“Better than Botox.”
That’s what I overheard the lady at my gym say about her new cannabidiol (CBD) night cream. And from the looks of her, she appeared to be onto something.
Of course, my instincts as a health-and-wellness journalist automatically filtered her claim through a sieve of skepticism. But my 44-year-old forehead and I really wanted to believe.
So should we?
Not exactly, says Ari Sherman, president and cofounder, Evo Hemp (Boulder, CO). “I can understand where she was coming from,” he concedes, “but I don’t think anyone should expect similar results to Botox injections from CBD.”
They should expect something, though, right? After all, why else would everyone from beauty brand Kiehl’s to national pharmacy chain CVS be opening their doors to cannabis skincare products?
And why would Grand View Research predict a 32.9% CAGR through 2025 for the global CBD skincare market—bringing its value to $1.7 billion by the end of the forecast period1—unless consumers had reason to keep buying?
Sherman believes they do. “There are tremendous benefits to using CBD in skincare,” he says. It’s just that we’re only beginning to understand what, precisely, those benefits are, how CBD produces them, and how skincare products can deliver them to consumers—like me—who really want to believe.
What’s in a Name?
Writing in Here Comes Cannabis: How Legalization Will Disrupt Global Industries2, Zora Milenkovic, head of drinks and tobacco at Euromonitor International (Chicago), notes that “[h]empseed oil beauty and personal care products have been on the market for decades.”
But merely declaring “hemp” on a label no longer creates the buzz it once did. “The new superhero ingredient in beauty, CBD, has replaced hemp in references,” she says.
Of course, some may be wondering, “What’s the difference?” Given all the hemp, CBD, and other cannabis ingredients in personal-care products, you can’t blame them.
Simply put, all cannabis plants—including industrial hemp and marijuana—produce cannabinoids, naturally occurring compounds that defend the plants against environmental threats. Of the more than 100 cannabinoids that cannabis plants produce, CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most well-known.
These cannabinoids trip endogenous cannabinoid receptors in their source plant to effect changes in the plant’s cells—which makes sense: that’s what they evolved to do. But what’s more surprising is that they do the same in us, acting on the human endocannabinoid system to produce therapeutic effects in CBD’s case—and psychoactive ones in THC’s—as well.
But while CBD—which can account for as much as 40% of a cannabis plant’s extract—is distributed throughout the stems, stalks, and flowers, you won’t find any in hemp oil. That’s because hemp oil—also billed as hempseed oil or Cannabis sativa seed oil—is pressed from hemp seeds, which contain no CBD at all.
Notes Julie Winter, founding partner and COO of CBD For Life (Rumson, NJ), “While hempseed oil doesn’t have the same benefits as CBD, it’s extremely high in antioxidants and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.” In other words, it’s still good for you.
But as “one of the most abundant and heavily researched cannabinoids,” Winter continues, CBD remains the big draw.
Indeed, Jeanette Jacknin, MD, a holistic dermatologist speaking on behalf of Medterra (Irvine, CA), points to an increase of 370% in the number of online search trends for “CBD beauty” in the first two months of 2019 alone. Such interest, she believes, “is aided by the fact that today’s consumers want more natural products instead of laboratory-synthesized ones.”
But along with an increase in online searches for CBD skincare, we’re likely to see an increase in misleading information about the science behind its efficacy, as well.
“The body of scientific literature on CBD is growing rapidly, with studies ranging from in vitro tests to trials in humans,” says a representative of Aceso Wellness, a subsidiary of Denver-based Dixie Brands. However, it’s still the case that “Right now, a simple Google search can produce a wealth of anecdotal stories about CBD’s benefits, but it can also provide a terrible amount of misinformation.” The task facing researchers and industry is thus to separate anecdote from actual benefit.
What we can say with confidence right now is that CBD, in concert with other active ingredients, “can work wonderfully on the skin,” CBD For Life’s Winter says. “CBD itself helps to calm and provide comfort. It’s a fantastic ingredient for anyone with sensitive skin, or anyone experiencing breakouts.”
Evo Hemp’s Sherman thinks that rather than likening CBD to Botox, a comparison with resveratrol—the polyphenolic antioxidant found in wine, berries, and other plant foods—is more apt. Resveratrol “has been clinically shown to help reduce signs of aging and repair and protect skin,” he says; CBD, similarly, “is also a really powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.”
In fact, Sherman points to a growing number of government-approved clinical trials corroborating CBD’s antioxidant activity. He also notes that cannabis plants produce CBD and other cannabinoids as natural protectants against ultraviolet light—“so it’s the plant’s natural sunscreen, and it has these incredible properties that are great at not only protecting our skin but repairing it, too.”