cannabis sativa L. plant, says Crème Collective founder Leilah Mundt. (It’s one of over 100 types of cannabinoids.) To answer the question everyone is wondering, using CBD on skin will not get you high. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is non-psychoactive, says Mundt.
Why CBD Oil Is Trending in Skin Care
We are discovering that CBD oil has a multitude of health benefits, including antioxidant and antimicrobial properties in terms of skin care, says Linnea Robertson, spa director at Balboa Bay Resort. CBD is rich in vitamin A, which stimulates cells to keep skin firm and healthy. It also has vitamin C, which can boost collagen production and vitamin E, which can fight free radicals and help with the signs of aging. As mentioned previously, CBD is thought to be beneficial for acne-prone skin because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Basically, the CBD claims cover almost every skin care concern.
CBD Oil for Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin is typically associated with inflammation, allergies or very dry skin because of a lack of natural sebum production says Sylvia Wehrle, the CEO and founder of June.CBD Apothecary. It’s thought that the internal anti-inflammatory properties of CBD also hold true when it’s applied topically, says Heather Wilson, a licensed esthetician and director of brand development at InstaNatural. The ingredient is believed to help calm redness and irritation. Wehrle says CBD can aid in decreasing inflammation at the surface and just below. Plus, it can help regulate sebum production.
Board-certified dermatologist and celebrity beauty expert Dr. Anna Guanche says that CBD oil might be super trendy, but it has not been used as a topical agent for very long compared to other studied skin care ingredients. This is something to keep in mind when weighing the claims made about it. We haven’t seen extensive reports on irritant or allergic reactions from CBD actives. So far, Guanche says CBD’s “allergenicity seems to be low.” She points out there can be allergies to anything, especially when it comes to plant-derived ingredients like CBD oil.
Leya Nicolait, spa director of The Sebastian Vail, says that tests so far indicate CBD oil can be suitable for acne, psoriasis and eczema.
What Should You Look for in a CBD Skin Care Product?
Celebrity esthetician Kát Rudu, who spent nearly two years developing a CBD Sanctuary Glow Serum, says getting a clean version of CBD oil is key. There are companies using CBD oils that can have high levels of chemicals because of pesticide use, says Rudu. On top of that, there are CBD oils that have not been through microbiological, terpene analysis or residual solvent testing. The resulting products might come at a lower price point, but they could have irritants or other properties that make skin react. “The CBD oils in the market vary greatly so knowing about the product and its process is important for sensitive and highly reactive skin,” Rudu says. One key guideline is price. Rudu says that excellent quality, pure versions of CBD oil come with a high price tag.
Other Calming Options for Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin and want to hold off on CBD, there are other tried-and-true skin-calming options. Wilson says to look for products with soothing and moisturizing ingredients. Botanical extracts like green tea, centella asiatica (aka tiger grass/gotu kola) and chamomile fit the bill along with oats, niacinamide, vitamin E and oils such as argan and jojoba. Additionally, Rudu suggests aloe vera, botanical hyaluronic acid, witch hazel, almond oil, primrose oil and raspberry oil.
Mundt says the simpler the formula, the better is a good rule to follow for sensitive skin.
Ingredients to Avoid If You Have Sensitive Skin
Individual sensitivities can vary. In general, those with sensitive skin should avoid anything with fragrance, including synthetic and natural options, says Wilson. Essential oils should be used with caution because they can irritate skin if they’re poor quality or the concentration is too strong.
Watch out for strong ingredients like retinol and certain acids, like glycolic, especially in higher concentrations. They can be too harsh for sensitive skin. It’s worth mentioning again that harsh preservatives, sulfates and parabens are best avoided, per Wehrle.
If you’re uncertain about an ingredient or product, Vail suggests checking out the Environmental Working Group database. Their consumer guides rate over 76,000 products in terms of allergies and toxicities.
Like with CBD oil’s other claims, there hasn’t been enough research done to fully understand how the ingredient can benefit sensitive skin. If you do want to try it, take precautions like you would with any new ingredients. Choose quality CBD oil products from brands that provide transparency. Then pay attention to how the ingredient reacts with skin. If you experience any sort of reaction, stop using the product ASAP.
