Can CBD help with acne?

November 22, 2021

With flawless, airbrushed skin plastered all over social media, our own stubborn spots can often leave us feeling insecure. Acne is normal; 73.3% of adults say they’ve had it, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to help it. 

In the world of skincare, CBD appears to be the new wonder ingredient. It has long been studied in the treatment of a variety of health conditions, including epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia. With evidence to suggest it can prevent and soothe acne, could CBD make us feel as good on the outside as it does on the inside?

What is acne?

Acne is a common skin condition where clogged pores develop into often painful, inflamed spots. Acne typically develops in our teen years and settles down as we enter adulthood, though many adults struggle with persistent breakouts.

Every pore on our face is an opening to a hair follicle. Attached to hair follicles are sebaceous glands, which produce an oily wax-like substance called sebum. This acts as a barrier that protects, hydrates, and waterproofs the skin.

The primary cause of acne is the overproduction of sebum. Too much sebum can clog our pores, forming blackheads, whiteheads, or even cystic breakouts.

Cutibacterium acnes is an important bacterium on the skin surface. An imbalance of skin bacteria can cause C. acnes to accumulate in hair follicles, which is thought to be another driving force for developing acne.

The importance of skincare

Our skin comes into contact with a lot of bacteria throughout the day. Dirt and pollutants can further clog pores, making acne more likely to flare up. To avoid this, it is important to cleanse the skin morning and night, especially if we wear makeup. 

A skincare routine doesn’t have to be laborious or expensive. Finding staple products that cleanse, moisturise, and protect the skin is all you need.

Though even with a strict skincare regimen, acne can persist. For those with severe acne, there are numerous treatments available, including:

  • Roaccutane 
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Antibiotics

Current treatments have major limitations. They may work well, but they have uncomfortable side effects, such as:

  • Dry, itchy, or peeling skin
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Nosebleeds
  • Joint pain

For a lot of people, the side effects of acne treatment are enough to put them off. Could CBD be a safer, natural alternative?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is a cannabinoid from the Cannabis sativa plant. It is non-psychoactive, meaning it cannot get us high. It is, therefore, legal to buy in the UK- and it’s proving hugely popular.

CBD interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is involved in regulating our mood, appetite, sleep, immune activity, memory, and much more. The ECS also helps to maintain a balanced skin barrier, which has captured the attention of dermatologists. 

Researchers are beginning to explore how CBD could help to relieve a variety of skin conditions, with many suggesting a use for CBD in the treatment of acne.

CBD and acne: the science

The research into CBD as an acne treatment is still in its very early stages, but the preliminary evidence is hugely promising:


We’ve all had a red, angry spot before, and inflammation is to blame for that; acne is characterised as an inflammatory condition

When applied to the skin, CBD has local anti-inflammatory action. It inhibits FAAH– or fatty acid amide hydrolase- which is an important ECS enzyme. This subsequently increases levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide, which reduces inflammation in the area.

CBD may help to minimise redness and swelling of painful breakouts, as well as reduce the likelihood of further acne flare-ups.

Regulate sebum production

In an experimental study of CBD on human sebaceous gland cells, CBD administration was highly sebostatic, meaning it inhibited the production of sebum. 

Although these findings are yet to be replicated in human trials, CBD can likely stop the overproduction of sebum. This, in turn, will minimise clogging of the pores and prevent spots from forming.


Cannabinoids have also been studied for their potential to inhibit bacterial growth, causing researchers to speculate that CBD could eliminate the bacteria responsible for acne.

Until recently, CBD’s anti-microbial activity had not been specifically investigated on C. acnes. A study published in 2021 found that CBD does exhibit specific activity against C. acnes, with little potential for antibiotic resistance. 

Skin regeneration 

Severe acne can cause permanent scarring, which can leave many people feeling self-conscious. We can’t say for certain whether CBD can treat acne scars, but there is some evidence to suggest that CBD can encourage wound healing.  

In a 3-month trial of twice-daily CBD ointment application on 20 patients with various skin disorders, CBD appeared to reduce scarring. Future trials with more rigorous methodology are needed, but this is a step in the right direction.

Other benefits

If we’re a bit run down, our skin tends to suffer; acne severity is highly correlated with increased levels of stress and poor sleep quality. CBD has shown promise in the treatment of both anxiety and insomnia. By this token, CBD may help to indirectly reduce acne by helping us to de-stress and sleep better.  

Not only do the benefits of CBD extend beyond acne relief, but it also has very few reported side effects. This cannot be said for prescription acne treatments. Although CBD is well-tolerated in the vast majority of people, some have reported tiredness, diarrhoea, and changes to their appetite with regular CBD use.

Ways of using CBD for acne

There are plenty of skin-specific CBD products out there, tried and tested by reputable brands and CBD lovers. These are just some of the many ways in which people choose to use CBD for their acne:

Oils & creams

The topical application of CBD is thought to be most effective at treating skin conditions. As most people already choose to moisturise as part of their skincare routine, switching to a CBD face oil or cream can transform your skin with minimal effort.

Spot treatments

If you’re looking for a more targeted acne treatment, CBD spot patches or ointments may be for you. Since you’re only applying the product to the problem area, this method may be best for those with sensitive skin.

Bath bombs

Skincare isn’t just for the face. It’s equally as common to get body acne, and a CBD bath bomb may be able to help. As well as reducing blemishes, a CBD bath can help to relieve muscle tension and reduce stress- it’s the ultimate form of self-care.

You can also find CBD serums, masks, balms, mists, and cleansers. The list is near endless; however you wish to apply your CBD, there’s a product for you.  

What to look for

If you’re keen to add CBD to your skincare routine, there are a few things to bear in mind. It’s important to know whether your skin type is dry, oily, or sensitive. Look at the ingredients list and be sure to purchase a product that won’t aggravate your skin. 

Another word of warning: many products contain significantly less CBD than the dose used in scientific research. To ensure that your skin is getting enough CBD to reap the benefits, be looking for high potency in your products. Anything over 10 mg of CBD per mL should be strong enough to do the trick.

Human trials of CBD skincare are seriously lacking. Whilst doctors may not be prescribing CBD for acne anytime soon, the beauty industry is already on board. Skincare fanatics seem to be raving about the wonders of CBD. So if you’re struggling to get a hold on your acne, it might be worth giving CBD a go.

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