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Is CBD the new miracle ingredient in skincare and wellness?

The use of CBD is on the rise, and a long way from what was once considered a new-age ingredient, found under the counter at alternative health stores. From CBD-infused beauty serums to cannabis-scented candles (see Malin+Goetz), the beauty industry has embraced CBD.

“Interest in CBD as a search term is now four times higher than it is for THC, according to Google Trends,” notes Victoria Buchanan, senior futures analyst at strategic research company The Future Laboratory. And these stats are what's driving the trend for CBD in beauty. “As cannabidiol and hemp oil grow in popularity as skincare ingredients and in wellness treatments, brands are adopting a more sophisticated and nuanced aesthetic that is more closely aligned with the luxury market,” says Buchanan. So, what is CBD exactly? What health benefits does it promise? And is there any science behind using it? Vogue finds out.

What is CBD?

Also known as cannabidiol, CBD is one of over 100 naturally-occurring chemical compounds found in the cannabis sativa plant. The key takeaway with CBD is that is it non-psychoactive, unlike the most commonly researched compound in the plant, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is responsible for the “high” or stoned effect associated with the use of cannabis.

What are the effects of CBD?

Physiologically, CBD is an adaptogen, regulator and modulator. In other words, it adapts to the situations it is faced with. It has anti-inflammatory properties, is said to promote balance, decrease blood pressure and is considered a multi-target therapeutic compound. Rather than an active analgesic medication that targets specific pain, CBD is more of an all-rounder—nicknamed the “boy scout” within medical circles.

Can CBD improve your mood?

In theory, yes. CBD works by binding to receptors in the brain and nervous system that control emotions, memories and coordination (CB1 receptors); plus receptors in the digestive and immune systems (CB2 receptors). This complex network of cannabidoid receptors is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), found in both humans and animals. Scientists' current understanding of CBD is that it supports the function of these systems in the body—ergo, a mood-boost if that's what you're in need of.

What do the experts say about CBD?

While CBD is certainly creating a buzz in the beauty industry, in clinical terms, the science is still up for discussion. “The claims about CBD's therapeutic effects are widespread and used almost indiscriminately: from being marketed as being a neuroprotective antioxidant and having prophylactic properties, to helping with anxiety and alleviating symptoms of ADHD, epilepsy and chronic pain,” says Dr Michalis Kyratsous, consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. “Most of these uses are not supported by robust clinical data. There is a lot of scientific, pre-clinical evidence on the benefits of CBD, but this doesn't justify the marketing claims, if they were to scrutinised at all.”

So the benefits of CBD are still very much via word of mouth. The FDA has even gone a far as issuing warning letters to companies for making unapproved “over the line” health claims about the CBD, with the exception of epilepsy. In June 2018, the US FDA approved Epidiolex when clinical trials found that it reduced seizures in children with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

“There is also evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions,” the World Health Organization reported last year. “However, this research is considerably less advanced than for treatment of epilepsy. For most indications, there is only pre-clinical evidence, while for some there is a combination of pre-clinical and limited clinical evidence.” The WHO confirmed the range of conditions for which CBD has been assessed is “diverse, consistent with its neuroprotective, antiepileptic, hypoxia-ischemia, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic and antitumor properties.” Many CBD brands are waiting for requisite research to back up their beliefs. “There is definitely not enough research for it to be medically proven or to confidently say that these products cure,” says Irin Maini, co-founder of Somnio CBD, a brand which traces all of its products from seed to shelf. “However you just have to look at the testimonials from the customers themselves. You can see millions of testimonials online, in health and wellness stores and locally with friends and family, as to how [CBD] has helped with a number of common ailments.”

What are the benefits of CBD skincare and how does it work?

“Our skin, as one of our largest organs, constantly produces and releases endocannabinoids, depending on its health and needs in that moment,” says Berlin-based Floriane von der Forst, co-founder of The Chillery—a website that she launched in March 2019 with LA native Marisa Schwab, specialising in premium CBD wellness products. “Endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2, see above), are present in basically all skin cells. CBD has anti-inflammatory properties and has been classified as a powerful antioxidant that helps diminish any toxins that we accumulate on the skin's surface, especially due to external factors such as urban air or UV rays,” explains von der Forst. So, topical skincare—creams, masks, oils and lotions—interacts directly with those ECS receptors, helping to balance issues like eczema and acne, or soothe inflamed skin. “In combination with other effective plant-based ingredients, the results can be fortified even more,” adds von der Forst. David Tyrrell, global beauty and skincare analyst at Mintel, predicts that CBD will become a hero product over the next few years in North America. “Legalisation of hemp in the US will produce a surge of indie brands online [eg. CBD retailer, Standard Dose], yet consumers will demand better ingredient transparency,” he says.

