Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring compound found in hemp and cannabis, and is used in a variety of consumer products including sunscreens. However, whether the addition of CBD offers any protection from the sun had not yet been tested — until now.
According to a first-ever study, CBD can protect laboratory-grown skin cells from cell death triggered by UVB rays — the component of sunlight that causes sunburns, skin cancer, and premature aging.
These findings indicate that CBD could be a beneficial additive to sunscreens and may offer more protection than sunscreen alone.
The study was led by the biotechnology company Applied Biology Inc. and supported by the natural health products company, Jupiter Wellness.
CBD Prevents Skin Cell Death
“When we added CBD and exposed the cells to radiation, what we found was that in some cases more 50% of them survived,” Dr. Andy Goren, president and chief medical officer of Applied Biology Inc. and author of the study, tells us. “This means there’s a protective effect.”
For the study, two types of laboratory-grown human skin cells — keratinocytes and melanocytes — were treated with CBD for one hour before being exposed to UVB light. These two cell types make up over 90% of the cells found in the outermost layer of the skin.
In trials without any added CBD, only about 16% of cells survived a 10-second exposure to UVB. However, for cells treated with CBD, up to 65% of cells survived irradiation — a 49% increase in survival rate.
However, Goren notes that CBD itself cannot physically block UVB rays, meaning the protective effects must be coming from something else.
“It’s not a physical barrier,” Goren says. “It’s a biological mechanism, but we don’t know what it is yet.”
“One possibility could be that it’s neutralizing reactive oxygen species,” explains Glynn Wilson, chairman and chief scientific officer of Jupiter Wellness. “But we don’t really know. There are a host of potential mechanisms which we will have to look at further.”
Reactive oxygen species are high-energy molecules created by UVB that can damage DNA, trigger inflammation, and cause cell death. CBD is an antioxidant and can eliminate these reactive oxygen species.
Wilson said CBD may be providing protection through other processes as well such as by preventing inflammation or promoting DNA repair, only additional research can determine what exactly is at play.
Sunscreen Still Important, CBD Not a Replacement
When infused into sunscreen, Goren says the protective effects of CBD could potentially provide a variety of additional benefits.
“This could translate to longer-lasting or higher protection SPF,” Goren discusses. “But more research is needed.”
CBD may also penetrate the skin better than other antioxidants commonly used in skin care products because it’s hydrophobic — meaning it mixes better with oil than water — making it an excellent additive.
But Goren notes that because CBD does not physically block any UV rays it cannot be used as a sunscreen substitute.
“I see CBD as something that could potentially work synergistically to improve the efficacy of sunscreens,” Goren says. “But it’s not a replacement. All people should use sunscreen that provides sufficient SPF protection for the length of time they are outside.”
For those interested in trying a CBD-infused sunscreen, both Goren and Wilson advise looking at FDA-compliant companies that use a pure CBD source and is invested in using science to guide their development processes.
“People have infused CBD into everything and a lot of it is just marketing claims,” Goren said. “This is the first time we’ve found a clue that CBD can improve UV protection.”