Cannabis has enjoyed an image overhaul of which most politicians could only dream. Almost ten years ago, the drug was upgraded to Class B – yet today, bottles of cannabis-derived cannabidiol (CBD oil) can be bought in Holland & Barret for £19.99, with a few drops under the tongue being touted as a balm for insomnia, epilepsy and more. CBD oil (as opposed to the THC found in cannabis, which remains illegal in the UK) is non-psychoactive – in other words, it won’t get you high. According to the Cannabis Trades Association UK, the number of CBD consumers rose from 125,000 in 2017 to 250,000 in 2018.
Since the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) ruled in 2016 that CBD products could be sold in the UK, providing claims are not made about their medical benefits, cannabis has stopped lurking in the shadows.. Despite what the MHRA says, some proponents insist it possesses anti-inflammatory properties and offers relief from pain, anxiety and depression.
The beauty industry, never one to miss a trick, swiftly jumped on the weed wagon. Today, CBD is perhaps the buzziest and most bragged-about ingredient in high-end makeup, skincare and hair products. In Hollywood, the fashion stylist Karla Welch – who works with Olivia Wilde, Ruth Negga, Katy Perry and Sarah Paulson – applies CBD lotion by Lord Jones, a brand based in Los Angeles, to clients’ legs and feet before they walk the red carpet. In July, Harvey Nichols became the first UK department store to stock MGC Derma, a cannabis-infused skincare range.
MGC Derma – the MCG stands for medical-grade cannabis – is the skincare arm of the Australian pharmaceutical company MGC Pharma, which conducts studies and research in Australian hospitals, where cannabis is legal for medical use. Its CBD brightening facial cream (€85.40; £76) is one of the most talked-about products among beauty editors. Space NK now stocks Rejuvafirm CBD facial oil (£80) by Radical Skincare, a brand beloved by Goldie Hawn and her daughter, Kate Hudson. CBD oil has worked its way into makeup, too, with Milk Makeup’s Kush high-volume mascara (£24; £19) using CBD oil to condition lashes.
But as CBD oil scrubs up and goes mainstream, it is not easy to tell which products stand up to scrutiny. The consensus among dermatologists and dieticians is that while phytocannabinoids – cannabinoids produced in plants – are indeed exciting ingredients, there is a huge amount of confusion among consumers, on which some brands are cashing in. “Phytocannabinoid-rich products applied topically to the skin can be extremely soothing when dealing with skin damage or inflammation of different kinds,” says Martina della Vedova, the lead nutritionist at US health product company Natures Plus. But there is an important distinction between hempseed oil, which is made from the seeds of the cannabis plant, and CBD, which is extracted from the flowers and leaves.
As with any trendy new ingredient, it is worth asking how new cannabis is to the beauty industry. After all, Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, introduced a hemp skincare line in 1998.
“Hempseed-based products are a great way to keep skin naturally moisturised, thanks to the richness in omegas and beneficial oils,” says Della Vedova. “But hempseed oil doesn’t contain phytocannabinoids, so no comparison can be done with phytocannabinoid-rich products.” In other words, not all cannabis derivatives possess the same qualities – and not all CBD products are created equally.
Josh Rosebrook’s eponymous skincare and beauty brand (in which hempseed oil is a star ingredient) has earned a cult following thanks to his focus on efficacy and purity, but he remains sceptical of the glut of CBD beauty products on the market.
“Reducing inflammation is the core of healing all skin conditions and diseases, and CBD is shown clinically to support and accelerate healing of inflammation-related diseases such as eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis, which I find very exciting,” says Rosebrook. “But I’ve already seen many products on the market that are relatively ineffective because they haven’t been made with quality, professionally processed CBD oil. It’s a risk with any proved beneficial ingredient; there will always be people producing poor-quality versions and trying to sell it as better than it is.”
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