The legality of CBD

Several US States (including California, Nevada and Oregon), Canada and Uruguay: Cannabis is legal for recreational use.

EU law (in addition to each European country's own laws): CBD products cannot contain more than 0.2 per cent THC

UK: CBD and extracts such as hemp are legal but subject to regulations. Cannabis is illegal.

Netherlands: The use and possession of cannabis and CBD is illegal, but tolerated in designated shops.

Middle East: Cannabis and all derivatives are illegal.

South Africa: CBD is legal, cannabis is legal for private use. Zimbabwe and Lesotho have both legalised cannabis for medicinal use.

Japan: CBD legalised in 2016. Cannabis is illegal.

South Korea: CBD and cannabis legalised for medicinal use in November 2018.

Thailand: CBD and cannabis legalised for medicinal use in December 2018.

India: CBD and Cannabis are illegal on the federal level, but legal or tolerated in some states.

Vogue recommends

Malin & Goetz Cannabis Candle

One of the first CBD products to make it onto the mainstream radar. This is more of an olfactory nod than a health elixir, but Malin & Goetz were certainly pioneers in this space.

Charlotte's Web CBD Capsules

Charlotte's Web was meticulously formulated by the seven Stanley brothers from Colorado in 2012, and named after Charlotte Figi, who suffered from several seizures per day due to Dravet syndrome until she was treated with this CBD oil. The capsules contain premium CBD plus phytocannabinoids and other beneficial plant compounds for supplementary support to help ease stress, anxiety and exercise recovery.

Vertly Hemp CBD Infused Bath Salts

These soothing, healing salts are designed to calm and reduce tension in the body, combat inflammation, support muscle recovery, stimulate circulation and detoxify—via a combination of hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD, botanical extracts (including marjoram, yarrow and rosemary), organic sulfur and magnesium.

Herbivore Deep Moisture Glow Oil

A combination of cannabis sativa seed (hemp) oil, cannabis essential oil and naturally healing adaptogens, this lightweight oil can be worn underneath makeup for a base glow, or at night to deeply nourish, soothe and hydrate the skin.

Saint Jane Luxury Beauty Serum

A rich luxurious oil that combines CBD with organic botanicals to calm the skin and boost radiance.

South Seas Pineapple Express Joint Balm

This soft balm containing CBD soothes aching joints and helps to relieve pain by reducing inflammation.

Lord Jones High CBD Formula Body Lotion

Each 50ml bottle of this cooling lotion contains 100mg of CBD (each pump dispenses 1ml lotion containing 2mg CBD), and is designed to be easily absorbed by the skin to maximise its calming and moisturising effects.

Radical Skincare Rejuvafirm CBD Facial Oil

A nutrient-rich antioxidant formula enhanced with CBD, this oil helps to reduce inflammation, regenerate skin cells, soothe conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema and repair sun damaged skin.

Here's everything you need to know about CBD and the best CBD products to buy

CBD has taken the skincare and self-care space by storm. Searches for the ingredient have skyrocketed, turning it from relatively unknown to the power term on every big skincare and wellness brand's hit list. In fact, the CBD market is one of the fastest growing in the world, with some predictions estimating it will be worth more than $20 billion by 2024, thanks in part to the influence of celebrity fans. Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow take it to cope with stress and Alessandra Ambrosio takes it for anxiety. There's now even a National CBD Day (which is 8th August, FYI), and with 24% of Brits expressing the desire to use holistic remedies to alleviate the anxieties felt in lockdown, there's no better time to invest in its calming powers.

Simon Manthorpe, CEO of EOS Scientific – the UK's leading CBD oil testing service – said: "The number of UK users of CBD oil has almost doubled in the last year, with many claiming the cannabis-based product to be a more natural and easily accessible way to manage their mental health. We are seeing increasing numbers of people turning to more alternative remedies, not just for their mental health but for a number of ailments which can include insomnia, psoriasis and eczema.

