As a beauty editor, I receive dozens of packages a day, which accumulate in a hefty pile in our product closet. On any given day, at least half of those are touting oils, tinctures, creams, serums, and gummies containing the sexiest ingredient on the market: CBD, an active nonpsychoactive extract of the cannabis plant (basically, it won’t get you high). It’s mood-boosting benefits—think: reduced anxiety and better sleep—are its most well-known, making it the current darling of the wellness space. But recently, it has developed a rep as a skin-savior too. While studies are limited, CBD is being hailed as the ultimate anti-inflammatory and acne healer, and the ingredient is being included in dozens of topical beauty products. (Yes, to see any aesthetic improvements, you’ll need to reach for a topical, like a cream; tinctures or vapes won’t provide the same skin benefits.) But before you start slathering, it’s important to get your facts straight about what you’re actually putting on your body. Here, we break down exactly what you need to know to be a smarter CBD consumer…with amazing skin.
What Topicals Actually Do
While there have been few clinical trials centered around CBD as of yet—due to the fact that cannabis was federally illegal until the recent passage of the Farm Bill—some studies have shown it to be a potent anti-inflammatory that can regulate oil production. While this is ideal for all skin types and everyday general skin health (we all suffer from inflammation at one point or another), Dr. Junella Chin, D.O., medical cannabis expert at cannabisMD, says it’s a wonder for a few specific conditions.
In addition to reducing inflammation, CBD also calms redness and irritation. “A lot of my patients have cystic acne, which can become very inflamed. I find that a CBD treatment really calms it down,” she says. “My favorite product, and one that many patients find helpful, is Escape Artists’ Fast Relief Cream.” Dr. Chin suggests applying a pearl size amount to the affected area 2–3 times a day.
The ingredient is also super nurturing after a hardcore facial or treatment, says Dr. Chin. “I give patients the same CBD face cream to use post-procedures, like after Photofacials, Fraxel, and other laser treatments. It helps soothe the skin so it heals faster.”
“When applied to the skin, you’ll notice that a sunburn will calm down a little quicker, with a similar effect to aloe,” she explains.
Aches and Pains
While tinctures can also help stymie pain, some more potent topicals can ease aches on contact. “Apply the creams on tight muscles, areas where there have been injuries, or the abdominal and pelvic regions to ease pre-menstrual cramps,” Dr. Chin adds.
What to Know Before Shopping for CBD Skincare
So, if you suffer from any of the above, CBD might be for you. But before buying anything, remember that the industry is new, rapidly expanding, and unregulated. That means brands are jumping on the CBD bandwagon, marketing to millennial women, and taking your hard-earned dollars—sometimes without concern for safety or efficacy. We got Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of the cannabis education platform Nice Paper and forthcoming beauty brand Dieux X Skincare, to help demystify the skincare aisle. Here, her most important points.
Know Your Terminology
Terms to Look For: Whole plant hemp, phytocannabinoids, hemp extract, cannabis sativa extract, cannabidiol, phytocannabidnoid rich (PCR)
If these words are on the label, it means there’s actual CBD in your products, as opposed to the byproducts of hemp or cannabis that don’t contain the active ingredient. Since CBD is still largely unregulated, brands could make false CBD claims when their formulas don’t actually include it. Even if that’s not the case, CBD-rich products will cost more than their CBD-less cousins (see below)—make sure you’re spending your dollars on the real thing.
Terms to Avoid: Cannabis sativa oil, hemp seed oil, hemp seed extract
These products could be stellar on their own, as these oils are great moisturizers and help nourish the skin, and a lot of brands use them without claiming they contain CBD. But if you’re looking for actual CBD, these byproducts of hemp and cannabis don’t have it.
Finding a potent formula requires a little math. Compare how many milligrams of CBD are listed on the label in relation to the ounces on the packaging. For example: While 500 milligrams of CBD would go a long way in one ounce of face oil, it wouldn’t be as strong in a five-ounce tub of salve. Palermino’s simple solution: “If you’re looking for something potent, smaller bottles may have stronger dosing. If you see a huge container of CBD that doesn’t cost much, it’s probably diluted CBD. If there are only 100 milligrams in a three-ounce bottle of lotion, think about how much CBD is in each pump—it’s not a lot.”
Dosing Is Important
Some brands may be off-base with their potency if they’re not diligent with their testing—that is, if they’re even testing at all. Explains Palermino: “If you don’t see CBD or hemp extract or any of the words that denote CBD in the top half of the ingredient list, the dosing could be weak”—whether its creators are aware of it or not. “If you see fragrance above CBD or CBD as the last ingredient, it’s probably not very strong and is really a marketing play,” she adds. “By law, cosmetic companies must list their ingredients in order of potency.”
“If you want to be sure the formula is the real deal, ask the brand for a Certificate of Analysis,” says Palermino. This means the brand has done responsible and exact testing on their products, and it also gives you the active percent of CBD in their formulas.
Look for Diversity
It’s just as important to know who’s behind the scenes, says Palermino. “See who the founders are and who they’ve hired. Try and support brands run by women and people of color.” The black community is increasingly targeted and incarcerated for marijuana use, while many others profit from the cannabis industry for the same actions. Take it a step further and support brands that make donations towards social justice.
Shop My Favorite CBD-Infused Products:
Age Adapting CBD Serum
This nourishing formula is a game-changer. Not only does it reduce redness in a timely fashion, but it also gives skin a buttery softness that makes for crazy-smooth makeup application.
Feel Good Multi Sensory Body Oil
Slather this luscious treatment on your limbs before bed for supple skin (and the best sleep you’ve had in years), layer it under moisturizer for its CBD-induced anti-inflammatory benefits, or rub a few drops into your strands. Honestly, just put it everywhere.
High CBD Formula Body Lotion
A cult-fave among editors, this body lotion is a major multitasker. Keep a bottle in your gym bag to sooth sore muscles and leave one on your desk to satiate parched elbows. And come on…the packaging is divine.
Hemp CBD Infused Lip Balm
Three nut butters, coconut oil, and cannabinoids make this balm a nourishing, soothing addition to your tote. Added bonus: It comes in three flavors.
Sleeping Mask Infused with CBD
While the ritual of applying this luxest of night creams is reason enough to pick it up, the results are legit: Its anti-inflammatory properties sooth irritation and promote acne healing overnight.
After Flow CBD Bath Soak
Epsom salt baths are shown to reduce pain after exercise, and adding the anti-inflammatory power of CBD makes this one majorly soothing soak.
CBD Calming Eye Balm
The fragile skin around the eyes is easy to irritate, and this hydrating balm is the perfect antidote. Bolstered with orange peel and shea butters, this CBD isolate–infused formula quells puffiness and comforts dry lids.
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