Over the past couple of years, everyone from beauty labels like Herbivore and Josie Maran to cannabis companies like Lord Jones and Prima have all begun touting the benefits of CBD in skin-care products, spiking face oils and serums with the now-ubiquitous ingredient. CBD skin care has become so prominent that earlier this year, Sephora issued its own official CBD standards.
Just as the CBD skin-care market started to feel a little bit easier to navigate, the brands found another beauty category in which to infuse the phytocannabinoid: hair care. Confused once again, we spoke to a few experts and founders to find out what, if anything, CBD can do for your hair and scalp that your existing CBD-free hair products can't.
So far, CBD has found its way into shampoo, conditioner and more targeted treatment products for both hair and scalp. This year brought the launch of Steam, a Los Angeles-based brand that comprises both CBD-only and CBD- and THC-infused hair, face and body-care products. Its hair products include shampoo, conditioner and a hair-and-scalp oil. This year also saw prominent beauty brand R+Co's first foray into CBD with the launch of a "calming" new shampoo and conditioner. And last fall, Canadian beauty brand Raincry launched a Repair line featuring CBD in shampoo, conditioner and a bond repair treatment. Briogeo also came out with a CBD-infused scalp oil (currently the only CBD hair product sold at Sephora).
So what benefits do they claim CBD has and what is that based on? The most common touted benefits are soothing scalp dryness and inflammation, promoting hair growth and moisturizing the strands via the fatty acids, amino acids and vitamins CBD is believed to contain.
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One important thing to note is that, in these products, CBD is likely working alongside other soothing, hydrating ingredients that are helping to produce whatever results one might see. Many in the CBD beauty world, including the founders of Steam, argue that CBD (and THC) can increase the efficacy and absorption of other ingredients, in addition to providing its own benefits. Co-founder Brittnie Green, whose husband co-created rapidly growing cannabis company Dosist, in which she is also involved, believes that by adding THC as well, it amplifies "the entourage effect," a belief that cannabinoids are stronger when used together, and drive the efficacy of other ingredients. She recommends Steam's hair products for anyone dealing with psoriasis, dry scalp or breakage.
"When you think about creating healthy hair, it has to start at the root; it's calling for nutrition," adds Co-founder Carla Gentile. "When your hair is weak it falls out sooner than it's supposed to."
These brands also point out the fact that, on top of its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD is believed to contain micro-nutrients like fatty acids, amino acids and other vitamins that can relieve dryness and support hair growth.
That is all true. "CBD oil has two general benefits for the skin, scalp, and hair," explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital. "It is rich in natural oils that provide emollient benefits. It helps hydrate, protect, and soften the skin and hair. The molecule CBD itself has anti-inflammatory effects, and has been shown to improve conditions like itchy skin, eczema and psoriasis."
That's all well and good, but as far as whether these properties can benefit the hair and scalp specifically, in all the product formats these brands are selling, with the doses they are using, reliable evidence is limited-to-non-existent.
Cannabis expert and Nice Paper Co-founder Charlotte Palermino (who has written about CBD-infused products for Fashionista in the past and does not make hair products specifically) advises consumers to take all these claims with a grain of salt. "These products might be super efficacious because of or in spite of the CBD," she says. "It's trendy, allows you to charge a markup and it's cool."
Dosing, she points out, is one concern. "People are taking educated guesses on correct doses," she says, as "no one really knows" exactly how much is required to have effect. It differs from trusted active ingredients like retinol and vitamin C, she explains, where we know objectively what percentages are effective and what encapsulations are required to keep them stable and efficacious.
"With any ingredients, our hair [and scalp] only absorbs so much of everything," says Steam's Green. We didn't want to waste good ingredients; we did a lot of trial and error on the levels of cannabis that work better, it's all trial and error."
"There is little regulation over labeling of CBD containing products. Currently, it may be unclear what concentration of CBD is actually contained in what you are purchasing," adds Dr. Zeichner. "We really don't know at this point what concentration of CBD is really necessary."
And while there has been some testing that shows benefits around inflammation, redness and oil production, "we need a lot more research," Palermino says. "CBD brands are kind of putting cart before the horse." She says they might be right about their claims, but there's not enough testing to know for sure.
Brands are even willing to admit that much. Most of their claims are based only on existing metrics and anecdotal consumer studies. "Clinical studies of CBD and hair are still very young and limited. We cannot answer yet (from a scientific perspective) 'what' specifically CBD does to the hair or 'why' it works. Those studies will take years longer to come to a conclusion," says Raincry Founder Feisal Qureshi. What he and others do know is "that CBD contains different alkaloids, vitamins, oils, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that on their own... have been used for quite sometime now."
Palermino and Dr. Zeichner both feel that CBD is likely most beneficial to the scalp, if anything. "CBD containing scalp products may be of benefit if you have scalp dandruff or psoriasis," says Dr. Zeichner.
Palermino sees potential for CBD to work its anti-inflammatory magic on those with scalp issues via a targeted treatment like one of Steam's or Briogeo's oils, but doesn't see how shampoo would do much, given that it's immediately rinsed out. And, "It's not going to do anything to hair," she asserts, pointing out that there's virtually no research around benefits to the strands themselves.
So how should consumers go about shopping for these products? "I recommend sticking to product reviews and consumer recommendations," says Dr. Zeichner.
Palermino advises looking at the brand first — if it's one you already trust personally, then why not give it a try?
Gentile and Green, the founders of Steam, hope that their own expertise in hair and cannabis, respectively, as well as their rigorous testing practices, help instill this trust in consumers given that Steam is a new brand. Because some of their products also contain THC, its products have to go through extra third-party testing that CBD-only brands do not. Green also points out that Steam has the same cannabis sourcing as (and is a sister company to) Dosist, which is already a trusted force in the cannabis industry. She feels this gives Steam an edge over smaller companies who may not know the best ways to source CBD, and likely have to pay a premium to buy smaller quantities.
Price is also worth taking into consideration: CBD prices are going down, Palermino says, so beware of a brand marking its products up excessively because they contain CBD. At the same time, paying a little more could be worth it for a product with a higher dose of the ingredient.
Ultimately, shoppers interested in CBD hair products should exercise the same discernment and skepticism that's generally necessary these days to navigate an overcrowded beauty market that's already full of unchecked claims and questionable ingredients. Look for transparency, and — even better — brands that are doing something to help those communities still feeling the negative effects of the war on drugs.