The Best CBD Creams & Topicals for Acne (2021)

By | last updated August 15, 2021

Medically reviewed by
Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD

Evidence Based 14

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Early research on CBD’s benefits for acne, eczema, and other skin issues is promising (3).

Unfortunately, finding the right topical CBD product for acne can be difficult. The market is filled with thousands of products, many of which contain less CBD than they should, carry contaminants, or aren’t strong enough to provide an effect.

That’s why we compared dozens of CBD creams, balms, and other topical products based on their formula, third-party lab test results, hemp quality, potency, customer reviews, price, and other criteria.

Here are the best CBD creams and other topical CBD products for acne.

CBD Terminology

  • Terpenes: aromatic plant compounds with a wide variety of beneficial properties (1).
  • Minor cannabinoids: CBN, CBG, and other beneficial cannabinoids that are present in smaller amounts than CBD.
  • Hemp: a non-intoxicating variety of cannabis with high CBD and low THC levels (>0.3%).
  • Full-spectrum: whole-plant hemp extract containing CBD, THC, and other beneficial hemp cannabinoids and terpenes. This CBD form is up to 4 times more potent than pure CBD (2).
  • Broad-spectrum: whole-plant hemp extract similar to full-spectrum CBD, but with THC removed (may contain trace amounts).
  • CBD isolate: pure CBD with all other hemp compounds removed.

CBDefine Skin Care Cream (Best Overall)

Pros: 

  • Full-spectrum CBD
  • Additional anti-acne ingredients
  • Affordable price
  • Organic Colorado hemp source
  • Comprehensive third-party testing
  • U.S. Hemp Authority-certified

Cons:

  • Available in only one potency

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Our top choice for acne is the CBDefine skincare cream from Colorado’s CBDistillery. The company’s combination of high-quality, transparency, and affordable pricing is hard to beat.

This 30 ml cream contains 500 mg of full-spectrum CBD, so you’re getting the complete benefits of the hemp plant. It also contains other natural compounds that can help with inflammation and acne, such as tea tree oil and hemp seed oil.

CBDistillery’s third-party tested cream is derived from organic, non-GMO hemp cultivated in Colorado, the leader of the American hemp farming industry. It’s certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority, which means adherence to strict hemp production standards.

CBDistillery’s CBDefine skincare cream costs $0.10 per mg of CBD. Compared to other CBD topicals on the market, this price is considered below-average. 

Lazarus Naturals Full Spectrum CBD Balm (Best Value and Strength)

Pros: 

  • Full-spectrum CBD
  • High potency
  • Excellent price
  • Comprehensive third-party testing
  • High-quality organic Oregon hemp source
  • Free shipping over $25

Cons:

  • None

If you’re looking for the best value, we recommend the full-spectrum CBD balm from Oregon’s Lazarus Naturals.

It provides 300–1200 mg of CBD for only $0.04–0.05 per mg. Not only is this one of the lowest prices on the market but it also comes with the quality that Lazarus Naturals is known for. 

This balm is formulated with full-spectrum hemp extract. It also has standard skincare ingredients such as beeswax and mango butter, which form a protective layer on the skin to keep it hydrated and moisturized.

Lazarus Naturals’ balm comes in two sizes, 0.5 oz and 2 oz, and five scents: unscented, Portland rose, lavender, cedar citrus, and soothing mint. It’s also one of the most potent CBD topicals available, providing 20 mg of CBD per ml. 

Although you don’t necessarily need a high-potency CBD product for acne, this does mean you can use smaller doses to get even more value. 

Lazarus Naturals is an employee-owned company and directly grows its hemp in Central Oregon — a rarity among CBD companies. It also provides comprehensive third-party test reports directly on each product page to confirm the safety and potency of its products.

CBDMEDIC Acne Treatment Medicated Cream (Best Specialized Topical)

acne-treatment-cream-cbdmedic

Pros: 

  • Contains anti-acne salicylic acid
  • Whole-plant CBD
  • High-quality hemp source
  • Comprehensive third-party testing
  • Reasonable price

Cons:

  • Relatively low strength
  • Third-party tests are only available with lot number

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If you’re looking for a CBD product with salicylic acid, one of the most reliable anti-acne ingredients out there (4), CBDMEDIC is a great option. 

