CBD cosmetics are more than smoke and mirrors

Tuesday, October 9, 2018 - 10:27pm

Tess Garcia

Tess Garcia Buy this photo
Tess Garcia

I don’t smoke weed. Few things terrify me more than the idea of ingesting a substance whose origins I know nothing about, and I know as much about marijuana as your friendly neighborhood Church Lady.

When I first heard about the emergence of cosmetics with cannabidiol, or CBD, I was perplexed. I knew the substance had something to do with cannabis. In my mind, that meant labs full of dermatologists grinding up the stuff my friends put in their bongs, only to sprinkle it into a lotion or lip balm.

Needless to say, I was wrong. The story of CBD is far more complex than I ever could have imagined. This is my journey with cannabidiol skin care, made possible by extensive research and a beauty brand called Hora.

The CBD Movement: A Timeline

Cannabidiol is one of several compounds found in cannabis. Along with tetrahydrocannabinol, the “high”-inducing compound THC, it makes up about 40 percent of the plant’s extract. In western culture, CBD has been lauded for its therapeutic properties dating back to the 19th century; it’s rumored that Queen Victoria used CBD-rich cannabis to alleviate her menstrual cramps.

Cannabidiol wasn’t individually extracted until 1940, when American chemist Roger Adams became the first person to separate the compound from the plant using a mixture of ethanol and “red oil.” Six years later, Dr. W.S. Loewe performed the first CBD tests on lab animals, through which he discovered ingestion of the compound does not produce an altered mental state. Scientific interest in CBD slowed in the following decades until its three-dimensional structure was identified, opening a field of research devoted to exploring CBD’s potential uses. Studies in the ’70s and ’80s cited CBD as reducing nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, producing sedative effects and diminishing convulsions in epileptic individuals. From the ’90s into the first decade of the new millennium, CBD was found to hold anti-inflammatory and calming properties, even boasting the ability to ease chronic pains of neurological origin.

Today, CBD oil supplements made from hemp are permitted in all 50 states so long as they’re produced under the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill. Four years after its technical legalization, the compound has garnered widespread use as a treatment for physical pain, anxiety and depression, but new developments have also seen its incorporation into the beauty industry. Enter Hora Skin Care, a Los Angeles-based company that secured its place on the CBD bandwagon from its inception in Jan. At present, its inventory consists of the Super Serum and the Overnight Exfoliating Mask, both of which contain CBD, along with facial rollers in rose quartz, clear quartz and jade.

“I actually have another company called Punch Edibles in the medical marijuana, now recreational marijuana, market here in California. I’ve been around THC and CBD for quite a long time,” Samantha Czubiak, founder and CEO of Hora, told The Daily regarding her choice to use CBD in her products. “It became introduced into my skin care because I had a ton of products on my counter and every day I would try to figure out, like, ‘OK, so now I need to worry about pimples,’ or ‘Today I need to worry about brightening,’ and all this different stuff. I was always concocting stuff in my hand, and I was like, ‘Why not create something all in one?’ While I was doing a lot of research on the active ingredients that I knew I already liked, I started looking into CBD as a benefit to anti-aging or extra antioxidants, as well as it’s an incredible anti-inflammatory. So people are having a lot of success with it in acne.”

Czubiak’s claims didn’t come out of thin air. A 2014 study from the Journal of Clinical Investigation found CBD behaves as an effective “sebostatic” and “lipostatic” agent, meaning it stifles secretion of acne-producing gunk in skin’s pores. The study also indicates CBD reduced inflammation when applied topically.

“I thought it was going to be a crucial ingredient in a really all-in-one product,” she said. Other ingredients in Hora’s Super Serum include rosehip oil and vitamin C, while the Exfoliating Mask contains the likes of salicylic acid and MCT oil, a supplement made from Medium-chain triglycerides fats thought to help fight Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to CBD, the products, which were conceived by Czubiak with guidance from a professional formulator, share vitamin A as another common ingredient.

The CBD Cynics

With every rising cosmetics trend comes a skeptic movement. Those who doubt CBD’s skincare benefits cite a lack of studies in the field. Meanwhile, existing research indicates less efficacy in CBD when it’s extracted from the greater cannabinoid system in isolation, a phenomenon that, according to The New York Times, has been dubbed the “entourage effect.”

Many CBD beauty brands, like Hora, employ this isolate, a decision that Czubiak defended.

“It’s the purest way to get it,” she explained. “There’s no other plant material in there or extra fats or lipids from the plant itself. You’re literally just getting the active ingredient that you want. It really is just a refined process, and then from there, it really just depends on what you’re using it for.”

