CBD Beauty Products: Experts Weigh in on What You Need to Know
By Amy Lee
CBD has undoubtedly taken the beauty world by storm -- sales are expected to surpass $20 billion by 2024.
In the last few years, the cannabis-derived ingredient has increasingly become a fascination among brands and consumers alike, making its way into a plethora of skincare and makeup products.
It's a huge trend, and one with no shortage of controversy. With minimal research on its health benefits, gray area in legalities and the fact that it comes from the stigmatized cannabis plant, many are suspicious of the pot-stirring ingredient (no pun intended).
So if you've never used CBD before or don't really know what it is, you're bound to have a lot of questions -- Is CBD the same thing as marijuana? Does it get you high? How does it actually work?
To clarify assumptions, myths and marketing ploys, we've tapped numerous experts in the field, including dermatologists and cannabis connoisseurs, to weigh in on what we need to know about CBD in beauty products, from its benefits to what to look out for before buying.
Brush up on your CBD knowledge ahead.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is one of over 100 compounds, called cannabinoids, found in cannabis plants, which includes hemp and marijuana.
Can CBD Get You High?
CBD is not psychoactive. It won't get you high if it's derived from hemp because hemp has low levels of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol (the chemical responsible for making a person feel high).
Although CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana, it is almost always extracted from hemp, especially for product usage.
"Hemp typically contains greater amounts of CBD and very little THC, sometimes even at non-detectable levels," says John Gorst, CEO of premium cannabis holdings company Ionic Brands. "To be defined as hemp it must contain 0.3% or less of THC in the plants and plant parts."
"When it comes to beauty products, brands are likely using CBD from the hemp plant, as it is now federally legal under the Farm Bill," adds Gorst. "Cannabis is still only legal in some states, so it is much easier for any national company to stick with hemp for widespread distribution of their products."
As mentioned, hemp-derived CBD is legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, but there are many restrictions to note.
Dr. Alex Capano, chief science officer of hemp technology company Ecofibre Limited and the first person to receive a doctorate in cannabinoid science, expands:
"CBD has to be derived from hemp that is grown in the U.S. That’s not readily enforced right now, but, technically, imported hemp is not legal. The 2018 Farm Bill permanently removed hemp-derived cannabinoids from the Controlled Substances Act, so they are no longer considered Schedule 1 [a classifier for the most dangerous drugs], whereas cannabinoids derived from a cannabis plant that is not considered hemp or grown outside of the U.S. is still considered Schedule 1. So, it’s a little tricky."
For it to be legal, hemp must be "produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill" by a licensed grower, following federal and state regulations, according to the Brookings Institute.
The Food and Drug Administration so far has "approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products." As for cosmetic products that are used for "cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance," the FDA does not give "premarket" approval, but the agency can take action if a product or ingredient is deemed unsafe.
As CNET points out, there is still a lot of gray area regarding legality, regulations and enforcement around CBD, which the FDA has yet to figure out.
What Are CBD's Benefits & How Does It Work in Beauty Products?
Benefits for the skin
First, we have to understand how CBD works in the body via the endocannabinoid system. Dr. Sonia Batra, a board-certified dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors, explains.
"Recent research has uncovered an extensive network to maintain balance in the body called the endocannabinoid system, which is thought to regulate pain, appetite, inflammation, immunity, stress, lipid production (how much oil our skin produces) and more."
"The skin contains numerous cannabinoid receptors which are bound and activated by CBD," Dr. Batra continues. "When applied to the skin in a cream, lotion or oil, CBD is absorbed and binds cannabinoid receptors to potentially reduce inflammation, calm redness and reduce acne. Some recent studies have shown CBD products can be effective at treating eczema and psoriasis."
Essentially, it is a natural interaction between the human body's endocannabinoid receptors and cannabinoid chemicals, which has shown to maintain homeostasis.
