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Weed-Based Beauty Products Are Getting Chicer (and Way More Prevalent)

A look at CBD oil's increasing popularity in skin care.
Herb Essntls's full product line. Photo: Courtesy of Herb Essntls

Herb Essntls's full product line. Photo: Courtesy of Herb Essntls

Much like many other stoner-related items, weed-based beauty products are suddenly chic. Moisturizers, lip balms, candles and even fancy serums spiked with cannabidiol oil — one of the natural compounds found in the cannabis plant — and other derivatives of the cannabis plant have begun to appear in a new crop (pun definitely intended) of beauty lines that seek to appeal to a stylish consumer base. Call it The Alexander Wang/Rihanna Effect: for fashion people, displaying one's penchant for pot is cool. But as it turns out, weed (well, more specifically, CBD oil) is also a really great beauty ingredient.

First things first: CBD oil in skin care is truly nothing new. And before you even ask, no, it's not going to get you high. "It's important to recognize that hemp seed oil has been used for decades for its skin benefits, and while it comes from a plant related to marijuana, it does not contain high levels of the compound THC responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He's a big proponent of the ingredient when it comes to skin care. When I asked if he'd recommend CBD-oil-based products to his patients, he didn't hesitate: "Definitely. They provide excellent hydration from natural sources." 

There's science that supports the notion that CBD oil is actually a fairly remarkable and effective skin-care ingredient. "There is lab data suggesting that cannabis seed oil is anti-inflammatory and may help decrease activity of oil glands, which may explain a benefit in acne," says Zeichner, citing a 2014 study. In terms of helping skin retain moisture, CBD oil might be effective there as well. "Cannabis oil is rich in fatty acids, which fill in the cracks between skin cells like mortar between bricks. It also has moisturizing and skin soothing properties, which makes it useful in treating dry skin and rashes like eczema," says Zeichner.

But, like many natural beauty products, hemp- and CBD-oil spiked skin care has struggled to break away from its decidedly un-chic Haight Ashbury image until recently. A growing number of brands are working to remedy the ingredient's image through creating aesthetically pleasing, Instabait product lines that incorporate it.

One such company is Herb Essntls, a tightly edited line of cannabis-sativa-oil-laced products that includes a lip balm, body lotion, facial moisturizer and candle. The products, priced between $12 (for the lip balm) and $65 (for the candle), come housed in stark, black-and-white packaging with a modern looking logo. Those are them, above — tell me they aren't chic as hell. You know you'd 'gram it. And fashionable retailers agree: Herb Essntls is currently sold at The Frankie Shop and In Support Of in New York City, as well as in boutiques in Portland, Stockholm and Paris.

Founders Robert Lund and Ulrika Karlberg, both from Sweden, have a background in marketing across a variety of industries. "Cannabis in all forms has gone from a big and longstanding cultural movement with a message of love and tolerance to a mainstream megatrend," says Lund. He and Karlberg walked me through the process of what it's like to source the ingredient for products. "We are using cannabis sativa seed oil as our main ingredient, so there are no legal issues whatsoever. CBD is a tiny bit trickier, but it's not a legal issue, it's more of a costing issue. As legal grow houses and fields are exploding onto the market, any issues with the non-psychoactive derivatives from the plant will disappear pretty fast. When it comes to THC, however, it's a different playing field. THC infused products are only allowed to be sold in licensed dispensaries. The benefit for THC in skin care is also a bit unclear at the moment, which is why we're not using it in our products right now." But the duo doesn't rule out potentially using THC in the future.

Fancy person health food company Sakara experimented with CBD oil-spiked chocolates, which were supposed to promote relaxation and a sense of chill (but, no, not get you high, obviously). "We follow what's coming out in nutrition science. There are numerous studies that speak to [CBD oil's] ability to calm anxiety, to help people who are fighting depression," says Whitney Tingle, one of Sakara's co-founders. She also touted the ingredient's antioxidant properties, saying it made sense to link it up with dark chocolate, which is also regarded for its antioxidant levels. "We thought, why not combine the two?" 

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And Sakara's clientele was fully on board with that concept, says Tingle: "It sold out by day two. We decided we needed to make more fast. The testimonials we've been getting in are so awe-inspiring. We've had people tell us that they've had anxiety for years and finally feel good and relaxed; people who haven't been able to sleep have said they're getting the best sleep they've had in years."

Chic natural beauty brand KHUS+KHUS recently launched its Sen Face Serum, which features — you guessed it! — CBD oil as its star ingredient. "CBD oil provides remarkable therapeutics for skin maintenance and skin disorders," reads the product's description on the brand's website. "Providing cell proliferation and one of the highest forms of antioxidant protection CBD assist in producing a high level of anti-aging skin nutrition. By controlling skin differentiation genes with the use of phytocannabinoids, we can create a balanced healthy skin on a cellular level; this is where CBD cannabinoids are most effective. Combined with an array of well-known and highly regarded skin-care champions, this formula provides the ultimate in cellular healing." 

Kristi Blustein, the brand's founder, who is also an Ayurvedic specialist, approaches beauty with healing and wellness in mind. That means KHUS+KHUS's products are organic and sustainably wild harvested. After learning about CBD extract's skin-care benefits, she became fascinated by the ingredient and how other brands were using it in beauty products. "We turned to PubMed for the latest research on CBD extract and found that there was a great deal of research and study on the effects of the plant in skin care," she says. "We saw some products being made, but felt we could formulate a product using CBD unlike anything on the market. We wanted to use CBD as a chief herb with its prolific plant constituent profile and add to its healing potential with a combination of Eastern and Western herbs."

The CBD hemp extract in KHUS+KHUS's serum is sourced from Switzerland. "They have a very high standard of ethical growing and harvesting practices; it's interwoven into their culture, and they have a long history of providing a superior hemp product," says Blustein.

CBD For Life, a skin brand that uses 99 percent pure CBD extract (an isolate, not an oil) derived from the stems and stalks of industrial hemp, launched in February of 2016. "Consumers were excited for this new take on beauty and how CBD can improve their overall well-being," says Beth Stavola, the brand's co-founder. She first encountered CBD when seeking relief for chronic back pain, and then put months of research into developing luxurious skin-care formulations that included the ingredient. "CBD is being called the new super beauty ingredient," she says. But she also acknowledges that in terms of awareness and understanding CBD products, there's still a long way to go. "We've taken great care to educate our consumers on the effects of CBD and clarify that it has no psychotropic side effects. Many consumers assume that CBD is psychotropic, so we're trying to educate on the difference between CBD and THC." Education remains a hurdle for the cannabis-based beauty industry, but it's one that companies are working to overcome swiftly.

Science's understanding of the benefits of CBD and cannabis-based ingredients in skin care is only increasing, as is society's acceptance of marijuana in general ('sup, Colorado?). Given the ingredient's many upsides, Zeichner sees nothing gimmicky about it. And he's predicting that it'll become more ubiquitous in the near future: "CBD shows great promise in skin care and will likely continue to be used more and more." Puff, puff, pass... that jar of moisturizer, please.

Homepage photo: @badgalriri/Instagram

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