Nobody who spent the ’90s navigating puberty didn’t quote “People say I eat too many chocolate bars” guy from the 1-800-470-ACNE ad at least once. “I tried many things, I tried everything, but just nothing works,” says the pockmarked young man, matter-of-factly to the camera. The ad is an early, un-branded TV spot for Proactiv that existed before we met the dermatologists who created the acne-banishing system, Dr. Katie Rodan, and Dr. Kathy Fields, in later commercials.
There’s a dizzying amount of science behind the causes and cures of acne, but here’s a quick snapshot. Acne occurs when sebaceous glands secrete a viscous substance called sebum, and causes old skin cells and bacteria to clump together to form pore-clogging plugs, called “whiteheads” and “blackheads.” The sebum is like a buffet for bacteria and the waste they produce causes further irritation of the gland.
And if you don’t know at least one person who used Proactiv, then you for sure know someone who was put on Accutane to tame the volcanoes of bacterial magma that sprouted on their skin. Accutane is essentially vitamin A that reduces the amount of oil released by the skin’s glands to treat severe nodular acne. The list of Accutane side effects is alarming. Accutane can cause depressed mood, trouble concentrating, sleep problems, crying spells, aggression or agitation, changes in behavior, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, numbness, blurred vision, hearing loss, seizures, stomach pain, jaundice, severe diarrhea, flu symptoms, severe blistering, and joint stiffness. If used by a pregnant woman, it can also result in severe congenital disabilities. (That’s the abridged version of the complete list!)
Guess what doesn’t cause those side-effects? Cannabis doesn’t. But is it useful for clearing up acne?
Hemp and cannabis-infused topical creams, ointments, oils, and balms are the breakout (ha!) stars of the cannabis industry right now. They’re on the pages of Elle, Cosmo, Marie Claire, and Vogue, and the stuff is barely even legal yet. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory attributes of cannabinoids give the plant almost totemic powers, but the science hasn’t concluded much in the way of acne-clearing capabilities.
One interesting study from the University of Debrecen in Hungary, suggests that while anandamide, our body’s own THC, stimulates the skin’s sebaceous glands, CBD suppresses it.
The study found that endocannabinoids help determine how much sebum the sebaceous glands create. Too much of the endocannabinoid anandamide can also lead to skin dryness and conditions like eczema. When researchers applied the non-psychoactive CBD to these skin cells, the anandamide decreased, and oil production stopped. CBD also acts as an anti-inflammatory salve for the irritated skin surrounding a plug or pimple.
So, lather up with a CBD-rich soap, apply your CBD topical of choice to acne-prone skin, and (for crying out loud) stay away from high-glycemic index foods that also spur sebum production. You could clear up that pizza face in no time.
Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.