Beauty Store Business magazine - January, 2020

To CBD or Not to CBD? The Facts You Need to Know

CBD-infused products are taking beauty markets by storm, but questions remain regarding the benefits–and legality–of this complicated wellness ingredient.

Since cannabidiol (CBD), an extract derived from hemp, fully arrived on the beauty scene last year, there have been legal developments that have reduced the limits surrounding its use and opened up new opportunities. On December 11, 2018, Congress passed its latest version of the Farm Bill, which included a specific section about hemp, effectively releasing restrictions on CBD (more details on this later). It set beauty markets buzzing. Suddenly, it seems every brand is scrambling to infuse CBD into its offerings. From lotions to bath salts to mascara, the cannabidiol craze is at an all-time high–no pun intended. While considerable research is still needed to validate its effects, beauty manufacturers are not waiting. CBD's believed antioxidant power and pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties are making it a beauty ingredient sensation. Cowen & Co. financial services predicts the American CBD market may reach $16 billion in sales by 2025. And market research firm Kline & Co projects CBD to have a staggering compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 75 percent through 2023! Here's our updated primer to help you evaluate if this remarkable, yet still stigmatized, beauty ingredient should be part of your offerings.


Hemp and marijuana both come from the Cannabis sativa species of plants. Confusion endures regarding their similar natures, but here’s the truth: The cousins are different varieties. Compared side by side, one can readily spot dissimilarities, especially in the shapes of their leaves: Hemp grows tall with skinny leaves, whereas marijuana has broad leaves and
a bushier build. More important, their biological structures are crucially distinct. Marijuana contains between 15 to 40 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound responsible for inducing psychoactive effects, while hemp has a very low THC concentration of .3 percent or less. In other words, hemp can’t get you high. For that reason, it’s long been legal in most parts of the world, grown primarily for industrial purposes including clothing, paper and biofuel production. Stateside, the story was historically different. Until recently, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considered all cannabis varieties, including hemp, to be Schedule 1 controlled substances, on par with narcotics like heroin and LSD.


The 2018 Farm Bill changed hemp’s illicit stature by removing it (and its derivatives) from the list of controlled substances and legalizing its production as an agricultural commodity, so long as each plant contains no greater than .3 percent THC. The bill effectively made hemp-derived CBD (under the THC limit) legal at the federal level. But there's a catch: Each state is left to determine its own legalized hemp program–for the cultivation, processing, manufacturing and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products, including CBD. If a state wants, it can choose to opt out of a hemp program completely. Not surprisingly, state laws regarding hemp vary considerably. For example, Colorado and Oregon are exceedingly hemp friendly while Idaho and South Dakota prohibit CBD cultivation and the use of CBD generally. CBD cultivation also remains illegal in Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brings another layer of complication to the CBD marketplace. At the time the Farm Bill passed, the FDA issued a statement reiterating that the bill's passage does not affect the FDA's “current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds,” granted by the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and that it will “treat products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds as any other FDA-regulated products.” It's important to note that under the Act, only food and drugs require premarket approval from the FDA–cosmetics are exempt.

Due to the proliferation of CBD ingestibles and topicals on the market since the Farm Bill's passage, the FDA held a public hearing to assess CBD's safety and efficacy on May 31, 2019. Jennifer Fisher Briggs, partner and team lead for the Cannabis industry group at law firm Duane Morris, LLP, in San Francisco, was present at the hearing. According to Fisher Briggs, "The FDA is more concerned with safety regarding ingestibles; the concern for beauty is primarily focused on how things are labeled– and any potential medical claims." In other words, both manufacturers and retailers of beauty topicals should not overstate CBD's effects or that it treats any type of disease, which constitutes a medical claim. "Currently, the FDA has said CBD and cannabis-derived ingredients still have to comply with all of the applicable requirements of cosmetics.
A product cannot be used if it is adulterated or misbranded," she adds.

Despite hemp’s quasi-contraband legal and regulatory status, CBD-steeped products for hair, skin and body have become ubiquitous. According to Vote Hemp, a group dedicated to the crop’s marketplace promotion, hemp plots jumped from 9,800 acres in 2016 to a whopping 78,000 acres in 2018. “Banks, financial institutions and credit-card processors may now handle CBD transactions,” says Kevin Wachs, CEO and founder of Earthly Body, which has produced hemp-oil based hair and skin care since 1994. “As research into CBD grows, more people will come to understand its benefits, leading to continued innovation.”

On the flipside, because there are few scientific studies of CBD (due to its previous illicit classification), new research could one day come to define CBD as a product that affects bodily functions–thereby classifying it as a drug that’s subject to FDA regulation. While that is more likely to happen with ingestible CBD products than topical beauty products, the reality remains that this ingredient’s future is still being decided. “Most of my customers call it the Wild West market,” says Gay Timmons laughing, president and founder of Oh, Oh Organic, a company that supplies organic ingredients–including, now, CBD–to cosmetics professionals.

This all brings up an important question: Is hemp worth the hype?


