The Farm Bill 2018, which legalized industrial hemp in the United States, capped more than a half-century of the plant’s criminalization. The effects were far-reaching; the legislation opened the door to an industry currently worth more than $50 billion and estimated to be worth $77 billion by 2022.

Hemp-derived oils are being sold for all kinds of medical conditions. People are selling paper and clothing made out of hemp. The plant is even being used to make durable, weather-resistant building blocks that remove carbon dioxide from the air. Even beauty products are being infused with CBD oil, an oil derived from the hemp plant, earning a notable trendiness and a following among a growing number of people. 

CBD stands for cannabinoid, an element that has been studied to some extent since it became legal to study the plant. It’s different from THC, the element in the marijuana plant that makes people feel high. The body naturally produces cannabinoids; we know now that they’re compounds tasked with keeping the body in balance. 

To do this, cannabinoids bind to receptors in the nervous, immune, and digestive systems, effectively regulating digestion, sleep, mood, and appetite. While they’re naturally occurring, their production can be affected by environmental and lifestyle factors, including stress and lack of sleep. CBD oils provide an added boost of cannabinoids, in theory helping restore the body to a state of balance.

Today large beauty stores, including Sephora, are stocking skincare products made with CBD oils. So what’s all the fuss about? Are CBD-infused skincare products effective? Is their popularity grounded in evidence? Opinions are mixed.

Studies confirm that CBD oils reduce pain and inflammation. Acne, like most other skin conditions, is an inflammatory condition. A study published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2014 showed that CBD “behaves as a highly effective sebostatic agent”. In other words, it has been proven to halt the production of sebum, or oil, by the sebaceous glands, in effect showing “potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne”. 

CBD oils are also said to be rich in the vitamins that stimulate the production of collagen, the proteins that keep your skin looking healthy and firm.

A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science showed cannabinoids depressed the production of cells commonly associated with psoriasis, a disease that causes raised, red patches to appear on the skin. 

Still, given the checkered nature of cannabis-related regulations -- the plant is legal at the federal level but not at all state levels -- hemp and cannabis aren’t particularly easy to study. Some skeptics have said the most robust evidence in support of CBD pertains to pain management, but point out that the compound is being marketed beyond its capabilities, for treating everything from arthritis to wrinkles. They say CBD-infused beauty products are largely unregulated and most of the hype is being engineered by marketing teams. But other researchers counter that lack of robust science is common for most beauty products, even the ones that work. 

When it comes to skincare, often the most effective study is the one you do yourself. The best advice, which applies to most skincare and beauty products, is to be selective about the products you purchase and to do your research. Don’t be fooled by the marketing, but as the saying goes, don’t judge a movie until you’ve watched the whole thing, either.

A reviewer for wrote of her skepticism toward the marketing of CBD-infused skincare products: “I jumped at the chance to debunk this lofty claim because anyone who reveres science can sniff a bogus, Goop-y claim to make you look younger from a mile away,” she wrote. “For better or worse, I couldn’t exactly debunk it."

Written by Allyson Welch

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