"During a period in which people many people are suffering from increased stress levels due to the impact of COVID-19, we would recommend CBD to try to alleviate the pressures felt during this time."

21 calming beauty products that'll help you relax if you're feeling overwhelmed right now

Certainly, there's no shortage of CBD products to choose from – it has infiltrated the offerings of leading beauty retailers like Cult Beauty, Selfridges and Boots. But whilst it’s undeniably a talking point, it remains a head-scratcher for many. Why has this ingredient taken off quite so monumentally? And what actually is CBD?

We've answered all the questions you may have about CBD and rounded up our favourite products to help you enjoy the benefits for both skin and mind.

What is CBD?

CBD (it's full name is Cannabidiol) is a type of cannabinoid, which is a group of chemical compounds derived from the cannabis plant. CBD is said to have many benefits, namely relieving feelings of pain, stress, depression and anxiety as well as helping to reduce insomnia.

While it is derived from cannabis, it's important to note that CBD won't make you feel high. The reason why people feel high when taking cannabis itself is because cannabis also contains another cannabinoid called THC (or Tetrahydrocannabinol), which has strong psychoactive properties and creates feelings of euphoria and sedation.

Is CBD legal?

The short answer is that yes, CBD is legal in the UK when sold as a cosmetic product (so long as it meets the strict cosmetic regulations set out in UK law) or a food supplement (so long as it meets the standards set by the Food & Drug Administration and the brand has submitted a Novel Food Application – this measure was introduced earlier this year to ensure higher quality products and attempt to regulate the booming industry).

While CBD is legal, another component of cannabis, THC, is illegal and any product containing THC is prohibited by law. Cannabis contains both CBD and THC and is illegal, except in very rare medical circumstances.

How is CBD used in medicine?

In the UK, cannabis is prohibited by law due to the fact it contains THC. However, there are a few rare medical circumstances when doctors can legally prescribe cannabis to a patient who suffers from a specific medical condition. These conditions are limited to severe epilepsy, muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis (MS) and vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy. Cannabis is not authorised as treatment of any other medical condition in the UK.

Some medical professionals advocate the use of CBD oils and supplements as a form of alternative medicine (remember, CBD within a cosmetic product or food supplement is legal in the UK). Dr Danielle Gordon, a specialist in cannabis medicine prescribes CBD to patients with conditions including chronic migraines and epilepsy, but at low doses you can’t expect miracles, she says. “It’s kind of like the turmeric lattes you can get at Starbucks,” she explains. “They’re not going to treat your inflammatory arthritis or stop your brain ageing, but it’s certainly not a bad thing and it’s bringing awareness to [CBD] as an ingredient.”

In her clinic, Danielle might start a patient on a dose as low as 5mg and increase it gradually. “Everyone has a different threshold, so it really is an art and science,” she says. “What I use [CBD] for most often is anxiety,” she says. “It binds to the serotonin receptors in the brain and in the body, so it’s a natural anxiety relieving medication with virtually no side effects.”

But recent studies have revealed that the benefits of CBD are best realised when it is combined with THC (for example, in cannabis itself), leaving people who could benefit from treatment at a loss – anxiety is not one of the approved medical conditions for which doctors can prescribe cannabis for. There is ongoing debate within the medical and legal professions as to whether there is cause to expand the list of conditions that can receive a legal prescription for cannabis.

How is CBD used in wellness?

CBD is making waves in wellness amongst claims that CBD oil supplements can help relieve an array of issues. Hemp and Cannabis Consultant at Naturopathica, Yewande Okuleye explains: “We have lots of information about CBD but the official research is incomplete so we can’t categorically say CBD is anti-inflammatory or that it’s going to help you sleep better, but we do know from the way it affects our endocannabinoid system [an internal bodily system that works to regulate a number of our functions such as pain, anxiety and appetite] that there’s a likelihood it will help.” Plus, anecdotally, there are millions of cases where people feel that CBD has helped with conditions such as stress and insomnia, which are also encourgaing.

How is CBD used in skincare?

