Deemed a Miracle Ingredient, CBD Is a Skincare Junkie’s Dream

From fixing uneven skin tone to hydrating a dull complexion, CBD Beauty is finally receiving the praise it deserves. Projected to be a billion-dollar category by 2024, its female founders mean business.

By Zoe Schaeffer

It’s easy to get sucked into the hot beauty trend of the moment, whether it’s a new celebrated ingredient (blue tansy, anyone?) or an elaborate 17-step K-Beauty routine. But the movement that’s really taken the industry by storm—not only for its predicted staying power, but also for its rapid growth in the marketplace—is CBD Beauty; products that are formulated from cannabis. The association with bong-hitting frat boys is somewhat passé, giving way to one that’s closer with vegan, downward dog types, or successful nine-to-fivers who want a calming moment at the day’s end. Now, as CBD quickly moves past the trendy buzz phase and into the mainstays of plant-based beauty, the ingredient is taking up important real estate in multi-brand beauty behemoths and beloved indie boutiques alike. But what exactly does it do? Will it give you great skin? We talked to several female founders to find out.

What is CBD and why is it in my beauty products?

To most, cannabidiol (CBD) is still a hazy concept. As one of the many cannabinoids present in cannabis, it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the body and skin to create a natural interaction that encourages healing, which is beneficial in skincare. Once viewed as a taboo resource, CBD was marginalized for its association with marijuana, a prohibited drug that was known to create paranoia and “The Munchies”—not a chic connotation in the haughty beauty biosphere. But the world began to view it differently after the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, allowing federally legal hemp to be recognized as a crop rather than an illegal substance.

Along with funding for clinical research and a formal “go ahead” to brands that had been restricted by regulations, the bill meant that topical CBD products would at long last be given certain freedoms, and thereby taken more seriously. Two years later, they are taking center stage. With proven health and cosmetic benefits linked to inflammation that are finally being celebrated, CBD is disrupting the beauty world’s $500 billion domain. And sales are predicted to grow with force; according to the latest report from Prohibition Partners, an independent market research firm for cannabis data, it’s projected to account for $954 million—or 10 percent of overall beauty sales—by the year 2024.

Will it get me high?

No, you won’t get stoned by layering on that glowy CBD face oil because THC, the cannabis plant’s psychoactive ingredient, isn’t part of this picture. Rather, pure CBD is more about what you don’t feel (sleeplessness, anxiety, irritability) than what you do. Lovingly referred to as “a sacred medicinal plant” in Hindu texts, it’s hailed by those in-the-know as a botanical sensation—one that literally makes your skin look better and your body feel good.

Jamie Leilani Pelayo, co-founder of natureofthings, a clean bath and body line that uses broad-spectrum hemp extract to relieve stress, anxiety, and pain, became interested in the ancestral healing techniques of plant medicine while harvesting everything from roses in Turkey to Frankincense in Oman. “I consider myself a woman working with plants, minerals, and elements whose benefits have been well documented over time to provide comfort and relief, helping people to feel better from the inside out, naturally.” She notes that continuing research shows that while the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can help reduce pain, it has also been shown to aid the body’s endocannabinoid system that regulates functions such as sleep, appetite, and immune system response. But to her, alchemy is key. “Our philosophy is really about combining CBD and other cannabinoids with other beneficial botanicals and minerals that heighten the intended effects.”

What to look for—and look out for

It’s important to know exactly what to look for while shopping the CBD cabinet, whether perusing your healthy grocer or the aisles of Sephora. Sarah Mona, who was a seed-to-bloom grower and retail beauty brand manager before starting her upscale line La Bhanga, is laser-focused on producing the cleanest product, working closely with a scientist while researching every ingredient. She says that one of the biggest challenges in the CBD world is how misleading many other companies in this space can be to consumers. Now that CBD is a popular and prosperous division of beauty, mainstream brands are scrambling to get in the game by creating their own off-shoot cannabis products—but with foggy marketing and confusing labeling.

Most notably, a typical consumer might confuse Cannabis Seed Sativa Oil for CBD while glancing at the package (the former is a fancy term for Hemp Oil, an emollient that lacks other benefits). Just because CBD is considered clean on its own, it still warrants a label check for parabens or pore-clogging mineral oil—much like you’d continue to read ingredient decks at your health food store. “CBD, considered a ‘miracle ingredient’ for centuries, has benefits that are beyond belief,” explains Mona. “It offers UV protection, is anti-inflammatory and breaks down uneven skin tone, and is incredibly firming and hydrating, so you don’t want a diluted replacement.” (Although research isn’t significant enough to support swapping CBD oil for sunscreen, the ingredient’s fatty acids help skin produce a natural oil barrier that enhances SPF by strengthening the buffer between skin and sun. Additionally, CBD helps prevent hyperpigmentation with its anti-inflammatory properties).

“If a product is over $100, its worth to me would be determined by the type of CBD used.”

