CBD Sunscreen: How Does It Protect Your Skin?

illustration of CBD sunscreen with leaves behind
Written by Nina Julia | Last updated: September 3, 2021

Sun is the source of vitamin D, which has a profound impact on our immune system. People have been thriving in the sun for thousands of years, but excess exposure to UV rays from the sun can actually damage the skin, and if the damage becomes chronic, you may even develop skin cancer.

For that reason — and to avoid incidental sunburn — people turn to sunscreen that helps to protect the skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most common type of sunscreen has at least 30 SPF.

Could CBD add an extra layer of protection to protect your skin against the consequences of excessive exposure to sunlight?

Does it help with sunburn and skin irritation?

We’ve put together current studies on the protective benefits of CBD for the skin, along with opinions from dermatologists regarding the actual efficacy of CBD sunscreen.

Let’s take a closer look at the science behind this product.

What Is CBD Sunscreen?

CBD sunscreen is a blend of two products, making it easier for people to add CBD oil’s soothing and regenerative benefits to the protective layer ensured by the sunscreen.

It’s a fusion of traditional sunscreen with a full-spectrum CBD oil, but there are also sunscreens infused with CBD isolate. 

The pure CBD isolate is put under thorough filtering to ensure that CBD is the only ingredient that enters the final formulation.

On the other hand, full-spectrum CBD is the least processed form, containing all cannabinoids and terpenes that naturally occur in hemp plants. While the superiority of full-spectrum CBD over isolate is still up for debate, many experts believe that full-spectrum CBD oil is more effective than pure CBD because of the phenomenon called the entourage effect.

The trace amounts of THC in your sunscreen won’t pass into the bloodstream, so you don’t need to worry about failing a drug test.

That being said, CBD sunscreen infused with full-spectrum CBD may have an oily texture and leave a distinct botanical scent on your skin. If you’re aiming for a purer experience, isolate may be a better option.

CBD Sunscreen Benefits

Several studies, such as the one published in the Journal of Molecules in 2019, have highlighted CBD as the potential regenerative agent that can improve the rate at which skin cells heal. When it comes to sunburn, CBD sunscreen could reduce the time your skin needs to recover.

Since sun-related damage is one of the leading causes of skin cancer, CBD may reduce the toll excessive exposure to sunlight takes on your skin in the years to come.

There are also more benefits to using CBD sunscreen than just protection from the sun. It can also slow the aging of the skin and improve the overall appearance thanks to its potent antioxidant and moisturizing properties. That’s why CBD is such a popular ingredient in skincare products.

For example, a 2016 study from Pharmacological Research has found that CBD is an effective antioxidant. Another study (from 2017) posted by the Brazilian Society of Dermatology found that antioxidants are essential for maintaining skin health. They cause a range of different chemical reactions on the sub-dermal level — improving the skin’s ability to heal and regulate itself.

To wrap it up, applying an SPF sunscreen gives you the best of both worlds; you can protect the skin from UV damage while ensuring it remains well-nourished and healthy in the long run.

How Does CBD Sunscreen Work?

a woman at the beach applying CBD sunscreen onto her own shoulder

CBD sunscreen consists of two different components: traditional SPF sunscreen and CBD (either full-spectrum or isolate). The SPF in the sunscreen provides a protective layer against excessive exposure to sunlight, just like regular sunscreen does. It’s important to note that the best CBD sunscreens are water-resistant. Without that feature, CBD sunscreen will become less effective.

CBD Sunscreen vs. Regular Sunscreen

If you’re wondering if the benefits of CBD sunscreen make it worth replacing your regular sunscreen with, the answer is a sound yes.

The main benefit of using CBD sunscreen is that you actually apply two different products to your body simultaneously. While the sunscreen creates a protective layer against harmful UV rays, the addition of CBD helps to ease inflammation and provides antioxidant properties — easing discomfort and irritation on top of improving overall skin health.

What Dermatologists Are Saying About CBD Sunscreen

There’s a misconception about CBD sunscreen when it comes to its protective properties. Since CBD is a potent antioxidant preventing skin aging and wrinkles, it can protect the skin against free radical damage caused by environmental factors such as excessive exposure to sunlight.

That being said, some CBD companies tend to far-fetch this concept — claiming that CBD can directly block UV rays from penetrating the skin.

Dr. Aaanand Geria MD, a dermatologist with Geria Dermatology in New Jersey, isn’t so sure about the above claims:

“It is believed that CBD can block the absorption of UV rays by creating a ‘natural layer of SPF’ on the skin, but there is not enough research or evidence to support this.

His colleague, Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, the founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare — and one of the first dermatologists to study the impact of the sun on the skin in the 1970s — supports her safe approach, saying that;

“I cannot find any studies showing that CBD has any action spectrum in the UV range, so it doesn’t seem to block or absorb UV. My sense is that consumers are very curious to experience CBD products, and sunscreen categories are the latest to embrace CBD popularity.”

Does it mean that combining these two products is a bad thing? 

Not at all.

Both dermatologists agree that CBD can have other positive effects on the skin that may work hand-in-hand with SPF sunscreen.

Other Benefits of CBD for Skin Care

Dr. Loretta says that “The most obvious benefit may be that CBD is anti-inflammatory. Since UV exposure does cause inflammation (in the form of redness and sunburn), this is a pretty strong case for adding cannabidiol to your sun-care lineup.”

“CBD is known to have some antioxidant properties, meaning that CBD can protect the skin from environmental pollution, too. CBD oil also contains essential fatty acids which help hydrate the skin,” Dr. Geria adds.

In essence, consider CBD a little bonus to the protective effects of your sunscreen. While CBD won’t block UV rays from penetrating your skin, it’s nice to have if you want to minimize the side effects of staying in the sun for too long.

The only concern from health experts is that some CBD-infused SPF creams are about the chemical actives and topical CBD penetrating the bloodstream.

“Recent studies show that when an [chemical] SPF is applied according to label directions, there is some absorption of ingredients into the bloodstream. CBD can be a blood thinner, so I definitely would not recommend using a CBD sunscreen all over the body if you are on a blood thinner.” Dr. Loretta notes.

Final Thoughts on CBD Sunscreen: Does It Make Sense?

CBD is much like pumpkin spice; you can find it pretty much anywhere these days, from oils, tinctures and capsules to vapes to dog treats to toothpaste and topical cream products. CBD sunscreen is one of the new summer trends — but does it actually make sense?

Yes, CBD can, without a doubt, enhance the effects of sunscreen, but not in a way that some hemp companies want you to think.

CBD offers inflammatory and antioxidant properties; full-spectrum CBD oil also contains essential vitamins and fatty acids that moisturize and nourish the skin. This translates into less intense sunburn, faster regeneration, and better overall skin health. That being said, CBD doesn’t block UV rays from penetrating the skin, so you shouldn’t use it instead of the regular sunscreen.

Do you use CBD sunscreen? Can you tell the difference between regular sunscreen and CBD-infused one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Reference Links:

  1. Tóth, K. F., Ádám, D., Bíró, T., & Oláh, A. (2019). Cannabinoid Signaling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the “C(ut)annabinoid” System. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(5), 918. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24050918   (1)
  2. Campos, A. C., Fogaça, M. V., Sonego, A. B., & Guimarães, F. S. (2016). Cannabidiol, neuroprotection, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Pharmacological Research, 112, 119–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phrs.2016.01.033   (2)
  3. Addor F. (2017). Antioxidants in dermatology. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia, 92(3), 356–362. https://doi.org/10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175697   (3)

Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.

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