For the past year and change, my inbox has been pelted with notices of at least – at. least. – five new cannabis-related beauty brand launches per week. But it was in the Men’s department of my local Dillard’s this past August that I realized we’d reached “peak CBD.” As I helped my eternally preppy husband shop for Ralph Lauren polo shirts (since we’ve moved to Florida, the brightly hued numbers have become a staple of his wardrobe), I was bombarded by little green signs tucked discreetly all over the department. “CBD has arrived. Come to the Beauty Department to experience and learn more.”
Although I’m sure the Dillard’s merchandising team wasn’t actually expecting the bulk of its male customers to drop what they were doing and make a beeline for Beauty to nab a CBD face cleanser or lash fortifier, they were probably hoping to pique the interest of the wives and girlfriends drifting through Men’s. And if I’d had a bit more time that day, I’m sure I would have made my way over there to check out the exciting new stash myself.
But – and this is important – I’d no doubt be browsing rather than actually buying. As big a beauty junkie as I am, I still haven’t fully hopped on the CBD bandwagon.
Believers vs. Skeptics
It isn’t official, but circa now, as we round the bend on 2020, I think we can essentially carve the beauty industry into two camps: CBD Believers and CBD Skeptics. While I’ve already outed myself as a Skeptic, rest assured that I utterly and completely want to become a Believer.
Why do I want to change camps? For two reasons: A), CBD is the biggest wave to wash ashore the Beauty beach in decades, and I like to be supportive of genuine change. And B), people whose opinion I really trust, including close personal friends and former colleagues from my years in the glossy-magazine world, are unequivocal in their belief that CBD can deliver genuine beauty and wellness benefits to consumers.
Here’s the back story of a true Believer and her testimony. Lisa Gabor, a fellow exile from Magazine Street, was a founding editor of InStyle and later served as Editor In Chief of Amex’s Black Card custom publication. She later segued to digital content development and branding. And it’s through one of her content development and branding projects, for the Jamaica-based Island Outpost luxury hotel properties, that Gabor first became bitten by the cannabis bug. Now, she’s considering a full-scale career pivot into the burgeoning industry.
“It was thanks to my work in Jamaica, for Chris Blackwell, that I first became aware of the movement toward cannabis legalization,” Gabor notes. “From there, I lobbied a friend who sits on Jamaica’s Cannabis Legalization Authority to connect me with a startup in the cannabis industry. I worked on one brand positioning project for a Jamaican / Canadian joint venture – yes, there are plenty of puns in this industry – and I was hooked. I began reading all the research I could find, and I learned that in the coming years, as legalization continues, cannabis will be poised to disrupt pretty much every consumer industry as we know it – food, soft drinks, spirits, consumer health, home and garden. The list goes on. You can’t think of this as a ‘stoner’ thing.”
As a non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant, CBD is definitely not a “stoner thing,” as Gabor puts it. But if, unlike the intoxicating cannabinoid THC, it doesn’t “take the edge off” after a stress-filled day, what good does CBD actually do?
The Unregulated Wild West
Currently, due to a dearth of rigorous clinical trials, the CBD world is heavy on claims and light on evidence. Anecdotally, it’s been found to ease pain, anxiety, insomnia and depression, and it’s considered, by some, to have shown promise in treating hot flashes and low libido tied to menopause. CBD has even found its way into the same sentences as diabetes and multiple sclerosis, which, at least for now, appears to be a bit of a stretch.
But what’s in it from a beauty standpoint?
Another ex-magazine type – Cary Leitzes, whom I worked alongside at W for years – is convinced of CBD’s ability to soothe inflammation, moisturize, guard against environmental damage and zap acne. (Of these, only the anti-acne claim has been substantiated; according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, CBD is a sebum regulator, and thereby “has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”)
Leitzes, founder of New York City-based LEITZES&CO, a creative agency serving the business, art and culture sectors, recently unveiled a clean CBD beauty brand with the impossibly charming name Superflower. The first product? Everyday Serum, a heady formula spiked with 200 milligrams of CBD that is redolent of rose, neroli and frankincense. “CBD has roots that go far beyond the trends you read about today,” Leitzes notes, “dating back to Chinese herbal medicine.”
Like Gabor, Leitzes found her way to the cannabis/CBD world through her work with a client. After helping a fast-fashion retailer create a beauty brand from scratch, Leitzes and her colleague Olivia Combemale felt brave enough to give it a go themselves. “We learned the entire supply chain and loved the development process,” Leitzes recalls. “As a long-time meditator, internal and external well-being has always been a north star. And Olivia, who works at the agency and is also my partner in Superflower, has also been committed to well-being.”
So far, so good: Superflower Everyday Serum has only been on the market since September and has already been named one of 2019’s “Best New Beauty Products” by People magazine.
Big Money Comes Knocking
If Superflower and its single product represents the Scrappy Upstart camp in CBD, Lord Jones, which was recently acquired by Cronos Group for a jaw-dropping $300M, is the Big Kahuna.
Founded in 2017 by Cindy Capobianco, a once-upon-a-time magazine editor who later shifted gears to fashion P.R., and her husband Robert Rosenheck, Lord Jones not only put “luxury” cannabis and CBD merch on the map, it also sought to bring order and credibility to a sector that is essentially lawless.
Because it isn’t regulated by the FDA, the CBD category swings wildly between carefully crafted, seriously researched skincare consumers can feel good about (i.e., Superflower, Lord Jones) and private label garbage containing very little – if any – actual cannabidiol. Per an article in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), a 2016 study on 84 CBD products from 31 companies found that only 31 percent contained the percentage of the active ingredient claimed on the label.
Yes, that was a few years ago. Hopefully, as the competition only gets fiercer among CBD beauty brands, the quality and accuracy-slash-transparency in labeling will only improve. As the beauty slice of the global cannabis/CBD pie – which Euromonitor expects to climb to a staggering $166B by 2025 – gets bigger, one can only assume that the cream of the crop will rise to the top.
“I don’t think we anticipated so much of a boom in the space so quickly,” says Leitzes, who began hatching an initial plan for Superflower in 2016. “But we believe it takes time for really good products to come to life, so let’s see what sticks around.”
For sure, the beauty industry is welcoming the new category with open arms. Alongside face masks, unisex fragrance, sexual wellness products and hair accessories, CBD products will become eligible for a CEW Beauty Award for the first time beginning in 2020. And while Sephora.com only carries 21 CBD skus at the moment, they’re from luxe, upscale brands like Herbivore, Ellis Brooklyn, Saint Jane, Josie Maran – and yes, Lord Jones – that marry quality with a certain cool factor.
“CBD isn’t just a fad,” Gabor emphatically states. “It’s just the start of a revolution that’s here to stay, and what’s coming next will be even more exciting and efficacious.” This wannabe Believer’s got her fingers crossed on that.