In the 5 th century BC, the ancient historian Herodotus wrote about a fountain, the waters of which can make the skin “all glossy and sleek” and extend the lifespan of anyone bathing in it.
The myth of the Fountain of Youth was sparked anew in the early 16 th century by Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer who was supposedly trying to discover this source of eternal beauty and youth in the Bahamas—as far as we know, he failed in his mission.
The myth of magical waters that can provide eternal beauty and youth has persisted for so long because we’re fascinated with the youthful look and ways to hold on to it for as long as possible.
Looking and feeling young seems beyond our control, and yet society often judges us based off of how young we look. Though we can’t actually become young again, we can take small steps to preserve the youthful look we already have, such as by dealing with acne.
So, how close is CBD (cannabidiol) to the Fountain of Youth? Can CBD make you look younger? Let’s find out.
How Does Skin Work?
Skin is the largest organ in the body, comprised of two layers:
- Epidermis, the waxy outer layer
- Dermis, the thriving inner layer
The dermis supports, feeds, and cushions the epidermis, which in turn shields the dermis from the environment. Together, these two layers envelop the body and let us interface with the world. Through skin, we touch and get touched by the environment.
Not all environments have an equally gentle touch, and some of them manhandle us. Whenever we’re exposed to toxic chemicals or the elements, the epidermis takes the brunt of the impact, acting as a shock absorber. The dermis then kicks into action and replaces the damaged epidermis cells, which works just fine—unless the damage happens on an ongoing basis. The gist of this is that skin is a layered system, and any changes to it (whether good or bad) take time to manifest. By the time you notice the change, the process has already been going on for years.
Why Does the Skin Lose Its Youthful Look?
As the skin gets damaged, the body will react with inflammation and distribute nutrients it has in stock to help the damage heal correctly. In cases where the body doesn’t have enough nutrients and the damage is ongoing, the epidermis doesn’t heal all the way through, leading to a gradual appearance of things such as acne. Over time, the dermis and epidermis can no longer keep up, and that’s when the skin loses its youthful look. In essence, anything that repeatedly touches the epidermis eventually seeps into dermis, at which point both layers start changing.
Ongoing skin damage means the body is drawing on its nutrient stock, which can cause problems to the rest of the body that suddenly finds itself lacking nutrients. You can see where this is going: without nutrients, other organs can also experience inflammation and have the
exact same issue of improperly healed damage that leads to more problems for the skin. And if you start worrying about all of this happening to you, you’ll frown and furrow your forehead, which will lead to wrinkles as well!
Helping the Body Heal
To promote healing of not just the skin but the entire body, we should stop worrying and start taking small daily steps that are convenient and affordable to us. For example, we should try to increase nutrient intake, especially when it comes to antioxidants, to prevent at least some of the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
Inside the body, there’s a constant circulation of free radicals that pretty much fry whatever they come in contact with, basically causing the body to burn up on the inside, cell by cell. Some of these free radicals are produced by the body and others are toxic chemicals coming from the outside. The body neutralizes all of them by spending nutrients known as antioxidants, which include vitamins.
There are actually tons of nutrients that serve as antioxidants, ranging from carotenoids found in colorful fruits and veggies to vitamins such as vitamins C and E. As we learn more and more about nature, we start finding some unusual anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in all sorts of things, including CBD. Now let’s see if and how CBD can make the skin look younger.
CBD Anti-inflammatory Effects
In a joint EU-Japanese study done in 2014 titled “Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes”, scientists looked at how CBD affects sebocytes, skin glands that produce various oils to lubricate hair follicles. When sebocytes get inflamed, infected, or just grow and produce oils uncontrollably, the skin develops acne, for which there is still no universal cure.
The study states that “CBD exerts universal antiinflammatory actions” and that “these results strongly suggest that CBD’s universal sebostatic action is accompanied by substantial antiinflammatory effects, which would be very much desired in the clinical treatment of acne vulgaris”. In other words, the study concludes that CBD reduced the inflammation and prevented the growth and oil production of sebocytes when CBD was applied to the skin culture and sebocytes for 24 hours. However, that was a lab test done on skin samples, not on actual skin.