Confused About CBD in Skincare? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Faith Xue has worked in digital beauty for 10 years and is currently Bustle Digital Group’s executive beauty director. She was Byrdie’s editorial director for seven years.
Rachel is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology. She has contributed to Byrdie, as well as Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire, Allure, Vogue, and the New York Times, and more
Caitlin Riley / Stocksy
In This Article
CBD is the Cady Heron of the skincare world right now—buzzy, intriguing, and full of secrets (though not as much as Gretchen Weiners’ hair). The ingredient has officially crossed over from being a wellness supplement to a beauty buzzword, but it’s not as simple as looking for “CBD” on your ingredients label and calling it a day. There’s a lot of murky marketing out there and more than a few false claims. For example, we’ve seen some major brands hop on the CBD bandwagon and blast it across their marketing channels, when in reality, their products don’t contain any actual CBD at all. We’ve enlisted Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified dermatologist; Ava Shamban, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Five in LA and co-host of The GIST; Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of cannabis education website Nice Paper, and Ashley Lewis and Meredith Schroeder, co-founders of new online CBD retailer Fleur Marché. Your skin deserves CBD—just make sure you’re buying a product that actually contains it.
Keep scrolling for your no-BS guide to understanding CBD skincare.
Type of ingredient: Antioxidant.
Main benefits: Reduces inflammation, Regulates oil production, Neutralizes free radical damage.
Who should use it: It is recommended for those with inflamed, compromised skin as well as sensitive and dry skin types. It can also benefit those with aging skin.
How often can you use it: CBD skincare can be used daily.
Works well with: Actives that calm and nourish the skin barrier, such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, peptides, and niacinamides.
Don’t use with: Be cautious with CBD skincare. Since it is an unregulated industry, it is undetermined what actives it deactivates. It is not recommended to use CBD skin products that contain alcohol, as this might combat its beneficial effects and heighten inflammatory skin conditions.
What is CBD?
So, what exactly is CBD? Shamban explains that it is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in cannabis plants marijuana and hemp. “It’s one of the two primary active ingredients of cannabis, the other one being THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the active psychotropic,” she says.
According to Lewis and Schroeder, (who fell in love with the ingredient during their previous jobs curating products for Goop), it’s “a potent antioxidant, highly anti-inflammatory, and has been shown in multiple studies to reduce lipid production from the sebaceous glands (overproduction of this sebum is possibly one component of what contributes to acne formation).” One such study found that CBD could prevent acne in multiple ways.
How does CBD work? Engelman says CBD interacts with our cannabinoid receptors. “We have receptors in every layer of our skin which trigger to our body when there is pain, an itch, etc.,” she explains. “Topical CBD is designed to help those with pruritic skin conditions like eczema or painful conditions like post-herpetic neuralgia when our body’s signals are going haywire. For example, it is not necessarily targeting eczema, but the hormones that are causing the eczema flare-up.”
Typically, CBD oil is used in skincare products. You can find CBD serums, creams, masks, and body and face oils. That said, hemp seed oil—which has been a common ingredient in skincare products for a long time—is not the same thing as CBD. There’s nothing wrong with hemp seed oil, but it’s not an active ingredient (though it may help with inflammation, hydration, and controlling oil production ).
When buying a CBD skincare product, look for these words in the ingredients list, which indicate there’s actual CBD in the formula: CBD, hemp CBD, full-spectrum hemp extract, phytocannabinoid-rich hemp oil, and hemp extract oil.
Benefits of CBD for Skin
- Treat Inflammatory Acne: CBD might help reduce redness, pain, and swelling associated with inflammatory acne.
- Regulate Oil Production: As previously mentioned, CBD helps regulate hormones involved in oil production, reducing excess sebum.
- Reduce Breakouts: CBD may help reduce inflammation of breakouts and, thanks to its oil production regulation, reduce breakouts in general.
- Calm Rosacea: With its ability to reduce inflammation, CBD may help calm rosacea flare-ups.
- Neutralize Free Radical Damage: CBD may work to prevent the weakening of the skin by neutralizing free radical damage.
- Soothe Eczema: CBD helps combat irritation and inflammation caused by eczema, along with chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and dermatitis, according to Shamban.
