The cannabis plant has a lot to live up to. People praise it for a myriad of health benefits, including managing chronic pain, reducing opioid dependence, improving mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and supporting PTSD therapies.
Beyond healthcare, many other industries have shown interest in the plant since legalization. One of those is the beauty realm.
Skincare, beauty, and anti-aging is a beast of a sector worth US $8.3 billion—nearly $10.5 billion CAD—as of 2022. Unsurprisingly, the skincare industry is keen to get in bed with sweet lady Jane. After dabbling in hemp seed oil for years and are looking for more weed-y waters.
“We know oxidative stress is the number one cause of skin aging, so it makes complete sense to have topical applications of cannabinoids to reduce the oxidation processes in the skin.”Dr. Sana-Ara Ahmed, medical director of Genuvis Health
CBD and anti-aging: Is it hype or science?
It appears to be a hybrid of both.
There are opportunities abound, or so it seems, as batches of new cannabis-infused beauty products crop up each month. Beauty brands are often quick to promise wrinkle-free skin (and there’s always wise to be discerning of new “miracle” products, whether they contain cannabis or not).
Dr. Sana-Ara Ahmed founded and currently serves as medical director of Genuvis Health, a multifaceted cosmeceuticals clinic in Calgary. She has specialty training in cannabinoid medicine as well as experience in therapeutic topicals.
Her dual practice means she’s been watching the gap between the two industries shrink for years now. An expert in cannabinoids and skincare (both beauty and healing topical compounds) Dr. Ahmed tells Leafly she’s cautiously optimistic about the possibility of merging cannabis and skincare.
Stress, genetics, and the elements all prematurely age our skin
“When it comes to skincare in general, the main thing that people complain about is the loss of elasticity in their skin, which is because of depleting collagen,” she says. “So, anything to stimulate collagen will help make the skin appear more youthful.”
Skin goes from smooth and line-free in our teens and 20s to wrinkled and covered in dark age spots in our 30s, 40s, and beyond. Part of the way we age is genetic. If your mom or grandma had great skin at 60, chances are you will, too.
However, your teen tanning years will come back to haunt you, no matter how great your genetics are. Free radicals, like those from sun damage and stress, are majorly responsible for breaking down collagen in the skin, thus causing premature lines, wrinkles, and a decrease in firmness and tone.
The more free radical exposure, which can be environmental (pollution, UV rays) and/or lifestyle-driven (smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol), the more damage your skin endures.
The body can only regulate so many free radicals until it becomes too much, and something called oxidative stress begins to happen—a place where cannabinoids like Cannabidiol (CBD) and others have the chance to shine.
“We know oxidative stress is the number one cause of skin aging, so it makes complete sense to have topical applications of cannabinoids to reduce the oxidation processes in the skin,” says Ahmed. “Anything with antioxidants helps to fight oxidative stress.”
Cannabis for inflammation and anti-aging
Most cannabis-infused skincare products in Canada rely heavily on CBD, which research has shown can help reduce inflammation, as well as THC, which readers say is better for aches and pains.
There is also promise in CBG, a lesser discussed cannabinoid, it has shown anti-aging properties as it’s a strong fighter of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Using cannabis on the skin as a way to reduce the appearance of something like wrinkles works quite differently than smoking a joint. You don’t just apply it one night and magically wake up and see results the next morning.
There needs to be a way to get the cannabinoids into the skin to see effects.
“The most potent molecule for improving skin elasticity is hyaluronic acid (HA) and that’s why many of the topical creams have some HA in them,” explains Ahmed.
When skincare products use a carrier like HA, active ingredients won’t simply sit on top of the skin once applied, but can actually penetrate it to create meaningful results, like fine line reduction, over time.
Ahmed says that for products that only use oil as a carrier, for example, the chance of the cannabinoids affecting change in the appearance of the skin lessens. It isn’t penetrating the epidermis, which would be needed for any sort of therapeutic properties.
While cannabis topicals joined the legal weed world in 2019, it’s still very early days. Plenty of anecdotal evidence supports the efficacy of cannabis in skincare, but the industry needs more long-term clinical trials on humans to better understand exactly how cannabinoids can be blended into beauty products and their long-term effects.
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