A fun fact about me: I once worked for a medical marijuana dispensary. It’s something that usually surprises anyone I tell—“Wow! I never would have guessed you were into that!”—but also something I feel pretty passionately about and am decently educated on. I qualify for a medical card in New York, and cannabis is something that helps me manage pain so I can function. It’s great, it works, but you can't get it everywhere—most states haven’t legalized marijuana. Another plant from the cannabis family is legal, though, and that’s hemp. Hemp is at most just .3-percent THC, the psychoactive element in cannabis that gets you stoned. While low in THC, hemp is high in CBD, the soothing, anti-inflammatory compound causing a completely legal buzz all over the country.
So, do CBD beauty products work? Let’s start with this: Most products boasting CBD properties only list cannabis sativa oil (another name—confusingly!—for hemp seed oil) as an active ingredient. Hemp seed oil actually contains no CBD. That’s right—you heard me. For a little clarity, I called up my old team at Knox Medical and spoke to their Manufacturing and Controls Director, Nikolas. “If you do the correct collection method from pure hemp seeds, it actually has no CBD. Or, if it does it’s below the detectable level—it’s very, very low.” Pure hemp seed oil is still a nice, light, non-comedogenic oil—but not much else. Even if there was CBD, there’s still little research to support that CBD applied topically (without transdermal technology) will do what beauty brands say they will do. “[Brands] just like to use the name ‘cannabis’ so people buy it,” Nikolas confirmed.
So right about now you might be feeling paranoid... Which makes it a perfect time to down to check in on your favorite CBD product. If it's already rocking your world, I’m here to guarantee that the ingredient you’re actually loving is definitely not CBD.
If you love Kiehl’s Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil…
…it’s because of vitamin E.
Tocopherol, another name for vitamin E, is the third ingredient in this oil—that means it’s present in relatively high quantities. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E is calming and anti-inflammatory. It also slows down signs of aging by neutralizing free radicals, and makes your SPF work better. It’s a hero ingredient, but you knew that already.
If you love Herbivore Emerald…
…it’s because of squalane.
Because squalene oil is naturally produced by your skin, chemically related squalane (note the e-to-a switcheroo) mimics your sebum and balances oil production. It’s a light, non-comedogenic oil that sinks in quickly and is suitable for all skin types.
If you love Peter Thomas Roth Green Releaf Sleep Cream…
…it’s because of melatonin.
Melatonin has similar properties to CBD when ingested, and it’s also likely the power ingredient in this Peter Thomas Roth cream. Recent studies have shown that applied topically, melatonin is an effective antioxidant to reduce and prevent photodamage (you know, sun spots and fine lines...).
If you love CBD For Life Eye Cream…
…it’s because of caffeine, hyaluronic acid, and retinol.
This eye cream is the only product on this list with cannabinoid extract, but it packs a punch for other reasons: hyaluronic acid hydrates and plumps the skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while caffeine from paullinia cupana (AKA guarana) extract depuffs undereye bags. Add in retinol, and you’ve got a holy grail level eye cream—with CBD or without.
Photo via ITG