- Decrease Hormonal Conditions: Since CBD is thought to be an adaptogen, it may work to decrease the effects of hormones and other compounds that are released into the body in times of stress (ie. kinase, nitric oxide, and cortisol).
- Hydration: CBD has moisturizing properties that can help combat dehydration and dryness.
The level of benefits for CBD effects on some skin conditions is still up for debate and is a newer science being studied, according to Shamban, and more research is needed to see if CBD or the other agents found in the cannabis plant directly improve skin quality.
Side Effects of CBD
Engelman explains that more studies need to be done to verify the efficiency of CBD oil benefits for skin. As such, topical CBD has no known side effects.
How to Use It
How you use CBD skincare is all about the product you’re using. “Most CBD products are serums or creams,” says Engelman. “Use as you normally would, layering your skincare products from thinnest to thickest. Serums should be applied before creams.” That said, you should never self-diagnose your skin conditions. “Always read packaging and ingredients and check with a board-certified dermatologist, primary care, or other medical practitioner before starting any new supplement or topical care,” adds Shamban.
The Best Products With CBD
This CBD oil can be used on your skin and hair. It promises to help soothe and calm your scalp and skin, providing deep moisture and reducing the appearance of redness and irritation. It contains 100mg of CBD.
Palermino mentions supermodel facialist Ildi Pekar’s CBD line as containing high amounts of CBD. This luxe face oil in particular contains 250mg of CBD oil, along with soothing aloe juice, brightening vitamin c, hyaluronic acid, and more.
Engelman is a fan of these bath salts from Lord Jones. “I love [them] because they combine magnesium and Himalayan salts, essential oils, arnica, and CBD, which will reduce inflammation, promote relaxation, and increase a sense of well-being.”
Palermino also swears by this soothing sleeping mask from Kana. “Even though it’s lower on the CBD dosing scale, it’s one of the nicer lightweight sleeping masks I’ve tried,” she says.
Lewis and Schroeder are also fans of Kana, citing this this all-purpose face oil (which contains 100mg of CBD) as a favorite. “It’s formulated with a ton of other powerful botanicals that help to hydrate skin and manage redness,” they explain. “It’s a great addition to both your morning and nighttime routine.”
You get a whopping 100mg of CBD in this honey-infused stick, which is why Lewis and Schroeder cite is as a favorite. “We love the format of this product,” they say. “It’s easy to apply any time of day, and you can use it for anything. From chapped lips, to under eyes that need a little brightening, this stick is soothing, calming, and easy to pop in your bag and use anywhere.” (It was also one of our editors’ picks for the month of October).
Let’s not forget that the anti-inflammatory benefits of CBD can extend to your body, too: “This serum is formulated with an array of medicinal herbs and over 80 phytocannabinoids,” Lewis and Shroeder say. “It does triple duty by soothing, relaxing and hydrating your skin and muscles. It’s a must for anyone who’s had a long day and needs some relief.”
Fans of Lord Jones’ best-selling Body Lotion ($24) will want to try this oil alternative, which contains 100mg of CBD and comes in rollerball form for easy application (not to mention built-in massage abilities). Plus, the light, floral scent is incredibly soothing.
Saint Jane, the brainchild of a former Sephora exec, is a CBD skincare line that’s not here to mess around. Its hero product, the Luxury Beauty Serum, contains a whopping 500mg of CBD, along with 18 other 100 percent natural skin-loving oils, from frankincense to sandalwood. Massage this in morning and night for a lit-from-within glow, even in the dead of winter. Trust us, your skin will thank you.
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
Baswan SM, Klosner AE, Glynn K, et al. Therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) for skin health and disorders. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020;13:927-942. doi:10.2147/CCID.S286411
Atalay S, Jarocka-Karpowicz I, Skrzydlewska E. Antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;9(1):21. doi:10.3390/antiox9010021
11 Legit CBD Oils to Use From Head-to-Toe
Melanie Rud is a Chicago-based writer with 10 years of experience covering beauty. She covers all things skincare for Byrdie, from ingredients to acne advice.