This cream contains 1% salicylic acid alongside 200 mg of broad-spectrum CBD extract, which includes multiple beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes but zero THC. It also has other natural compounds that can help with acne, such as tea tree oil and zinc. 

CBDMEDIC’s acne cream is sourced from Colorado and Oregon-grown hemp and tested by a third-party lab to verify its CBD content. It costs $0.15 per mg of CBD. Considering that you’re also getting salicylic acid, that’s a great price point for a CBD topical.

CBDMEDIC is owned by Charlotte’s Web, one of the oldest and most reputable CBD brands in the industry.

CBDfx Calming CBD Balm Stick (Best Balm)

Pros: 

  • Additional anti-acne ingredients
  • Excellent price
  • Organic Kentucky hemp source
  • Extensive third-party testing

Cons:

  • Not a full-spectrum CBD product

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One of America’s top CBD brands, CBDfx is our go-to pick for an anti-acne balm. It contains 750 or 3000 mg of pure CBD in a 2 oz (60 ml) jar.  

Each balm stick includes all-natural skincare ingredients that can moisturize, reduce inflammation, and help with other acne symptoms, including tea tree oil, lavender, and chamomile.

This balm is derived from organic Kentucky hemp. Like all CBDfx products, it undergoes comprehensive third-party testing to verify its safety and potency, with the results available online.

CBDfx’s calming balm costs only $0.03-0.05 per mg of CBD. Relative to other CBD topicals, that’s an exceptionally low cost.

PlusCBD Gold Formula CBD Balm (Best Travel-Size)

Pros: 

  • Additional anti-acne ingredients
  • Full-spectrum hemp extract
  • Organic European hemp source
  • Comprehensive in-house and third-party testing
  • U.S. Hemp Authority-certified

Cons:

  • Somewhat pricey

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For those who want a product they can use on the go, PlusCBD Oil’s hemp stick is a great option. This balm is made with the company’s Gold formula, a concentrated full-spectrum hemp extract.

It also contains other ingredients that can reduce inflammation, help with dryness, and provide other benefits that can help with acne, such as sweet almond oil and white willow bark.

PlusCBD’s hemp stick comes in a 0.4 oz stick with 45 mg of full-spectrum CBD. It costs $0.33 per mg of CBD, which is higher than average for CBD topicals.

One of the first companies to offer CBD products in the U.S., PlusCBD oil is known for its commitment to quality. It tests all of its products in-house in addition to third-party testing. 

On top of that, it’s one of the only CBD brands that holds both self-affirmed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status and U.S. Hemp Authority Certification, two programs that signify compliance with the stringent manufacturing standards.

How We Choose CBD Products

Here are the key criteria we use to choose the best CBD creams and other CBD products.

Look for Third-Party Tested Brands

Third-party testing is the best way to confirm the efficacy and safety of CBD products. These tests are done by an independent laboratory that checks whether a given product carries as much CBD as it says on the label. 

Third-party tests can also look for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants that may be harmful to the skin.

In this day and age, all reputable CBD companies utilize third-party testing and share the test results publicly on their websites. A lack of these tests is a big red flag. 

Check the Hemp Source

CBD comes from hemp, which means the plant quality and cultivation process are important. The best American hemp is organic and grown in one of three states: Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon. 

European countries are also an excellent source of hemp because many have been growing it continuously for centuries.

It’s even better if the company grows and extracts its hemp directly instead of buying it from another producer or uses USDA-certified organic hemp. You can find all of this info on the company website.

Choose Full-Spectrum CBD When Possible

As we highlighted at the beginning of the article, there are three main types of CBD: isolate, full-spectrum, and broad-spectrum. 

If you want to get the best effects out of a CBD product for acne or any other health issue, it’s best to use a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum product because they contain multiple cannabinoids, terpenes, and other beneficial hemp compounds.

Whole-plant CBD products benefit from the cannabis “entourage effect” — the combined effects of all these compounds working together in synergy, rather than CBD by itself (2). 

Buying Guide for CBD Products for Acne

In this section, we’ll cover everything you need to know about topical CBD products and how they can help with acne.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 121 compounds called cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the cannabinoid most of us are familiar with — CBD is non-intoxicating. That means it doesn’t get you high. 

That’s why many people are using CBD-based products to benefit their health without any of the mind-altering effects of cannabis. CBD can provide numerous health benefits ranging from reducing anxiety to alleviating seizures.

