Is Cannabis Your Next Skincare Super Ingredient?

We know that cannabis can help with sleep, appetite and other symptoms. But as more and more research is conducted on the plant and its effects, we’re discovering – and rediscovering – other uses for cannabis. One promising realm is skincare.

“I see the stigma for cannabis components in skincare products decreasing, especially for products that contain cannabinoids other than THC,” says Dr. Robert Dellavalle, professor of Dermatology and Public Health at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Soothing sore and itchy skin

There are dozens of cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in cannabis and hemp, and many of them have already been shown beneficial for skin. Dellavalle’s lab summarized research about cannabinoids for skin disease in a 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) were helpful for psoriasis, according to the study.

Patients with pruritus, or severe skin itchiness, said a cream with the fatty acid amide palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), helped reduce itch by almost 87 per cent. In mice with eczema, researchers found PEA had anti-inflammatory properties and also helped to relieve their atopic dermatitis, or eczema. Although it is not strictly an endocannabinoid – the body’s endogenous, or naturally-occurring cannabinoids – PEA works like one by “enhancing endocannabinoid binding,” and was included in Dellavalle’s review.

Another benefit of cannabis skincare products is their ability to provide therapeutic benefits without the buzz. Although THC has psychoactive properties when inhaled or ingested, it’s unlikely for the amount used in cosmetics or creams to create a cerebral high. “This depends upon the skin site of application (thinner skin and mucous membranes allow more absorption) and THC concentration of the product,” says Dellavalle.

Cannabis in makeup

The ingredient is currently hip enough that global cosmetics retailers like Sephora and Ulta Beauty are marketing hemp-containing products with cannabis-associated terms. Take Milk Makeup’s Kush mascara, for example, which uses a “nourishing cannabis oil” that is hemp-based (hemp’s botanical name is cannabis sativa, and although closely related to cannabis, it does not contain THC or produce a cerebral high). According to the company, the oil offers long-lasting hydration for lashes and does not have any psychoactive effects.

“When we started talking about coming out with a fully vegan volumizing mascara with fibers, we knew we couldn’t use beeswax, a common binding component in mascara formulas. Enter: cannabis oil,” explains their website.

Creams, salves and lotions containing cannabinoids derived from cannabis, not hemp, are available in legalized states south of the border, but are typically marketed for their pain-relieving, rather than beauty-enhancing qualities. A recent survey by cannabis lifestyle and accessories company Van Der Pop suggests that this may change as the market opens to broader forms of legal cannabis. The Women and Weed project surveyed 1,500 women in the US and Canada, with 20 per cent indicating curiosity about cannabis skincare products.

Clean and green

Cannabis and hemp oils are an organic substitute for petrolatum, a mineral oil jelly, commonly used in North American cosmetics. (It can also replace other oils, like coconut or lavender, in beauty products.) According to Health Canada, petrolatum is regulated within the country and its safety has been reviewed. But the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an organization pushing for transparency, warns that petrolatum can become contaminated with chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), while David Suzuki Foundation blogger Queen of Green points out that the European Union has much more stringent restrictions for petrolatum.

Plant-based wellness company Vertly uses hemp extracts in their products like lip butter and lotions. It aligns with their mandate to create plant-based, clean beauty products. “We’ve always been aware of the analgesic, anti-inflammatory and calming benefits phytocannabinoids can offer,” says the husband-and-wife duo behind the California brand.

Take your time

If you’ve never tried a cannabis-infused product, especially when it comes to skin creams, try a small amount before slathering it all over. This way, you can see how your skin reacts.

“My main concern for topical cannabinoid use is contact allergy. I recommend that people try a few products sparingly—testing them with a use test on their inner arm first,” says Dellavalle, “and see what they like and what works best for their skincare needs.”

Although more research is needed, beauty and skincare products offer promising vehicles for the plant, which is turn may provide a natural alternative to chemical-packed products.

“I like the fact that there are two [types of] cannabinoid receptors in the skin and more than 100 cannabinoids that can potentially interact with these receptors, either individually or in combination,” says Dellavalle. “The horizon is wide open for potential anti-inflammatory or anti-carcinogenic effects from this understudied class of highly active medications.”

Cannabis, cosmetics and Canada

Adding cannabis to cosmetics is prohibited in Canada right now, according to the government. The only products allowed currently are ones made from hemp seed derivatives with less than 10 parts per million of THC. As the legalization of marijuana approaches, the rules are expected to change and cannabis-infused products will be subject to the Cannabis Act.