Swiner is a family medicine/general medicine expert, covering a broad spectrum of both medical and mental health issues. She loves taking care of the family as a whole—from the cradle to the grave. Her interests include Minority Health, Women’s Health and Pediatrics. As a wife and mother of two, she uses real-life experiences to clearly communicate keys to better health and wellness for mind, body and spirit. She is the author of How to Avoid the Superwoman Complex.
We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
These days, CBD is just about as well-known as the ABCs. CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, is a plant-based compound (a cannabinoid) found in the flowers and leaves of the hemp plant. The jury is still somewhat out when it comes to hard-hitting scientific evidence about the benefits of CBD; most experts agree that more research is needed. But the anecdotal evidence is there and CBD proponents—as well as many users—claim that it can calm anxiety to improve sleep, knock out period cramps, reduce redness and inflammation in the skin, and way more.
There are also a fair amount of topical CBD oils out there, though keep in mind that these fall into a bit of a different category than other topical CBD products out there when it comes to their effects. “Oils are great at softening and moisturizing, but they tend to sit on top, rather than sink into the skin,” explains Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of the cannabis education website Nice Paper. And this means they’re not necessarily going to be the best delivery system for active ingredients, CBD included, she points out. The upshot of this? If you’re just dipping your toe into the CBD pool, using a topical oil can be one way to ensure you’re getting not quite as much of the ingredient. And, on the flip side, if you do really want to reap the benefits, you can simply choose products with a higher concentration of CBD.
“Your endocannabinoid system—the receptors that are impacted by CBD—is deeper in your skin, so until we see a clinical trial on how oils penetrate and at which dose, look for higher milligrams of CBD in your oils if you want to see an effect,” advises Palermino. (While there are no exact dosing guidelines, you can consider 100 milligrams in a one-ounce dropper bottle a low dose, she adds.) At the end of the day, with any kind of CBD product, it’s important to be a savvy and somewhat skeptical shopper, given that the industry is self-regulated and lacks any clear cut rules or guidelines.
But if you’re not sure where to start, try any of these best CBD oils that are worth the hype.
Best Overall: Herbivore Emerald CBD+ Adaptogens Deep Moisture Glow Oil
Courtesy of Nordstrom
This radiance-enhancing oil contains not only CBD but also a range of other cannabinoids—CBD is only one of many—that all work together to improve the formula’s efficacy. It also touts another buzzed-about ingredient, ashwagandha, an adaptogen known for helping the skin deal with stressors such as pollution, stress, and UV rays (aka the things you’re bombarded with daily). FYI, this does contain 0.3% THC, so if that’s something you’re wary of, you may want to skip this one.
Best for Body: Lord Jones High CBD Formula Body Oil
Courtesy of Lord Jones
Beauty editors go ga-ga for this brand, one of the better known CBD brands out there. Not only is the CBD they use the good stuff (lab-tested and cultivated in the USA), the variety of products is just great in general. Case in point: Even without the included 100 milligrams CBD, this would be a standout body oil. Five different oils pack a powerful hit of hydration yet still absorb with lightning speed, and the evergreen-citrusy scent is next-level sophisticated. But our favorite part? The brilliant rollerball tip that makes application a breeze.
Best for Face: Lab to Beauty The Recovery Oil
Courtesy of Lab to Beauty
No matter whether your complexion is dry, prone to breakouts, or easily irritated, this is a universal fix. How can that be, you ask? To knock out dryness, you have a blend of moisturizing oils. In the breakout department, you have jojoba oil and CBD, both of which can help balance oil production. And for sensitive types, there’s soothing rosehip oil, calendula extract, and CBD, of course. It’s a rare example of one-size-fits-all skincare.
Best for Dry Skin: Josie Maran Skin Dope Argan Oil + 100 MG CBD Oil
Courtesy of Sephora
There are only two ingredients in this formula, a clean skincare fan’s dream. You’ve got 100% pure argan oil, one of the best sources of omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids out there, ideal for quenching even the most parched of complexions. That’s paired with CBD-rich cannabis sativa hemp extract to help knock out inflammation and redness, which can often go hand-in-hand with super dry skin.