Unlike when taken as a supplement, topically applied CBD can’t enter the blood stream and will deliver benefits directly to the skin. Samir Juneja, Founder of CBD of London explains: “Through scientific research we’re finding that CBD could be a powerful compound in fighting a multitude of skin ailments including psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, acne, redness or itching. We’re also seeing provenance for CBD as a powerful anti-ageing compound, anti-inflammatory and as an anti-oxidant."

The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties are what gives CBD extra appeal – celebs like Olivia Wilde and Mandy Moore both use CBD oil topically, while brands including Origins, Ohana, MGC Derma and Aurelia all feature it in their skincare. CBD balms and bath bombs are also used as pain relief for aching muscles.

"A major benefit, is that CBD shares part of the ‘fingerprint’ of our genetics, allowing the body to instantly recognise it – and utilise it accordingly,” explains High Winters, CEO of cannabis-focused beauty brand MGC Derma.

What Are the Benefits of CBD in Skincare Products?

If you haven't heard, CBD oil is making waves in the beauty industry. Used in everything from face cream to mascara, it's quickly becoming the "it" oil with celebrities, influencers thanks to its various benefits, including helping users achieve a glowing, healthy complexion. And it's not just used in crunchy, organic creams and lotions—niche brands are incorporating the ingredient into their products, too. Popular companies such as Kiehl's and Peter Thomas Roth are right there alongside natural brands like Josie Maran and Herbivore Botanicals, churning out oils, lotions, and serums with CBD oil. Briogeo, one of our favorite hair brands, even launched a CBD treatment that promotes a healthy scalp. And Lord Jones, which launched in 2015, makes boutique CBD-infused beauty products and gourmet gumdrops. But with all of the hype around the category, we wanted to investigate the scientifically proven benefits of CBD in skincare. Here, we break it down.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, what is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 naturally occurring chemicals, called cannabinoids, that are found in cannabis and hemp plants. CBD is non-psychotropic, so it won't make you high, says Dr. Richard Firshein, founder of the Firshein Center for Integrative Medicine in New York City. (THC is another one of those cannabinoids, and that's the one that will make you high.) Ingested, CBD acts a powerful adaptogen that decreases the effects of hormones, like cortisol, that are released during times of stress, says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist in New York City.

What does it have to do with skincare?

Our bodies have what's called an endocannabinoid system, and this system contains cannabinoid receptors in every layer of our skin that work to keep our cells functioning properly, Dr. Engelman says. This means we're already designed to receive CBD, and that's a main reason why these products are so exciting when it comes to skincare. "Topical CBD has an effect on the skin because it will be picked up by receptors that are close to the surface of the skin," adds esthetician Jeannel Astarita, founder of Just Ageless Body and Beauty Lab in New York City.

What benefits does it have on the skin?

While there are, in fact, precious few studies establishing the efficacy of CBD, research suggests that CBD holds promise as a treatment for inflammatory conditions, Dr. Firshein says. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to calm, soothe, and reduce redness, he says, making it beneficial for a variety of skin conditions, especially acne. "I'm always a skeptic, but my patients with acne have had significant improvement with CBD," he says. "One laboratory study showed that it might not only act as an anti-inflammatory, but that it also helps to reduce excess oil production, a contributing factor in acne."

Those same redness-reducing properties could make CBD helpful for those with sensitive skin, too, Dr. Firshein adds. Plus, CBD contains antioxidants that help strengthen the skin barrier to retain moisture and keep pathogens out, leading to healthy skin that won't become easily compromised or irritated, explains Astarita "Healthy, resilient skin has an acid mantle that is responsible for keeping bacteria out and hydration in," she says. "Dry, dehydrated skin is fragile, easily irritated, and vulnerable to pathogens that exacerbate the conditions associated with sensitive skin, such as rosacea and eczema."

Perhaps the most significant bonus? The antioxidants in CBD are also potent anti-aging ingredients. "Antioxidants reduce free-radical damage caused by environmental factors like pollution and sun exposure," Astarita says. "This damage accumulates gradually over time, so the anti-aging benefits of antioxidants in CBD are more preventative."

Is it safe?

While there is still a lot to learn, CBD seems promising, Dr. Firshein says, and is generally considered safe. "There are certain restrictions I would consider if you are pregnant, taking other medications, or needing CBD too frequently—that could be a sign that you have a more significant, underlying condition," he says. "But there doesn't appear to be any significant side effects noted, and in time, more research will likely bear this out."