In the US, however, cannabis research in dermatology is still in its pre-clinical stage. Although the skin has at least two receptors for cannabinoids (and the body even makes its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids), cannabinoids just haven’t been clinically tested enough. “But they are safe,” Dellavalle says. “Your skin is a pretty great barrier, just in case.”
To that end, mainstream beauty brands—those you find at Sephora and department-store beauty counters—have not incorporated CBD into their products just yet. When they do use marijuana, it’s as a synthetic fragrance (see: Malin+Goetz Cannabis Hand+Body Wash), or as oil pressed from the seeds of the plant (see: The Body Shop’s bestselling Hemp collection). Cannabinoids like CBD and THC, by contrast, are extracted from the flowers of the plant.
Part of this reluctance to incorporate more cannabis ingredients has to do with the legal grey area under which CBD currently falls in the US. “It’s technically legal right now, but beauty companies don’t want to invest thousands of dollars into a product that will later get pulled from shelves,” says Sejal Shah, a private-practice dermatologist in New York. The concern for beauty companies isn’t that CBD doesn’t work—Shah notes that it’s been shown to reduce sebum production for acne patients in some studies—but that someday CBD will be classified as an FDA-regulated drug, versus another botanical ingredient.
Thanks to marijuana’s stigma, the hemp plant—just another name for the cannabis sativa plant—is also illegal in most US states, even though it is widely used for non-ingestion purposes like textiles. Products with CBD or hemp can be sold in the US, but the cannabis extract can’t come from America. (That contradiction isn’t just American, either: In South Korea, hemp has been a cultivated crop for textiles as early as 3000 BCE, but possession of marijuana can carry a prison sentence of five years.)