Best for Relaxation: Sagely Naturals Drift & Dream Body Oil
Courtesy of Ulta
A warm shower or bath is one easy way to chill out, fast, but you can ramp up the effects even further by slathering this oil on afterward. It boasts a blend of different oils formulated to help you chill out. There’s lavender oil, known to have aromatherapeutic benefits and for promoting relaxation, geranium oil to ease stress, and grounding clary sage oil, plus 100 mg of CBD oil. Also nice: You can easily find the brand’s Certificate of Analysis (COA) on their website, something important to seek out if you want to make sure the CBD you’re getting is legit, advises Palermino.
Best Low Potency: Kana Lit Hemp Face Oil
Courtesy of Urban Outfitters
With just 50 milligrams of CBD, this is a great option for CBD newbs. Along with the CBD, it also has hemp seed oil, a great hydrator, and a litany of other beneficial botanical oils to help moisturize and reduce redness. Insider tip: Try patting on a drop or two over makeup mid-day, as a way to combat that afternoon skin slump and get your complexion nice and glowy again.
Best Medium Potency: BLNCD Vital Nutrient Complex Cannabis Infused Face Oil
Courtesy of BLNCD
Think of this as a green smoothie for your skin—a one-stop-shop where you can easily get all the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants your skin needs. We’re talking over 15 different plant oils that can do everything from smooth out wrinkles to minimize scars to soothe irritation. That includes 250 milligrams of full-spectrum hemp extract where you get the CBD benefits. (Just keep in mind that is another formula that does contain trace amounts of THC.)
Best High Potency: Saint Jane Luxury CBD Beauty Serum
Courtesy of Saint Jane Beauty
Those who are fully on board the CBD bandwagon will appreciate that this face oil packs a whopping 500 milligrams of the good stuff (which also happens to be evaluated for quality four times, higher than the industry standard). A long list of 20 other botanicals works synergistically in the formula to do everything from hydrate to smooth out skin’s texture to boost your glow.
Best for Nighttime: Populum Lavender + CBD Face Oil
Courtesy of Populum
Make the most of those precious hours of beauty sleep and apply a few drops of this before you hit the sack. Lavender oil helps you relax, but did you know that it’s also a potent antioxidant that can help ward off signs of aging? You also get 250 milligrams of CBD oil, as well as hempseed and grapeseed oils for a dose of good-for-your-skin fatty acids. Not to mention that the formula has been lab-tested, and you can easily see those results before you buy the product, a major plus when you’re talking about any kind of CBD product.
Best for Balancing: Muri Lelu Mauvaise Herbe Indica Oil
This CBD oil definitely smells like CBD, so keep that in mind. Once you get over the herbal smell (or breathe it in deeply, if you like it), you’ll notice that the oil feels lighter than most other face oils and sinks in instantly. It’s made with full-spectrum, whole flower cannabis extract and terpenes to boost its soothing, restoring and calming abilities, plus slew of other skin-loving ingredients like squalane for hydration, licorice for brightening, and more. “I love that it sinks in instantly and makes my oily-combo skin look noticeably calmer and more balanced in the morning after I use it,” says Byrdie’s editorial director, Faith Xue. “It gave me skin more of a glow after just a week of using, and helped soothe some irritation I had experienced from overdoing it with a chemical peel.”
Best Massage Oil: Reign Together CBD Massage Oil
Courtesy of Reign Together
If you haven’t yet gotten a massage using a CBD oil or cream, do yourself a favor and get one, stat (and thank us later). We suggest you BYO and take this oil to your next rub down. 100 percent natural and THC-free, it has 160 milligrams of CBD oil, along with arnica, to help further soothe sore muscles. Top tip: Many of your endocannabinoid receptors are located down the sides of your spine, so make sure it gets rubbed in really well on your back.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She’s very on board the CBD train, and takes it both internally and uses it topically. One of her favorite ways to use CBD oils? As part of a massage to relieve achy muscles; the one featured in this list is her latest go-to.
Charlotte Palermino is the co-founder of Nice Paper, a cannabis education website that publishes a weekly newsletter and consults with cannabis companies in Canada and the U.S. Charlotte is also the CEO of Dieux, a clinically-tested cannabinoid skincare line set to launch this year.