To this day, marijuana remains an extremely controversial topic in the United States—it seems like everyone has an opinion on how it's used for everything from medicinal purposes to recreational use, but when it comes to beauty products, many people don't even realize it's a viable ingredient. However, that's changing.
More beauty brands are now utilizing elements of the cannabis plant to help tackle common skin care issues—dry skin being the biggie. However, as one expert explained to me, there are many parts of the plant, and some are better than others, so you need to be educated in order to make smart decisions on what you apply to your skin. The two notable ones are hemp seed oil, which you may be somewhat familiar with, and CBD oil. Think of them like this: If hemp seed oil is a beef burger, CBD oil is filet mignon.
"As you may know, industrial hemp and marijuana come from the same genus of flowering plant, cannabis," explains Ildi Pekar, celebrity facialist to supermodels such as Miranda Kerr and Lindsey Ellingson. "There are multiple types of the cannabis plant, which are all cannabis, but have remarkable differences."
Here, we break down the two most popular types you'll see in skin care.
The Lowdown on Hemp Seed Oil
According to New York dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD, most hemp-containing beauty products contain hemp seed oil, which is oil obtained by pressing hemp seeds. "Like many oils, hemp contains fatty acids that are moisturizing, protective and reparative for the skin. It's currently found in a number of different types of products, including soaps, creams, lotions, oils, makeup, and even hairstyling products, but I think it's best used in an oil, cream or other product that is meant to hydrate and/or moisturize the skin."
New York dermatologist Estee Williams, MD, adds, "Most of the commercially available 'hemp' skin care products (Marley Natural and Saavy Naturals) are marketed for the body as cleansers or moisturizers. Hemp seed oil is notable for its high essential fatty acid content (omegas 3 and 6) and bioactive phytochemicals, including phenolic compounds, stearidonic acids, saturated oils, antioxidants like vitamin E and carotene, phytosterols, chlorophyll, and minerals. These are all great in theory, but we don't know what the actual benefit is to the skin when applied topically."
One stigma attached to hemp seed oil is that it's the same thing as the marijuana you smoke to get high, but that's false. Hemp and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant, but hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, which is what produces the psychoactive "high" associated with marijuana use—marijuana typically contains about 15 to 25 percent.
"Some consumers may think hemp seed oil has the ability to cause a change in mental status because of its relationship to marijuana, but this is not the case for the topical route," explains Dr. Williams. "Hemp oil is the oil of the hemp plant, a form of the cannabis sativa plant (marijuana) bred specifically for fiber in industrial settings, and therefore it's low in psychoactive compounds, so not to worry about a high."
The CBD Difference
"CBD stands for cannabidiol," says Pekar. "It's a nonpsychoactive compound found throughout the cannabis plant that produces many benefits to the human skin and body. With strong antioxidant properties, CBD oil is an ideal way of reducing inflammation in the skin (and in the body if taken orally as well). Most people are unaware of how inflammation in the skin and body can be a root cause for other major health concerns, making it important to reduce inflammation for your health."
Dr. Shah says cannabidiol has been shown to have antioxidant properties and has been anecdotally used for a variety of medical issues. "It also acts as an anti-inflammatory and contains beneficial amino acids, vitamins and minerals."
Similar to hemp seed oil, CBD is best used in a product that is left on the skin, such as a serum or a moisturizer, to receive its long-lasting benefits. CBD for Life, a cannabidiol-infused skin care brand that launched in 2015, uses 99-percent pure CBD extract derived from stems and stalks of industrial hemp. According to the brand, CBD is being called the new "super beauty ingredient" thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that "naturally aid in reducing the appearance of fine lines and help improve irritating skin conditions including acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis."
According to Dr. Williams, "A few small studies suggest that topical cannabinoids may be helpful in select skin diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema and dry skin. However, there is no data to suggest it would have any benefit to acne, rosacea, or cosmetic concerns such as skin wrinkling and loss of elasticity, or that it has any preventive anti-aging benefits."
Pekar disagrees, saying CBD oil is filled with powerful antioxidants to soothe and help heal inflammation, treat acne and hydrate skin. She's even launching a new CBD oil–infused product, I. Pekar Cannabis Infused Tissue Repair Serum ($148; available Sept. 1). "When teamed up with hydrating oils, the cannabinoids also contribute to the skin's natural barrier function, as they stimulate cell regeneration for healthier, youthful look," she adds.
Their Future in Skin Care
While many people have expressed skepticism about the future of cannabis in the beauty world—including the two dermatologists interviewed for this story—others are excited and optimistic about its potential.
"CBD is going to be a huge breakthrough in skin care (and in medicine for the body), and we are always finding new and better ways to consume this ingredient for healing purposes," says Pekar.
Dr. Shah adds, "In skin care, we are always looking for new ingredients that can benefit the skin. However, when you compare cannabis ingredients to some of the other ingredients we commonly use, obstacles concerning its legal status and FDA scrutiny may limit its use."
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