My brown skin allows me the luxury of being less prone to sunburn, so I was surprised last week when I was squirming at my desk because my shoulders and upper back felt all hot and bothered (not in the good way). Turns out the sun had gotten me when I was sitting by the pool in New Orleans the weekend before, for not more than an hour, sans sunscreen. Oh shut up. We all forget sometimes.
So here I am rummaging through my desk drawer of wellness-editor swag for something with aloe in it, since that’s the go-to, and of course I find weed lotion instead. Well, kind of; it was a CBD lotion that Lord Jones sent me to try. And since it looked harmless enough, I slathered a bit of it on and felt an immediate cooling effect. And then, because jumping to conclusions is my favorite, I wondered: Could CBD replace aloe vera for sunburns? Could this be a skin revolution? I wasn’t high—CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana—but probably too optimistic. I called a derm to find out.
“More research needs to be done but it is promising,” says Joyce Fox, a dermatologist at Cedars Sinai Hospital in California and a professor of clinical dermatology at UCLA. “There have been [CBD products] that are recommended—not specifically necessarily for sunburn—but just as an anti-inflammatory.” Fox says that dermatologists are “more adventurous” doctors, open to trying even off-label things if it’ll help their patients, but she also says she doesn’t know of any studies that tout CBD as beneficial for sunburn.
While CBD’s been known to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, there is indeed very skimpy research on its benefits to human skin. Still, it made sense to me; if my skin is feeling tender, why not try something like this? Cindy Capobianco, the HBIC at Lord Jones, tells me that while the lotion isn’t marketed as a sunburn solution, people do use it as one because the CBD, along with mint extract and other emollients, have a cooling, soothing effect on sunburned skin.
A learning moment: Sunburn is actually the skin attempting to heal itself. “[It’s] a delayed reaction to ultraviolet or infrared, at an excess if you’ve been in the sun too long,” Fox tells me. “The mechanism of a sunburn is a release of inflammatory cells to kind of repair the skin. That’s why there’s increased sensitivity. There’s skin pressure and heat, swelling, and even blistering sometimes.”
She says that aloe vera is the first thing everyone thinks of to soothe sunburn because it has a strong cooling effect and it keeps the water content in the skin so you don’t dehydrate. “That we know,” she says. “But it also may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. So it’s not a prescription item but it is helpful.”
When I ask, bright-eyed, if CBD is the next frontier for skin relief, she tells me she needs to see more research: “If cannabinoids can help—no matter which way, topically or orally—then of course we’re open to that.”
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