Mona says to look for words like “cannabis extract, CBD isolate or cannabinoid extract” on the label, which means you’re getting the real deal (isolate is the most expensive and has the highest quality). She also questions competitor pricing. “If a product is over $100, its worth to me would be determined by the type of CBD used. If it’s not an isolate, what other ingredients are in it that drive up the price?” She notes that top-tier ingredients like peptides, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin C should also be at the top of the panel. In addition, the milligram ratio of CBD to the overall product is important. “If something is 1oz with 300 mg of CBD, that’s a strong, good product,” she says. “But if it were 8oz with 300 mg of CBD? I would question its purity, amongst other things.”

What about CBD in makeup?

Research from the European Journal of Pain says that CBD can calm inflammation and pain when applied topically (hence its popularity in bath and body products, and in acne treatments), but what exactly are its benefits in makeup? Now found in everything from brow gel to perfume, to the unanointed, the effects are still very unclear (will this mascara make me sleepy?). Casey Georgeson, founder of the glossy luxury brand Saint Jane, is known for her editor-approved Beauty Face Serum and cult Vitamin C Drops. But she also made the first-ever CBD-spiked lip gloss (and just-released lipsticks) that are somewhat unique to the market as CBD makeup is still fairly underrepresented.

She says that she views the hero ingredient as “the non-psychoactive darling of the herb industry,” and a powerful vitamin that you’d want in any product being absorbed into your skin. But Georgeson points out that not all makeup products are a candidate for CBD. “Mascara is a good example as CBD reacts with living tissue only (like the epidermis), and lashes are not living tissue,” she stresses. She chose to focus on the lip area because it’s delicate, prone to dryness, and doesn’t produce its own moisture like our skin can via the sebum glands. So unlike your lashes, your lips will benefit, even with natural wear. “While most of your gloss gets transferred to your coffee cup or gets ingested, the moment you use CBD, the receptors in your Endocannabinoid System start working, so you reap the nourishing properties upon application.”

And even though CBD has vitamin-like characteristics on its own, it acts as a conduit for bioavailability, enhancing the benefits of other ingredients (chamomile, a like-minded ingredient, becomes extra moisturizing once they’re blended). So that deep conditioning wash of color also doubles down with calming, anti-inflammatory properties that offer a little daily dose of bliss. “Really, these multi-correctional products are for anyone who wants to target an array of skin conditions with clean, high-performing ingredients,” says Georgeson.

Female founders are leading the future of Cannabeauty

While the larger CBD space is overrun with men (especially on the agriculture side), it’s the women who are tapping into their strong roots in beauty and popularizing this amazing ingredient. Alexis Rosenbaum, founder of Rosebud, a line of tinctures and bath soaks in simple, pretty packaging, agrees. “From my perspective, while wealthy white men own the larger publicly traded cannabis companies, the majority of the beauty space under the larger CBD umbrella is being run by women.” At a 2019 Broccoli Magazine In Bloom event (which, along with High Times, has achieved cult-like status for its ability to diffuse the taboos surrounding CBD) Rosenbaum was surrounded by many more women than men, suggesting how serious female founders take this business. Like her female contemporaries, she feels lifted up by the industry’s strong circle of supportive women. “There might have been 10 men total out of at least 300 attendees,” says Rosenbaum. “We want to see each other thrive and succeed because it actually makes room for many more women in this world to succeed.”

“While wealthy white men own the larger publicly traded cannabis companies, the majority of the [CBD] beauty space is run by women.”

Ashley Spierer was working in Chennai in the maternal health world before starting Daughter of the Land, a line of organic, fair-trade products (some featuring full-spectrum hemp-derived cannabidiol), and shares the same positivity when asked how she feels about being a woman in the Canna-world. “Most of the partners I interact with are female whether they are printers, retail buyers, shop owners, or my staff. I feel empowered to be constantly surrounded by a community of really great women who share this space.” Adding to this wide support network is Supernova Women, a group that empowers women of color to enter the Cannabis space through education and advocacy training. Since CBD was, for too long, associated with criminal behavior in many Black and Latin communities, women of color have often been pushed to the sidelines when trying to enter this space. Supernova Women panel discussions and “Mastermind Groups” offer brainstorming and peer accountability to help foster community in the ever-evolving cannabis space and help its members start their own businesses. Women of color who are successfully paving the way in this world include Kimberly Dillon, who started as chief marketing officer of CBD company Papa & Barkley and recently founded Plant & Prosper, a consulting collective for the Hemp industry, and Dorian Morris of Undefined Beauty, a line of multi-purpose CBD skincare. Both women are marking territory with their expertise and focus to make CBD more accessible.

“The cannabis plant species has been serving humanity as medicine for longer than corn has been growing in our soil,” says Kendra Mark, Leilani Pelayo’s co-founder of natureofthings. “It’s time for this incredibly intelligent plant to receive the praise it deserves.”


Every product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase through one of our links, The Helm may earn a commission.

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