Within an eight-block radius of my Manhattan apartment, there are stores selling CBD-infused smoothie bowls, matcha lattes, bath bombs, organic gummy bears and lip balms. There is even a ten-foot-wide ad in my closest subway station touting a line of CBD tinctures, in flavors ranging from pineapple to dark chocolate. According to one market study, the industry has doubled in the past two years alone and is currently worth around $200 million. Another study predicts that total sales will grow to $2.1 billion by 2020 — that is a 700 percent increase in just four years.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound (meaning it doesn’t get you high) derived from marijuana or hemp plants. Although widely available, the legislation surrounding it is complicated: Marijuana-derived CBD is legal only in the nine states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) where recreational weed has been legalized, and the hemp-derived kind is technically only legal — although the DEA made it clear they aren’t making enforcement a priority — when the plant has been farmed under very specific conditions outlined by the 2014 Farm Bill.
There have also been a few CBD-related false starts in the beauty industry: Luxury haircare brand Ouai was set to release a CBD-infused scalp and body scrub, but ultimately pulled it from production citing a change in FDA regulation that would have rendered it illegal. Legality aside, the research is also limited, and since many CBD products fall outside of the FDA’s purview (dietary supplements are mostly unregulated) it can be hard to tell exactly what you are getting, and how much of it. But there is evidence that it can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety. It’s even been shown to decrease the frequency of seizures in children with epilepsy.
I’ve tried CBD in a few different forms. A few hits from Wildflower’s CBD vaporizer makes it easier to fall asleep when I’m feeling a little anxious or revved up from the day, and I’ve used a CBD-infused muscle rub from Charlotte’s Web that melted away a cripplingly painful neck spasm in minutes. Lately, I’ve started seeing more and more CBD skincare. New companies like Vertly, Apothecanna and CBD for Life have developed entire product lines containing the compound, with claims that range from the vague (“beneficial for skincare and wellness”) to the specific (“fights off dullness… and leaves you with a radiant youthful glow”).
I’m intrigued by the idea that the same natural ingredient that soothes muscle pain and helps me drift off before midnight could give me clear, glowing skin. But what does it actually do?
Should I be replacing my beloved serums and moisturizers for hemp-derived ones?
Are skincare companies just trying to capitalize on a trend, or are we at the beginning of a new wave of discovery? Before restocking my medicine cabinet, I decided to ask the professionals.
“Many studies have supported its efficacy in skin care,” says Rachel Nazarian, M.D. of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, who recommends a CBD ointment from Theramu for wound care after burns and blisters. She notes that CBD has been used to improve eczema, itching and pain. But what about stuff we usually turn to our skincare for, like acne control or wrinkle prevention? “I don’t routinely recommend it for acne or anti-aging at this point,” she says, but mostly because it is not covered by insurance, and the studies she’s seen haven’t compared it to the proven-effective medications she’s already using. “So, although I believe it works, I don’t know if it works better than traditional options,” she adds.
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Ildi Pekar, an aesthetician with an eponymous salon in New York, started offering a CBD treatment a little less than a year ago after spending months doing her own research into the ingredient. “It’s really good for inflammation,” she says. “And with most skin health issues, it all comes down to inflammation.” Pekar uses her own CBD tincture in combination with lymphatic massage, a vitamin-infused serum and an alkalizing oxygen treatment to address acne, redness, rosacea, sunburn and broken capillaries. She also recommends it for minimizing the look of wrinkles. “In terms of anti-aging, it has a relaxation effect. It also gives you a more hydrated look,” she says.
Jordana Mattioli, a medical aesthetician based in New York, says not a week goes by without an email from someone asking about CBD skincare. She uses a few CBD products herself, including a high-CBD lotion from Lord Jones to help with back aches, and a body oil blend from chic minimalist brand Native Atlas. But in terms of recommending it to others, she is still in the zone of being cautiously optimistic. “Based on the current data, I think CBD could be extremely effective as a topical active skincare ingredient, not only as a powerful antioxidant but also for inflammation and inflammatory skin conditions,” she says, citing a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. “The key word is ‘could.’ Most of the current data has been done on cells in vitro, or on animals — only a handful have used actual human subjects,” she says. So, she is not recommending them to her clients just yet. “My job is to give my clients results fast, so I’m still reaching for tried and true formulas that I know will do exactly what they are supposed to. Topical CBD is such an interesting field, but the information is too limited,” she adds.
Without more research — Nazarian pointed out that there haven’t been many double-blind studies yet, or studies that focus on a specific skin condition — it is too soon to tell if it really is a miracle ingredient. But is there any downside to trying out a CBD eye cream or an anti-aging moisturizer to quiet your curiosity? Both Mattioli and Nazarian say no. “Many dermatologists use the ingredients because of the safety profile,” says Nazarian. “There really isn’t a downside to using CBD today.”
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