Before last year my only experience with weed was during one fateful evening in 2006, but now my bedside table and my bathroom cabinet are both brimming with the stuff. Now you can't move for new skincare and wellness products bearing the cannabis leaf on the packaging, from under-eye patches to face masks to eyeshadow palettes.
The most sought-after cannabis-derived ingredient is CBD (cannabidiol) which is a powerful topical anti-inflammatory. "Several studies have found that CBD decreases the number of compounds such as cytokines present in the body’s inflammatory responses," says independent cosmetologist and expert formulator Dr Pedro Catala of Twelve Beauty . "This is why it has been marketed for sensitive, reactive skin with a tendency to redness. In fact, it comes just at the right time as we all tend to feel that we have sensitive skin nowadays, don’t we?" When taken as a supplement, it can help with sleep and feelings of wellbeing.
It's easy to see why everyone wants a slice of the CBD pie. The industry set to be worth a predicted £750 million (US $959 million) by 2024 according to research organisation Prohibition Partners , whose report on CBD in the beauty industry was released earlier this year.
But not everything bearing the trademark spiky leaf actually contains CBD, the active ingredient that works on the cannabinoid receptors in the skin and provides its unique anti-inflammatory benefits.
With so many products bearing the cannabis leaf image, claims of 'weed washing' are starting to emerge
This is where it gets confusing: cannabis sativa is a catch-all term that doesn't tell you which part of the plant has been used, which is crucial if you want to know whether it contains CBD or not. CBD is derived from the flowers and leaves of the cannabis sativa plant, while the seeds are used to make cannabis sativa oil, another common skincare ingredient, otherwise known as hemp seed oil .
This means that unless you scour the label, you might think you are buying CBD, when in fact you are getting hemp. Not a bad thing in itself as hemp seed oil is also good for destressing the skin - especially dry skin as it's rich in omegas. However, while also calming, it works in a different way to CBD. "Hemp seed oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids, which is great for soothing and conditioning," says Dr Catala. But it might not be what you thought you were buying. Equally, you could be looking for hemp and deliberately trying to avoid cannabinoids (they are not advised during pregnancy and breastfeeding or for children). Price can be an indicator too; CBD is generally an expensive ingredient because the extraction process is complex, whereas hemp is not.
“Let’s be clear, cannabis sativa seed oil and CBD are not the same,” say Marisa Schwab and Floriane Van de Forst, co-founders of CBD marketplace The Chillery . “Sativa seed oil, while an effective moisturiser, antioxidant and carrier oil, contains no cannabinoids.”
Hemp has been around for a long time; Body Shop founder Anita Roddick championed it back in the nineties and had to fend off accusations that hemp encouraged illegal drug use. For decades, the word 'cannabis' was toxic in the beauty world. Now, with the popularity of CBD, it seems that that the very opposite is true.
With so many products bearing the cannabis leaf image, claims of 'weed washing' are starting to emerge. A bit like 'greenwashing' (not being as natural/sustainable as your packaging might imply), weed washing is a way of jumping on the hype around CBD and its derivation from the cannabis plant, without necessarily having the ingredients to back it up.
“Because there’s been so much hype around the launch of cannabis-related products, marketers have quickly moved to rebrand hemp-based products with cannabis leaf-adorned packaging and using hues of green that manipulate consumers into thinking they’re receiving products with CBD in it,” says senior analyst Claire Birks of Prohibition Partners.
What's even more confusing is that 'full-spectrum hemp oil' and 'broad-spectrum hemp extract' do indicate CBD.
If, like us, you’ve studied the labels of 'cannabis leaf' products, you’ll know that the ingredients list can be a minefield. Here's your vocab guide to help you navigate the world of cannabis sativa.
How to know if it's CBD
For a product to contain CBD (with the calming, anti-inflammatory properties) the ingredients list needs to state one of the following.
* Full/Broad Spectrum Hemp Extract/Oil.
"This means extracted from the whole plant - including the flowers which is where most CBD is found," says the Chillery.
* CBD Isolate.
"This is CBD in its purest form."
* Hemp CBD
* Cannabidiol derived from hemp extract
* Full-spectrum cannabis oil
Ingredients that contain no cannabinoids
Cannabis sativa seed oil or extract
This has long been used in the beauty world under the name hemp or hemp seed oil and is particularly beneficial for those who have dry and stressed skin.
But in the end, it's important to ask whether we really should be getting as excited about CDB in skincare as the hype would have us believe. Dr Catala acknowledges that the CBD category is a promising new addition for sensitive skin, but is it the best?
"Absolutely not. I always tend to lean towards traditional ingredients that have been studied in depth for decades, as this means that we are not only aware of their benefits but of their safety profile as well. Modern skincare should be efficient but safe to use. For those wanting the effects of CBD without actually using it, I recommend trying other alternatives such as rice bran oil, cottonseed oil, spent grain wax or even olive oil. Although these products don’t have the novelty factor that CBD does, they work great on the skin too."