Now that nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and with many other states with varying latitudes of access, cannabis has gotten a whole lot more sophisticated. And the beauty business is not about to miss out.
Cannabis-derived ingredients feel trendy, and they may well offer a raft of possible benefits, which beauty brands are quick to tout. CBD oil, specifically, is nonpsychoactive (it won’t get you high) and is said to offer relief from pain, anxiety and depression, stimulate appetite and have anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties. Cannabis products also nod to enthusiasms that have already gained momentum in the beauty industry, such as ingestibles (CBD-infused gummies, caramels and drops) and wellness (CBD lotions to relieve soreness from new year workouts).
There are already devout fans, some boldfaced, who are drawn to CBD topical products largely for their pain-relieving properties. Olivia Wilde recently told this reporter that she used it to relieve physical aches during a Broadway run. Fashion stylist Karla Welch, who works with Wilde, Ruth Negga, Katy Perry and Sarah Paulson, uses Lord Jones CBD lotion on her clients’ feet when they walk the red carpet.
“It’s perfect for long nights in high heels,” Welch said. “All my girls love it, and bottles live in my styling kit.”
Jessica Richards, the founder of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, N.Y., is often a trendsetter in beauty retailing, and she started carrying Lord Jones in December. “I do so much SoulCycle that I have one hip that hurts,” she said. “I tried out the CBD lotion. It’s not a placebo. It really does work for pain management.”
Lord Jones, which is based in Los Angeles, is not the only brand to market a pain-relieving CBD body lotion, but it is one of the chicest. Founded in 2016 by Robert Rosenheck, who has a branding background, and his wife, Cindy Capobianco, who has led public relations for Banana Republic and marketing for Gap, it is a leader in a movement to make marijuana more attractive to a mainstream audience. The packaging, with a baronial crest and gold accents, would look at home in a fashionable department store. That celebrities use the products adds additional cachet.
“The closer we get to destigmatizing cannabis, the better it is for all,” Capobianco said.
That sentiment is shared by upstarts including Cannuka, a line of topical products containing CBD and manuka honey; Khus & Khus, a skin- and body-care line by Ayurvedic specialist Kristi Blustein; and Vertly, a line of lip balm by Claudia Mata, a former W magazine accessories editor, which is introducing body care this year. And beauty lines, including Malin & Goetz and Boy Smells, make reference to cannabis in their products purely for the scent.
For example, Boy Smells has a cannabis-scented candle called Kush. “We’re aware that having a cannabis candle is a little provocative, but I personally love the flavor and smell of cannabis,” said Matthew Herman, a founder, who previously worked for the fashion labels Giles Deacon, Proenza Schouler and Zac Posen. “It has a wet earth smell that is very attractive.”
Herman also noted that the cannabis industry is undergoing a makeover. “A lot of my friends have been getting their products from more ‘luxury’ cannabis suppliers who are focusing on packaging and branding,” he said. “It’s not like pot is new, but for a long time you had to go to a head shop and buy a cheesy pipe. It was always a little gnarly. Now it’s fun to see modern, minimal, elevated designs.”
But looks are one thing, efficacy is another. As CBD oil seeks to go mainstream, it’s tough to tell which products hold up to scrutiny. “I get sent a million different brands saying they have CBD, and the stuff doesn’t work,” Richards said.
That’s because there is confusion in the marketplace, said Verena von Pfetten, a one-time Lucky digital editor and a founder of Gossamer, a publication dedicated to the chic side of cannabis culture. “The cannabis plant is complex with many compounds,” von Pfetten said. “CBD is one of them, and THC is one of them.”
There are studies, she said, showing that for pain relief, CBD works best within the plant’s cannabinoid system, meaning that combinations of compounds are more effective than isolated ones. That’s termed the “entourage effect,” and Lord Jones, for one, has sought to compensate for it by using CBD rendered from the entire hemp plant.
“We’ve found CBD isolate, or crystals of pure CBD, to not work,” Capobianco said.
Speaking of hemp, there’s debate there, too. Hemp is a type of cannabis that has had the THC largely bred out of it. It’s legal across state lines, so only CBD derived from hemp can be distributed nationally. There is a lot less CBD and other cannabinoids in hemp than in cannabis strains that contain THC.
“The reality is that the levels of active ingredient in hemp are so low that, though CBD definitely offers benefits, there might not be a wake-up-and-feel-it moment,” von Pfetten said.
None of that is stopping companies from expanding beyond wellness into skin care. Lord Jones is introducing a face care line based on CBD early this year. Ildi Pekar, a facialist in Manhattan who has tended to Miranda Kerr and Irina Shayk, said that sales of her CBD facial oil are up and she plans on investing more in the ingredient, which she calls “the argan oil of the future.” Both cite reports that say CBD has anti-inflammatory qualities when applied topically.
But Shereene Idriss, a dermatologist in Manhattan, said that those papers are vague. “There was one study in 2014 that said CBD can help reduce oil production and thereby have anti-acne and anti-inflammatory attributes,” Idriss said. “It wasn’t a perfectly well-rounded study, but it does have merit.” The other study, from 2017, addressed cannabinoids in dermatology in general, including THC, but didn’t deal with risks.
“I would need more, a randomized clinical trial, before I could with full-fledged belief recommend CBD oil as something more than just offering regular hydration,” she said.
If you’re using CBD lotions for pain relief, Idriss said, there are better studies demonstrating efficacy but that more needs to be done.
“CBD lotion that also has THC in it, it’s going to help you much more with pain relief,” she said. “But the ones from hemp, are they going to help as much? It’s hard to tell because we don’t have the data and studies. Also, the problem is you often don’t know how much you are getting — it’s completely unregulated.”