How does one respond when your hairdresser gives you a syringe alongside your herbal tea? I hold it up to the light. 'You just pop it under your tongue, wait a few seconds, then swallow,’ the young woman explains, gesturing to the amber liquid within it. I obey. The herbal droplets fall into my mouth. They feel thick and slippery, like vegetable oil. And then I wait… and wait for a beauty miracle to happen.
Because that is what is supposed to be: a miracle. Otherwise known as cannabidiol, CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant – and one that has proved itself to be one of the most impressive beauty polymaths in the business. What does CBD do? The question should perhaps be: what doesn’t it do? Inflammation-reducer, breakout-calmer, mood-boosters, ultimate relaxant – to the point that No single ingredient has worked harder since retinol.
It is why Manhattan’s chicest beauty salons are doling out CBD facials every hour to stressed mountaineering city girls, and why the glossy wellness set’s morning smoothie is incomplete without a couple of CBD drops dispensed within. It is also why I am sat in Hari’s Hairdressers in Chelsea, my hair coated in a thick slick of CBD oil, my mind at ease for the first time in days as the syringe’s contents take hold.
Before you ask, I’m not high. For a start, cannabidiol is different to cannabis, in that it doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive element of the plant. (Some CBD products do contain teeny amounts, but it’s strictly limited to O.2% in the UK, which isn’t enough to give you any kind of metaphysical ‘awakening’.)
My personal interest in cannabis-based wellness products goes far beyond my duty as a beauty writer. I’ve grown up with an aunt who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Few things have offered her the pain relief and relaxation that cannabis has. And so I’m intrigued as to what effect a cannabis-derived beauty product can offer.
The questions is: where to start? There are CBD-infused bath bombs and muscle balms. There are several different types of oils and supplements. In fact the market (and demand) for CBD-based products is so buoyant that .
I start my journey at – one of the most intrepid and experimental beauty etailers around. This place was selling sheet masks and jelly serum long before the masses converted to Korean beauty, so I’m sure they’ll have dipped their toes into the CBD movement. Half an hour later, I’m in a cannabidiol wormhole (Cult has an entire section devoted to the ingredient).
Customer reviews on the website claim that the oils have helped them most, mainly with sleep issues and managing anxiety levels. So I opt for a product called , as it seemed to be the lowest dosage on the market. You can do all sorts of things with the oil, users advise, from mixing with coffee and popping under your tongue, to placing directly onto temples (for relaxation) or on an untameable breakout. Work is crazy, so I decide to add the recommended three drops (OK, more like five) into my coffee twice a day to see what happens. The result: absolutely nothing.
Disappointed about the lack of results, I decided to do what any frustrated beauty writer does and get Disciple's founder Charlotte Ferguson on the phone. I moan about the lack of effect. She tells me to bear with a low dose for ‘around a week, then begin to increase gradually while continuing to monitor your body’s reactions'. I persist. By day four, I notice something peculiar. The searing toothache that has plagued me for the past few months has gone.
I phone Ferguson again. ‘Yes, CBD acts as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, which reduces pain and inflammation,' she says. But what about my mood? Customer reviews speak of miracle mood boosts after only a few days. So far, so little.
So I decide to get to grips with skincare-based CBD products. Big brands such as, , and have all released CBD-based products, promising anti-inflammatory results as well as a panacea for sensitive skin. The thing is, many products now tout themselves as anti-inflammatory. What makes CBD-specific products so much more effective?
Confused, I speak to Hugh Winters, CEO of CBD-infused brand MGC Derma. 'Typically, effective anti-inflammatory ingredients are found in prescription analgesic creams,’ he says. But the issue, beyond the fact that they are prescription-only, is that they have a high incidence of intolerance, particularly among those with sensitive skin. This is where CBD-derived skincare comes into its own.
I’ve been testing the for more than a week now. My redness-prone skin has not subsided, but I have noticed that this is one of the first weeks in months that I haven't had a breakout. Can there be a link?
To test it one step further, I attempt to tackle a patch of eczema on the back of my knee. Little has ever sorted this. I pop a in the tub before bed. Incredible smell aside, I notice something radical: the eczema doesn’t rage with itchiness like it usually does after a bath. It is one of the most exciting things I have discovered so far on my CBD journey.
When I catch-up with dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth a few weeks later, she agrees. She tells me that she has clients who rave about the magical effect of CBD on their flare-ups. 'The anti-inflammatory effects of CBD have particularly shown benefits in treating eczema and skin itchiness,' she says. 'I think people have always looked to nature for inspiration and how best to treat mind and body.'
Buoyed by the success of these products, I decide to go deep into the CBD oil world. I spy an oil for sale at planetorganic.com, simply called: . I have high expectations for such a high dosage and price – £259.99. Ouch! I place a couple of drops under my tongue and hold for a minute or two – the sharp, minty flavour in sharp contrast to the oil at I had at the hairdressers. And what’s more, the effect is different. Very different. Within minutes I feel… not drowsy, but the sort of deep relaxation that comes from an hour’s back massage. It is bliss. That evening, I fall asleep quickly and effortlessly.
Though the concrete scientific evidence behind CBD is still in its infancy, consumers, anecdotes and my own brush with it all hint at a product that may just be one of the biggest beauty gamechangers of our time. It is that rare thing: a multitasking ingredient that understands that beauty comes from a 360-degree intervention. And, if that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.