Seemingly overnight, CBD has become as ubiquitous on store shelves and medicine cabinets as Tylenol. The surge in popularity is no surprise given the alleged therapeutic powers CBD holds: it’s said to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, prevent infection, soothe anxiety and indigestion, and make your skin glow and hair grow. The hype around CBD has led the cannabinoid (which is a fancy way of saying it’s a chemical compound found in cannabis) to become popular in virtually every industry. Despite the fact that cannabis is illegal in most parts of the world, products containing CBD are largely unregulated, especially in the United States, and as a result, have continued to proliferate. There’s CBD mascara, CBD-infused drinks, and even CBD tattoo products designed to help heal and maintain the look of your ink.
But does CBD tattoo aftercare live up to the hype? And if CBD is unregulated, are the products safe? We chatted with experts to get some answers.
What is CBD, exactly?
CBD is shorthand for cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in cannabis (AKA hemp and marijuana plants). Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the other major chemical component of cannabis, CBD is not psychoactive, so it won’t get you high. Instead, users laud it for its ability to limit anxiety by activating serotonin receptors, dampen pain, and even treat seizure disorders by reducing the frequency and severity of episodes—it’s worth noting that there’s no significant clinical evidence verifying these claims, though.
Because the recreational usage of cannabis is still federally illegal in most countries (it’s only legal in Canada, Georgia, South Africa, and Uruguay), very little research has been conducted on its effects and how it’s processed by the body. One of the few things we know is that when inhaled or ingested, our bodies process cannabinoids using our endocannabinoid system. But what happens when we apply them topically? Since so little research has been conducted on the subject, there’s no definitive answer on whether cannabinoids can penetrate the skin’s surface (and surface penetration is necessary if the CBD products are going to affect tattoos, which are embedded in the dermis, the second layer of skin).
Nevertheless, some studies suggest that in a serum, balm, or lotion, CBD has anti-itch, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2007 study from the Journal of Dermatological Science even found that CBD can help treat psoriasis; reducing redness and flaking and leading to more balanced skin. This is why skincare companies are increasingly incorporating the ingredient into their products. It’s also why some tattoo artists are incorporating CBD-aftercare into their routines—tattoos swell the skin and can cause itching during the healing process.
What’s the purpose of CBD tattoo products?
Don Hayes-Ranns is one of many people creating CBD tattoo products. Leveraging his background as a chemist, Hayes-Ranns co-founded Tattoo Lovers Care, a line of CBD-infused creams and salves designed to help tattoos heal faster and look their best. “Most [tattoo] aftercare companies are really just focused on the healing [the wound] immediately after being tattooed,” he says. Instead of just focusing on healing, Tattoo Lovers Care creates products that are aimed at keeping tattoos looking as fresh as possible after they’re healed, too.
The company currently stocks two products: a salve, which is step one in what is meant to be a two step process. Containing 100 milligrams of CBD per a two ounce container, the salve is designed for use during the first few days of the healing process, when the tattoo is still raw and swollen. The second product is a cream, which contains 50 milligrams of CBD per two ounce container and is meant to be used once the tattoo reaches the peeling and flaking phase of healing, though you can continue using the cream for as long as you’d like after the tattoo is healed.
Hayes-Ranns explains that while CBD is an integral component of their products, what’s more important is the fact that their products are all-natural and vegan. “The marriage of all natural, organic vegan ingredients [that] best heal the skin” after getting tattooed, he says. The company also uses arnica in its products, a herb that is believed to help reduce pain and inflammation (there’s little scientific evidence supporting this, but it’s used by many homeopathic doctors), and moisturizing shea butter which contains fatty acids that allow it to penetrate the skin (meaning it goes deep into the dermis where the tattoo pigment is embedded).
Channing Stone, a tattoo artist based in LA, uses CBD oil during her tattooing process, too. When she’s working on large-scale projects, she applies the CBD oil from Infinite CBD to completed sections and covers it with plastic wrap to maximize the product’s absorption into the skin. “I put the oil on the tattoo and I wrap it with Saran wrap and let it sit in there for at least 10 minutes,” she explains. “It cools the skin down [and reduces the] redness. Afterwards, it’s not inflamed or irritated.” She then sends clients home with a small vial of the CBD oil she uses during the session so they can continue to apply it.
Are CBD tattoo products worth it?
According to Ryann Schofield, a tattooer based in Vermont, applying undiluted CBD (which is what Stone uses) to a tattoo wouldn’t be harmful to the average person, but she does think it’s “excessive and expensive”. Her recommendation when shopping for a product? “Make sure the balm or ointment is made specifically for tattoos. There are some ingredients [in other CBD products] that you do not want to use on a tattoo,” including alcohol, which can burn the skin, and petroleum, which isn’t breathable and will hinder the healing of new ink.
Colleen Kibler, the founder and formulator for Nurse Mary J Hemp CBD Tattoo Aftercare, agrees with Ryann’s suggestions. “I can’t recommend that you put just any CBD oil or tincture directly on a tattoo. Many products on the market right now contain things like synthetic terpenes or other flavoring agents that may not be beneficial to healing. It truly is best to use a product that has been purposely formulated with the understanding that a fresh tattoo is an open wound.”
It’s also worth noting that CBD skincare products marketed as containing ‘natural ingredients’ are sometimes made using ingredients that can irritate the skin, such as vitamin C, which makes skin extra sensitive to UV light—not what you want for a tattoo, since new ink should be kept out of the sun—and essential oils, whose scents are irritants to broken skin.
Because there isn’t much scientific evidence in support of the anti-inflammatory and healing power of CBD, it’s impossible to say whether tattoo products containing the cannabinoid are worth it. At this point, despite the hype, there’s no proof that CBD tattoo products are superior to any other aftercare product.
Some CBD aftercare options
While it can certainly be tempting to try something new, you should do your research before you buy any CBD product. And if you’re using it specifically for your ink, opt for a balm or salve from companies like Tattoo Lovers Care or Nurse Mary J, which specialize in tattoo aftercare. Some other options include Inkeeze’s Hemp Tattoo Aftercare Kit ($40), Susan’s CBD Aftercare Salve ($20), CBD2Heal Tattoo Aftercare ($40), and Kenoil CBD Aftercare (€9).