CBD is usually derived from hemp, a variety of cannabis with low THC levels (<0.3%). It’s typically used in the form of CBD oil but also comes in many other products, including topical preparations.

topical-cbd-cream-acne

What are CBD Topicals?

Unlike CBD oil, topical CBD products are designed to be used directly on the skin. They can’t penetrate deep enough to reach the bloodstream, so they’re highly unlikely to cause any side effects.

CBD topicals come in many forms, including lotions and creams, balms and salves, oils and serums, and even cleansers. Although these products can have different uses, they all work as a way of applying CBD to your skin for beneficial effects.

Aside from CBD, topicals often contain many of the same natural, beneficial ingredients you’d see in standard skincare products. These can include common substances such as:

  • essential oils, like lavender and peppermint oil
  • shea and cocoa butter
  • beeswax
  • coconut oil
  • aloe vera
  • vitamin E

Also, CBD topicals designed specifically for acne can contain popular anti-acne ingredients such as salicylic acid and charcoal. The precise ingredient list will vary depending on the product. 

What is Acne?

Also known as acne vulgaris, acne is a skin disorder characterized by pimples (blackheads and whiteheads), oily skin, and scarring. Acne occurs as a result of your hair follicles becoming clogged with dead skin cells and oil.

Acne usually appears on the face, but can also occur on your chest, shoulders, back, and other parts of the body. It can happen in people of all ages, although teenagers are the most commonly affected group.

Health experts estimate that acne affects about 9.4% of the world population, making it the 8th most prevalent disease (5).

The causal factors of acne include:

  • Overproduction of sebum, the oily substance produced by your sebaceous glands to lubricate the skin
  • Inflammation of sebocytes, the skin cells that make up the sebaceous glands
  • Overgrowth of Cutibacterium acnes bacteria

Acne can be treated with a wide variety of approaches, including drugs and dietary changes. However, standard treatments are not always effective and can cause significant side effects.

CBD and Acne: The Research Evidence

Research into CBD’s anti-acne effects has only just begun. However, the findings are promising and suggest that CBD can help with acne in several ways.

One 2019 study looked at the effects of a CBD-infused gel in people with psoriasis, eczema, and scars from acne and these two conditions. The researchers found that CBD alleviated psoriasis symptoms, reduced scars and blemishes, and improved measures of skin health such as elasticity and hydration (6).

Meanwhile, the researchers of a 2014 study applied CBD to human sebocytes, skin cells that produce the oily sebum implicated in acne. 

They found that CBD lowered inflammation, the production of new sebocyte cells, and the secretion of sebum, three processes involved in causing acne (7). The researchers concluded that “CBD has potential…for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”

How Does CBD Help With Acne?

As noted by the study above, CBD can improve acne by reducing inflammation and the production of sebum. It achieves this by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) (8). 

This system helps our bodies maintain a healthy state of balance called homeostasis. To do so, it regulates key processes, such as pain, immune function, sleep, mood, appetite, and digestion.

The ECS and its receptors are present in every part of the body, including the skin. Research suggests that it plays an important role in skin health by regulating inflammation, skin cell growth, and other processes (9).

CBD supports healthy endocannabinoid system function by reducing the breakdown of anandamide, one of the two main endocannabinoid made by our bodies (10).

Another way CBD can fight acne is through its antimicrobial properties (11). There’s some evidence that overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes and other skin bacteria is involved in acne (12).

acne-cbd

Are CBD Topicals Safe?

CBD is considered a generally safe compound with few and minor side effects (13).

More importantly, because CBD cannot penetrate the skin effectively enough to reach the bloodstream, topical products are unlikely to cause drowsiness or other side effects that can occur with ingested products such as tinctures.

Having said that, it’s possible to experience an allergic skin reaction from other ingredients present in CBD topicals, such as terpenes.

Topical CBD Dosage for Acne

Topical CBD products can range in potency from as little as 0.5 mg of CBD per ml to as high as 20 mg/ml. 

There isn’t enough research to suggest the ideal dosage of CBD for acne. Furthermore, the dose can depend on multiple factors, such as the severity of your symptoms and the formulation you’re using. 

As such, the best approach is to start with the dose recommended by your product, assess the effects, and gradually increase until you start experiencing the desired effects.