Or, as Charlotte Palermo, beauty writer and co-founder of cannabis education platform Nice Paper, simply puts it: "All you need to know is you make the same chemical compounds as hemp and that’s why your body likes it and that’s why your body reacts to it."
Dr. Capano touts that CBD not only aids in balancing oil production, in turn relieving acne, but also helps with cell turnover and "keeps us fresh-looking and reduces the appearance and development of fine lines."
She says it's also naturally antimicrobial and can specifically and gently fight against bacteria such as staph and MRSA.
"That’s a bacteria that is commonly colonized on our skin and doesn’t cause problems until it gets into deeper layers or other areas, so that can even be what the bacterial cause is of skin eruptions like acne. You’re going to be able to kill that bacteria [with CBD], but not irritate the skin in ways you would with an antibiotic."
CBD is also full of antioxidants, according to Dr. Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.
"They have more antioxidant capacity than many of the most powerful omega threes. This helps with hydration, aging and inflammatory diseases such as eczema. It also helps to protect against UV light and pollutants."
As for the most effective type of CBD skincare product, experts mostly prefer oils.
"In general, products which are formulated as oils or ointments will deliver more CBD to the skin," Dr. Batra says. "Avoid products with added fragrances or preservatives that may worsen redness or inflammation."
So what about CBD-infused makeup products like lipstick and mascara? Do they really work?
"Since CBD is an emollient, its presence in lipstick and lip balm can provide moisture and a creamy texture," Dr. Batra adds. "CBD in mascara and brow gel has an additional benefit since it offers a vegan alternative to the traditional beeswax binders. Whether CBD makeup products actually do anything depends on the concentration of CBD and whether the vehicle allows absorption in the skin. If absorbed, the CBD should help hydrate and calm inflammation in the skin."
Benefits for stress and anxiety
In addition to topical application, CBD can be ingested or inhaled via smoking/vaping, edibles, tincture (drops under the tongue) or capsules. CBD is widely touted for its calming effect to minimize anxiety and stress levels.
"CBD can increase serotonin signaling," Palermino explains. "Serotonin can make you feel better. It can help with anxiety. It also can reduce signaling out of your brain’s fear center, the amygdala."
"The only clinical study we have is from Brazil," she adds. "It showed 300mg of CBD helps with public speaking and anxiety tied to public speaking. So we do have one human clinical study, even though it’s a very specific case."
To optimize its soothing effect, Maggie Connors, CEO and founder of cannabis vape brand besito, recommends the inhaling method.
"Inhaling CBD is one of the most effective ways to receive the benefits of the compound. The lungs offer large surface area for absorption to the bloodstream and can carry more CBD than other methods. It's also the quickest way to feel the effects since the CBD doesn't need to go through the digestive system where enzymes break it down. Therefore at besito we decided to create a vaporizer to maximize the benefits of the plant, but through a much healthier ingestion method than traditional smoking."
What Are Full Spectrum, Broad Spectrum and Isolate CBD?
There are three types of CBD formulations:
Full Spectrum: think of it as cold-pressing hemp, meaning you're getting the whole plant, including terpenes (chemicals responsible for its aroma), other cannabinoids (again, there are more than 100; CBD is just one of them) and 0.3% or less of THC (not enough to get a person high)
Broad Spectrum: the whole plant except THC
Isolate: CBD alone
Dr. Capano ranks the effectiveness of each formulation: "Ideally, full spectrum works the best, followed by broad spectrum and isolate."
Full spectrum is believed to be the most effective due to the entourage effect, "which means these whole plant extracts, and particularly CBD when combined with THC, works better, so it’s more potent and you can use less of it to get more of an effect, and using less is always better because it’s easier on your body."
Although she agrees full spectrum CBD is the ideal formulation, Palermino also advises to be especially wary of how and where the brand sources hemp as the plant is a bioaccumulator, "which means it soaks up pesticides. It soaks up antibiotics that may be found in the soil from manure, [so] you have to think about where the soil is actually coming from."
