A dozen or so press releases for CBD products appear in my inbox per week, which I file into a folder that might as well be labeled "Ugh." There are just so many of them, and they all claim to be the first to do A Thing that’s not really A Thing. (My personal favorite: "The First Functional Line of CBD Biscuits Tailored To Remedying Your Dog's Personal Ailments," a direct and perfect quote.) But last week, one product was the first to do a pretty impressive thing, and that thing was Make Me Care About CBD.
The product is BLNCD Naturals Vital Nutrient Complex, launching on Tuesday, the first beauty offering from the cannabidiol brand. I wasn't so much intrigued by the face oil — which I've since discovered is very good — as I was by the person behind it: Daniela Serra, a holistic aesthetician, co-founder and formulator of BLNCD and protégé of natural beauty pioneers Marie Veronique Nadeau and Tata Harper. I may be a CBD skeptic, but I'm also a natural skin-care snob, and "Tata" was the magic word that opened my mind. After speaking with Serra, I might even be (gasp!) a "CBD person."
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About 15 years ago, in a time before most people cared about cannabinoids, the entrepreneur and professional makeup artist got her aesthetician's license and moved from Minnesota to northern California. "I was really inspired by a lot of the skin-care founders in the Bay area," Serra tells Fashionista — including Nadeau, the chemistry-teacher-turned-cosmetic-chemist who brought "non-toxic" skin care to the forefront of the industry with Marie Veronique Organics.
"It was still a startup when I was hired [in 2013], so I did all sorts of things," she says. "I initially was doing marketing, and from there I became her lead aesthetician and at that point, I was able to do a lot of testing for the products she was creating, collaborate on ideas and really get hands-on experience in the lab." In 2017, the aesthetician moved onto high-end natural beauty brand Tata Harper, where she was a national educator, spreading the word about "how effective clean ingredients actually can be."
The founders' fingerprints are all over Serra's work, from her skin-care philosophy to her formulations.
"I [saw] firsthand how everything happening on the inside of your body — your gut, your hormones, your diet — is reflected in the health of your skin," the entrepreneur says of her holistic approach, with a nod to Nadeau. It's partly what inspired her to explore CBD, a substance beloved for both its internal and external benefits.
A little background: CBD is short for cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound extracted from cannabis plants, mainly hemp. It's known for soothing inflammation and pain, and maybe even anxiety and acne. Research indicates it's most powerful as a whole plant, or a "full-spectrum" extract, a phenomenon known as "the entourage effect." Still, there aren't enough studies to support definitive claims, especially when it comes to topical CBD.
"What we do know about CBD is that, in terms of the whole plant, it brings several vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants to your body and to your skin," Serra says. "I'm a visual person, so I wanted to see that working." She decided to incorporate full-spectrum CBD oil into client treatments, and noticed "almost immediate improvements on any redness and inflammation. I saw a lot of acne clearing up and skin coming back to balance in terms of the lipid barrier, and to me, that's enough."
The aesthetician joined forces with a couple of friends who were launching a CBD company in 2018. "We talked about it and I said, 'Have you ever thought about doing a skin-care line?' So I came on as a partner and formulator." Her initial project was the BLNCD's body-care range, and Vital Nutrient Complex marks her first facial product.
BLNCD calls it a "nutrient-dense, cannabis-infused face oil," and that order is deliberate: The goal was to "jam the one-ounce bottle" with the skin-care equivalent of a multivitamin. "There are a lot of theories that you should simplify your skin-care regimen, like a seed oil and CBD oil is enough, but I am a believer that our skin is a complex organ and just like your body, it needs multiple vitamins and minerals to perform at an optimum level," Serra says. (Perhaps Harper's influence? The icon's ethos is "more matters," and she famously packs "the most ingredients at the highest levels of concentration" into every product.)
The final formulation features prickly pear, rosehip, moringa and tamanu oils — collectively, a healthy dose of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E; vitamin K and Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids — and full-spectrum hemp extract, amounting to 250 mg of CBD, to "restore balance, revitalize and maintain a healthy skin barrier." The hemp is USA-grown, CO2-extracted (to preserve the integrity of the cannabinoids) and third-party tested for potency. Customers can access test results on BLNCD site to make sure it's legit. (It is.)
Noticeably missing from the Vital Nutrient Complex are essential oils and synthetic preservatives. "Not that I don't believe in essential oils, because I do, but I found that to be able to use this across the board for all skin types, we needed to leave them out," the formulator explains. And because there's no cannabis essential oil inside, there's no earthy, weed-y scent. (A plus, in my opinion.) As an oil-based product, it's able to be safely preserved with vitamin E and rosemary leaf extract — meaning, yep, this skin-are product is natural.
"I still don't understand the beauty brands that are using toxic chemicals," Serra says. "Seeing firsthand how the skin transforms with clean ingredients, I know that they work."
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