CBD boasts various inarguable benefits. Our bodies contain certain receptors known collectively as the endocannabinoid system. If that name sounds familiar, it’s for a good reason. This system was christened for the cannabis plant that led to its discovery. In 1988, researchers accidentally observed that THC reacted with a previously unknown (and heretofore unnamed) cannabinoid receptor in the brain responsible for stimulating things such as memory and emotions. Further exploration uncovered another important cannabinoid that scientists called anandamide, derived from the Sanskrit word for divine joy, due to the physiological responses it induces–anyone who’s ever felt a runner’s high is experiencing (among other things) a rush of anandamide. If you picture the body as a machine, wherein the brain serves as a motherboard and the immune system is its filtration, endocannabinoids are the wires that keep both operational. But sometimes machines break down. When that happens–when bodies can’t naturally produce adequate amounts of endocannabinoids–we may experience health problems, from anxiety to inflammation to epilepsy. That’s where CBD may help.

CBD (like THC) helps support healthy anandamide levels, and thus may serve as a mood elevator. Devotees swear by its Zen-promoting proper- ties when ingested orally, via a gummy or drinkable botanical, or when applied topically in oils, sprays and balms. Kim Kardashian recently made headlines after announcing plans to throw a CBD-themed baby shower for her fourth child, because she wanted to combat the stress of surrogate pregnancy. Actress Melissa McCarthy proudly rubbed CBD oil on her feet before walking the red carpet at this year’s Oscars, so as to stay calm and comfy in her heels. Such celebrity endorsements and general demand have even prompted CVS, Walgreens and other retailers to start stocking CBD-infused health and beauty products, but experts are calling for scientifically validated research. “A customer recently told me she needed our lip balm to help cure her overarching anxiety,” says Claudia Mata, cofounder of Vertly, a high-end cannabis beauty line that launched in 2017 and is now available online and in stores like Neiman Marcus and Barneys. “I explained that while CBD can mitigate certain symptoms, it shouldn’t be considered a magic potion for instantly dispelling stress.”

Inflammation in our bodies can often manifest as redness, pain and swelling (and, if left untreated, may contribute to heart disease or stroke); health experts agree that cannabidiol may help to counter those responses. “CBD is known to possess anti-inflammatory properties,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetology and clinical research in dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Applied topically, it may minimize facial flush or bloating. It’s also a sebostatic, or agent that inhibits the growth of sebum-producing cells, making it an effective acne-fighter. A 2014 NCBI study suggests that CBD may help suppress breakouts by regulating oil production. “Less internal inflammation and improved general skin health are the biggest beauty benefits of CBD,” Mata says. “However, it’s important to note that this ingredient functions best when used in tandem with other healing plant extracts.” Case in point: After Mata scalded her mouth with a bite of too-hot pizza, she calmed it with Vertly CBD-Infused Lip Butter. “The pain, swelling and redness subsided–but that was also due in part to the coconut oil, cacao butter and jojoba also found in our balm, not just the CBD alone,” Mata says. She likens it to taking a multivitamin or consuming a comprehensive whole-foods diet–CBD itself is not a silver bullet.

It is rich in natural fats, including a healthy array of omega fatty acids, which might explain why it’s popping up in facial cleansers and serums. “CBD’s skin-hydrating benefits may minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Fats soothe outer skin layers, which likewise accounts for its ability to treat conditions like eczema and psoriasis.” Some companies claim CBD is a powerful antioxidant–stronger even than vitamins C and E–but Dr. Zeichner believes more studies are needed to support that assertion.

When it comes to hair, Wachs found that a few drops of CBD oil made tresses soft and smooth. So he launched Emera, a professional cannabidiol-infused haircare line. “Because CBD contains amino acids and is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, along with magnesium, potassium and essential fatty acids like omega 3, 6 and 9, it helps form collagen, which nourishes scalp tissue,” Wachs explains. “Additional advantages include improved hair elasticity and strength, allowing follicles to expand faster for healthy growth.”


Although CBD has become beauty’s newest star ingredient, it can be tough to discern high-caliber CBD products from those that are less efficacious. “Quality-control standards don’t yet exist,” Timmons laments. In the meantime, Wachs urges both professionals and consumers to purchase products certified by third-party quality controls. (Cosmetic Ingredient Review assesses and publishes safety reports.) “Earthly Body uses third-party testing on each offering, to ensure it contains the correct amount of CBD and no trace THC,” Wachs explains. “Results are crucial in showing customers they’re getting what they pay for.” Mata recommends checking the total milligrams of CBD contained in an item. “If a number isn’t disclosed on the packaging, it could mean the brand only added trace amounts for marketing purposes,” Mata says. “Though CBD is popular, it’s not a cheap ingredient.”


Although CBD’s legalities, regulatory rules and benefits are still being determined, it provides a great business opportunity and way to serve your customers who want it today. Spas, salons and beauty retailers will have to decide if they want to take a “watchful waiting” position or jump in now. If big retailers like Sephora, Ulta, Walgreens and CVS have all gotten on board, it’s unlikely the CBD genie is going back in the bottle. If you decide to carry CBD products or services, remember to carefully check state hemp programs and be cognizant of overstating benefits or selling products that make unfounded medical claims. Choose quality CBD products from reputable manufacturers with third-party testing. More research, hemp programs and FDA regulation will help define the CBD market more clearly in the months ahead.

Photo by Kimzy Nanney on Unsplash.