Topicals vs. Other CBD Products

There are some key differences between topicals and other types of CBD products:

  • Application: Topicals are applied to the skin rather than taken internally.
  • Effects: The effects of topicals are felt in the area applied rather than the whole body (14).
  • Onset time: Topicals typically start working within minutes and their effects can last about as long as tinctures.
  • Dosage: Topicals are harder to dose because you can’t measure the amount as easily as other methods.
  • Price: Topicals tend to cost more than most other CBD products, especially if you use a specialized, multi-ingredient product like a lotion.

How To Apply CBD Topicals for Acne

As with any skincare product, you can apply a CBD topical directly to the area of skin affected by acne pimples or scarring. Make sure the area is clean and dry and massage the product into the skin for best results.

It’s best to start with a small amount and see if you achieve the desired effects. You can always apply more later if needed or use a higher dose next time. 

Can Topical CBD Cause a Failed Drug Test for THC?

As noted above, it’s highly unlikely that a topical CBD product containing THC will cause you to fail a drug test. That’s because cannabinoids cannot effectively penetrate the skin to reach the bloodstream. 

However, research in this area is still ongoing. If you don’t want to take any risks, it’s best to use products made with CBD isolate (pure CBD) or broad-spectrum CBD.

Can You Apply Regular CBD Oil to Acne?

You can also apply regular CBD oil to your skin to help with acne and other conditions. However, this won’t produce the best results because it’s meant to be taken sublingually (under the tongue).

Summing Up: CBD for Acne

Our top pick for the best CBD cream for acne is the CBDefine skincare cream from CBDistillery. It’s full-spectrum, contains other anti-acne ingredients, made by one of the most reputable CBD brands, and comes at an affordable price.

If you’re interested in trying out CBD for acne we recommend using a topical product rather than a sublingual CBD oil. Topical CBD products act directly on the skin area they’re applied to, which is the best way to combat acne.

As an added benefit, you don’t need to worry about any side effects because CBD is highly unlikely to reach the bloodstream when applied to the skin.

References

  1. Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects.” British journal of pharmacology 163.7 (2011): 1344-1364.
  2. Pamplona, Fabricio A., Lorenzo Rolim da Silva, and Ana Carolina Coan. “Potential clinical benefits of CBD-rich cannabis extracts over purified CBD in treatment-resistant epilepsy: observational data meta-analysis.” Frontiers in neurology 9 (2018): 759.
  3. Baswan, Sudhir M., et al. “Therapeutic potential of Cannabidiol (CBD) for skin health and disorders.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology 13 (2020): 927.
  4. Arif, Tasleem. “Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology 8 (2015): 455.
  5. Tan, Jerry KL, and K. Bhate. “A global perspective on the epidemiology of acne.” British Journal of Dermatology 172 (2015): 3-12.
  6. Palmieri, B., C. Laurino, and M. Vadalà. “A therapeutic effect of cbd-enriched ointment in inflammatory skin diseases and cutaneous scars.” La Clinica Terapeutica 170.2 (2019): e93-e99.
  7. Oláh, Attila, et al. “Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes.” The Journal of clinical investigation 124.9 (2014): 3713-3724.
  8. Lu, Hui-Chen, and Ken Mackie. “An introduction to the endogenous cannabinoid system.” Biological psychiatry 79.7 (2016): 516-525.
  9. del Río, Carmen, et al. “The endocannabinoid system of the skin. A potential approach for the treatment of skin disorders.” Biochemical pharmacology 157 (2018): 122-133.
  10. Deutsch, Dale G. “A personal retrospective: elevating anandamide (AEA) by targeting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and the fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs).” Frontiers in pharmacology 7 (2016): 370.
  11. Blaskovich, Mark AT, et al. “The antimicrobial potential of cannabidiol.” Communications Biology 4.1 (2021): 1-18.
  12. Bhatia, Ajay, Jean-Francoise Maisonneuve, and David H. Persing. “Propionibacterium acnes and chronic diseases.” The Infectious Etiology of Chronic Diseases: Defining the Relationship, Enhancing the Research, and Mitigating the Effects: Workshop Summary., Knobler, SL et al.(eds.). 2004.
  13. Larsen, Christian, and Jorida Shahinas. “Dosage, efficacy and safety of cannabidiol administration in adults: a systematic review of human trials.” Journal of clinical medicine research 12.3 (2020): 129.
  14. Bruni, Natascia, et al. “Cannabinoid delivery systems for pain and inflammation treatment.” Molecules 23.10 (2018): 2478.

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