"You have to really be careful where you buy full spectrum from and make sure the source is good, that the place is very familiar with their farms," she continues. "And that they also have something called a certificate of analysis [a document of lab tests that identifies what is in the product]. When you are a consumer in this marketplace, it is skeptical."
Casey Georgeson, founder and CEO of luxe CBD beauty line Saint Jane, emphasizes the importance of testing and transparency.
"We rigorously test the purity of our CBD four times before it reaches our clients, which is more than double the industry average. We also use full spectrum cannabidiol in our serums because we believe in the rich benefits of the whole plant. In addition, all of our formulas are crafted from clean, all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic and sustainably sourced ingredients."
For each Saint Jane product, you can view a third-party certificate of analysis on the brand's website. (See it here for the Luxury Beauty Serum).
Beware of Products That Claim to Contain CBD
Many beauty brands jump on the CBD trend train and claim their products have CBD in them when they actually don't. A common consumer mistake is misunderstanding the ingredients hemp seed oil and cannabis sativa seed oil for CBD. To be clear, thesedo not contain any CBD.
"Many companies are photographing these hemp seed oil products among cannabis leaves and other images of cannabis culture in order to further confuse the consumer, " warns Cindy Capobianco, co-founder and president of luxury CBD brand Lord Jones, which has garnered a celebrity following, including Mandy Moore, Kristen Bell, Olivia Wilde and more. "CBD is found within the stalk, flower and leaves of the hemp plant -- not in the seeds. Hemp seed oil has been around for centuries and is a wonderful ingredient for the skin and the body due to its high levels of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, but for those looking for the anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits of CBD, users must look for a product [whose] packaging clearly states that it contains CBD."
First and foremost, always read the label.
"A quality CBD beauty product will likely also contain added ingredients such as essential oils to make a more robust and high-quality final product. If the product label doesn’t tell you exactly what’s in it, there’s a chance that there is minimal amounts of CBD in it and/or the brand could just be looking to capitalize on the cannabis trend," says Gorst. "If it says it’s a CBD product but there’s no indication of where the CBD came from or how much is in it, it should probably be left on the shelf."
If the product does contain CBD the label should clearly state at least one of these terms: CBD, cannabidiol, hemp extract, phytocannabinoid rich or PTCR (full spectrum).
Responses vary regarding the ideal dose of CBD in products as there is minimal research on the perfect amount. It's also important to note that no body is the same; one person may need less or more CBD than another person does to feel the effects.
Dr. Capano gives a good benchmark for ingesting CBD.
"What we’re seeing in the research is that at doses of 20mg per kilogram of weight -- that’s when we start to see potential for drug interactions or liver toxicity. Ideally, you want to be at the dosage well below 20mg per kilogram a day, and most people are," Dr. Capano says.
For topical application, Dr. Batra says there really is no exact maximum amount, yet.
"At this point, there is insufficient research to identify the optimal dose of CBD in beauty products; however, since it would be very difficult to overdose on CBD in the skin, there is little risk to using products that contain higher amounts."
Dr. Gohara, on the other hand, says less is more.
"Like most actives, higher doses don’t always mean more efficacy. In fact, higher doses may mean more risk of irritation. A little bit of CBD oil (a pea-size amount over the entire face) can go a long way."
So, What's Next?
There's no doubt CBD continues to be a fascination in the beauty and wellness space (exactly why we're talking about it right now!), but with CBD just one of the over 100 compounds found in cannabis plants, experts are intrigued to explore more.
For instance, Palermino is currently developing a skincare line using cannabinoid isolates in addition to CBD, like CBN and CBG, to recombine them into precise, full spectrum dosing.
"We're actually doing one of the first clinical studies on multiple kinds of cannabinoids and what it does to your face."
Connors agrees CBD is only the tip of the iceberg: "As CBD education and attention continue to increase, I expect the next wave of interest to be around the synergies of cannabinoids when paired together."
"As more research is conducted on the 100+ compounds in cannabis, we will continue to learn new therapeutic benefits cannabinoids ratios can provide," she adds.