So, can CBD be safely applied to actual skin and what are the effects? Bathing in undiluted CBD might cause problems, but a 2019 Hungarian study titled “Cannabinoid Signaling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the ‘C(ut)annabinoid’ System” states that “carefully selected doses of topically applied CBD might also exert beneficial effects in AA”, meaning alopecia areata, or spot baldness. Can you guess why AA happens? That’s right: inflammation of the hair follicles.
The study notes that “cannabinoid abuse can be accompanied by acne, [which] highlights how cannabinoid signaling may influence human sebocyte biology”, though “CBD was found to exert complex anti-acne effects”. Indeed, in an ongoing study titled “The safety of topical cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of acne”, 23 volunteers having 40–150 incidents of facial acne were
given a proprietary 5% CBD solution to apply twice a day to their acne. After 28 days of use, the study found that “preliminary results show that 5% [CBD solution] is safe and well tolerated and activity in acne has been observed” but that more studies are needed before any conclusive results can be drawn.
When CBD was rubbed on the skin of rats who had arthritis induced in their knees, a 2016 study titled “Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis” found that “outcomes of this study indicate that topical application of CBD gel is an effective treatment for reduction in inflammation” and that “transdermal administration of CBD provided good blood absorption due to avoidance of first pass metabolism”. In other words, CBD rubbed on the skin bypasses the digestion and enters the blood more easily. The gelsused in that study delivered up to 62.3 mg of CBD a day by being rubbed for 30 seconds, applied each day over the course of four days.
CBD Antioxidant Effects
When inflammation happens, it means the body is already being damaged. However, by taking in antioxidants, we can prevent some of the damage from happening in the first place, especially in organs that are vulnerable to oxidation. Fatty acids, such as those found in the skin but also in the retina, are especially vulnerable to oxidation, but studies done with CBD show some quite unusual results, to put it mildly.
A 2018 Italian study titled “Cannabis sativa L. and Nonpsychoactive Cannabinoids: Their Chemistry and Role against Oxidative Stress, Inflammation, and Cancer” mentions that “CBD has been found to possess antioxidant activity in many studies”, calling it “one of the most interesting compounds” and adding that “CBD represents at the moment the most promising compound present in C. sativa.” Why all the gushing? Let’s take a look at another study to find out.
In a 2003 study titled “Neuroprotective Effect of(−)Δ 9 -Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol in N-Methyl-d-Aspartate-Induced Retinal Neurotoxicity”, the compound known as NMDA was injected into rats’ eyes to cause the oxidation of fatty acids in their retinas, normally expected to lead to glaucoma and blindness. However, when 2 mg of CBD per kilogram of body weight was injected right before the NMDA injection, roughly 75% of damage was prevented. The study concludes that “CBD is not only an antioxidant per se but it also inhibits the degradation of an endogenous cannabinoid, arachidonoyl ethanolamide or anandamide, which has been shown as a neuroprotectant through multiple mechanisms including noncannabinoid receptor targets”, meaning CBD synergizes with other antioxidants already in the body.
It is important to note, of course, that all these individual studies are not enough to draw wide conclusions from. They may help researchers determine future directions to take their experiments, but they can’t be used to definitively say CBD can be used for specific treatments.
The FDA has not yet approved CBD as a treatment for any of the conditions tested in these studies.
Sadly, no single substance can ever match the fabled rejuvenating effects of the Fountain of Youth, and CBD is no exception. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to retain that youthful look. By taking in nutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, we can help the body protect itself from damage and heal properly, which includes rejuvenating the skin.
We need many more studies to determine if CBD can make you look younger, but so far the results are encouraging. What we do know about skin aging is that it’s a lifelong process that is
curbed by nutrients, antioxidants, and by avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals and the elements. Studies are just starting to investigate the potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties of CBD, sparking hope that CBD may one day be proven to help us all look younger.
In the end, the only way to find out an answer to the question yourself if to try out some CBD oil, or perhaps a topical CBD cream, and see what it can do for you.