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Can CBD Be Used To Treat A Sunburn?

We’ve all been there: Spent a bit too long at the pool, and our skin turns red and inflamed. Turns out, cannabis might offer a solution! To find out what research suggests about CBD and sunburn, keep reading.

We’ve all heard about CBD, and how it features in studies of epilepsy [1] , and potentially numerous other conditions like anxiety [2] , Parkinson’s [3] , Alzheimer’s [4] , and depression [5] . But is there any research into CBD and the treatment of sunburn?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most common cannabinoid. Many researchers are fascinated by the compound because of ongoing research into its interaction with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). Unlike its more popular companion THC, CBD is non-psychotropic according to a review by the World Health Organisation [6] (WHO). CBD is usually sold in oral form, but topical CBD also exists and is especially relevant to skin issues. Before we dive into scientific conclusions on CBD and sunburn, we’ll begin with a brief overview of what a sunburn is.

WHAT IS A SUNBURN?

A sunburn is the skin’s reaction to ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays cause damage to the skin; a sunburn occurs when the body sends inflammatory cells to the site of the damage in an attempt to heal, guard the skin against further damage, and motivate the human to get out of the sun. Sunburns are a delayed response, and will appear sometime after the sun exposure that caused them. Peak redness will appear 12–24 hours after exposure. Sunburn symptoms are generally limited to redness, peeling skin, and pain, but can include nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills in some cases. Following a sunburn, if you find yourself fainting, experiencing low blood pressure, or becoming very weak, go to a hospital.

There are two types of UV rays that reach earth from the sun: UVA and UVB. UVA rays have a longer wavelength and penetrate the skin more deeply, while UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and only penetrate the skin superficially. UVB rays are what cause sunburns, though UVA rays contribute to skin ageing and cancer risk. When choosing a sunscreen, make sure to choose one with broad-spectrum protection that guards against both.

CAN CBD BE USED TO SUPPORT THE TREATMENT OF SUNBURN?

According to research, CBD has previously exhibited traits that could be of use to those suffering sunburn. Examples include anti-inflammatory [7] , which targets the main mechanism of sunburn-related pain; antibacterial [8] , which is useful since burned skin is especially susceptible to infection; antioxidant [9] , which is useful in fighting free radicals. CBD is also believed [10] to elevate anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid involved in several biological processes.

However, there has not actually been any research on the direct impact of CBD on sunburn. All the above studies do is suggest that CBD has mechanics that could be beneficial.

Is cannabis the next frontier in treating sunburns? Oral and topical CBD may have effects that help heal and relieve this unpleasant summer fixture.

I Tried CBD Lotion for Sunburn

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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Move over, aloe.