The uncertainty doesn’t stop there. As The Times points out, there is more CBD in cannabis strains containing THC than in hemp, but only CBD derived from hemp can be legally distributed. This could result in pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects that are less magnitudinous than CBD superfans make them out to be.

Not only that, in addition, there is no evidence for what an effective dosage of CBD would be for treatment of skin conditions like acne. What scientists do know is a higher dosage seems to signal more potent results. An article from California nonprofit Project CBD reports, “Studies have established that synthetic, single-molecule CBD has a very narrow therapeutic window and requires precise, high doses for efficacy.”

The question then arises: What constitutes a high dose of CBD? A 2017 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed of 84 different CBD products analyzed, the average concentration for CBD products was 30.96 mg per mL. Compare that to the 250 mg/oz of CBD in Hora’s Super Serum and 422 mg/50mL in the Overnight Exfoliating Mask. That said, Hora has very low concentrations of CBD in their products compared to the average.

All things considered, most mainstream dermatologists have yet to get onboard with the CBD push.

“There may be some promise for future use,” Jeffrey Orringer, chief of the cosmetic dermatology division at the University, said regarding the potential advantages of CBD skin care. “But it is too early to determine the safety and efficacy of many of these products because rigorous studies are generally lacking in this area.”

She Really Tried It

When Hora’s public relations coordinator reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in sampling their products, I immediately signed on: This would be my time to put CBD’s claims to the test. After receiving my samples in the mail, I got down to business, applying the Super Serum every morning and night for two weeks, swapping it out for the Exfoliating Mask a total of three times — the package notes it can be used up to four times a week.

Most days, I applied the products with my Hora-branded jade facial roller after cleansing with Cetaphil wash. The roller is said to promote absorption of the products, reduce under eye circles and stimulate collagen, the skin’s elasticity agent. This is not an article about jade rollers, so I will keep my praises to a minimum, but that little gadget was especially useful for massaging my sinuses when flu season came for my immune system.

The Super Serum has a thin consistency and comes out milky white. Though both dye- and fragrance-free, it emits a noticeable scent that I’ll call “earthy” for our purposes. The Exfoliating Mask is a similar color, though slightly runnier with a less discrete smell. Both were easy to apply, and I was left with no sticky residue after using the roller atop my product-covered pores.

During this two-week period, I documented my skin care procedures each day, reporting significant changes in my skin. Below, I’ve rounded up some of my most noteworthy observations:

Night 1 - Sept. 22: Smell is subtle but a little funky and vaguely fungal, kind of like the high school biology classroom the day of the sheep brain dissection*

Morning 4 - Sept. 26: When I woke up, my formerly giant lip zit no longer hurt, its whitehead was gone. Less large, but still red

Morning 10 - Oct. 2: Chacne looks so much better!

I went on several skin-picking rampages while testing Hora’s products. Evidence of each almost completely faded over the course of a good night’s sleep.

“I’ve had tons of positive feedback from the product,” Czubiak said. “I think just statistically, people are always scared or the marijuana industry doesn’t get the credit it really does deserve. I think it’s just going to take a long time with THC and CBD products to really be recognized in mainstream beauty or mainstream pharmaceuticals. I mean, I just heard the other day that there was a CBD drug that’s the first FDA-approved drug out there, so I think we’re making waves, and we’ll start to hear more positive things coming out about CBD, especially. It really is a rockstar product, honestly.”

My foray into Hora’s CBD-rich regimen has given me no reason to disagree. I’ve seen the texture of my skin improve in a remarkably short time. My cheeks, once covered in miniscule bumps, are now silky-smooth aside from a few small areas of inflammation. Plus — and I’m fully aware of how silly this sounds — my face feels brighter now. I even received several compliments on my “natural glow” throughout my trial run.

In Conclusion

I love Hora’s products. Whether CBD is the reason they’re effective is beyond me, but frankly, I don’t really care.

In most CBD skin care products on the market, cannabidiol is one of several ingredients, most of which have benefits more generally accepted than CBD’s. Czubiak echoed these sentiments:

“I would say that we’ve created just a master formula, and CBD is just one of the ingredients, honestly. I started with, I was getting really obsessed with hyaluronic acid and argan oil… I feel like I was way more focused on making it a complete product and what else was going to go into before I was really like, ‘OK, CBD and just throw whatever else in there.’”

Czubiak is not a scientist, nor does she masquerade as one. That doesn’t change the fact that Hora’s products deliver exactly what they promise: a fast-acting, naturally-derived solution to acne and inflammation. They also just so happen to contain CBD. 

*In retrospect, this was a dramatic exaggeration. I stopped noticing the smell by day three.