Cannabis-derived ingredients feel trendy, and they may well offer a raft of possible benefits, which beauty brands are quick to tout.

CBD oil, specifically, is nonpsychoactive (it won’t get you high) and is said to offer relief from pain, anxiety and depression, stimulate appetite and have anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties. Cannabis products also nod to enthusiasms that have already gained momentum in the beauty industry, like ingestibles (CBD-infused gummies, caramels and drops) and wellness (CBD lotions to relieve soreness). 

There are already devout fans, drawn to CBD topical products largely for their pain-relieving properties. Jessica Richards, the founder of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, New York, is often a trendsetter in beauty retailing, and she started carrying Lord Jones CBD lotion in December.

“I do so much SoulCycle that I have one hip that hurts,” she said. “I tried out the CBD lotion. It’s not a placebo. It really does work for pain management.” 

As CBD oil seeks to go mainstream, it’s tough to tell which products hold up to scrutiny.

“I get sent a million different brands saying they have CBD, and the stuff doesn’t work,” Richards said.

Studies show that for pain relief, CBD works best within the plant’s cannabinoid system, meaning that combinations of compounds are more effective than isolated ones. That’s termed the “entourage effect,” and Lord Jones, for one, has sought to compensate for it by using CBD rendered from the entire hemp plant.

Speaking of hemp, there’s debate there, too. Hemp is a type of cannabis that has had the THC largely bred out of it. It’s legal across state lines, so only CBD derived from hemp can be distributed nationally. There is a lot less CBD and other cannabinoids in hemp than in cannabis strains that contain THC. 

“The reality is that the levels of active ingredient in hemp are so low that, though CBD definitely offers benefits, there might not be a wake-up-and-feel-it moment,” said Verena von Pfetten, a founder of Gossamer, a publication dedicated to the chic side of cannabis culture.

Companies are expanding beyond wellness into skin care. But Shereene Idriss, a dermatologist in Manhattan, said the benefits are vague.

“There was one study in 2014 that said CBD can help reduce oil production and thereby have anti-acne and anti-inflammatory attributes,” Idriss said. “It wasn’t a perfectly well-rounded study, but it does have merit.” Another study, from 2017, addressed cannabinoids in dermatology in general, but didn’t deal with risks. 

“I would need more, a randomized clinical trial, before I could with full-fledged belief recommend CBD oil as something more than just offering regular hydration,” she said.

If you’re using CBD lotions for pain relief, Idriss said, there are better studies demonstrating efficacy, but more needs to be done. 

“CBD lotion that also has THC in it, it’s going to help you much more with pain relief,” she said. “But the ones from hemp, are they going to help as much? It’s hard to tell because we don’t have the data and studies. Also, the problem is you often don’t know how much you are getting — it’s completely unregulated.”