The CBD Starter Pack: 12 Beauty Products Actually Worth Buying

Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is one of the buzziest ingredients in the beauty industry at the moment. New CBD-infused serums, supplements, bath balms, and more are hitting the market at such an overwhelming rate that for those of us new to the stuff, it can feel intimidating to start figuring out how CBD might fit into your beauty routine and what products to buy.

Let's begin with a quick-and-dirty rundown of what CBD is and what it does. "CBD is one of over a hundred active compounds (or cannabinoids) in the cannabis [aka, hemp] plant," explains Cindy Capobianco, president and co-founder of Lord Jones, one of the current most popular CBD beauty brands. CBD is super versatile: It can be ingested in various forms or applied topically and can have a massive variety of different benefits depending on how you consume it. 

"When used topically, CBD has been used for centuries to successfully provide pain relief and aid to skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea," says Capobianco. "When ingested, CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic, providing pain relief, mood stabilization, relief from anxiety, and promoting an overall calm sense of well-being."

As cannabis laws become laxer around the country and studies of CBD's benefits gain more support, the beauty industry—and Hollywood—is beginning to rally around the ingredient. CBD has become such a mainstream cultural phenomenon that over the past year or two, celebrities like Mandy Moore, Olivia Wilde, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Jaime King have all openly endorsed CBD-infused beauty and wellness products.

In fact, a few months ago, I ran into Jaime King at an event for MedMen (a California dispensary) celebrating the launch of one of the brand's issues of Ember (its quarterly cannabis journal), where she told me: "I've seen the way that CBD works for people who are suffering from all different types of conditions and diseases, like epilepsy, cancer, PCOS, and endometriosis—but without getting high. And it has beauty benefits too. We have so much more research to do, but it's an exciting time to see what kind of properties in this plant can be healthy for people."

Bottom line: CBD is legit. But not all CBD products will be equally effective or right for you personally. That's why we tapped a few trusted CBD experts to put together this beginner's guide to CBD, including what to look for and what to buy. One of these experts is Kerrigan Behrens, co-founder of CBD wellness brand Sagely Naturals, who says "Oils, tinctures, gummies—the options for CBD in today’s landscape seem endless. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. And although there is no one-size-fits-all recommended dosage or timing, there are ways to maximize the efficacy of CBD by mindfully selecting your delivery method. Understanding the various ingestion methods available and your personal needs can help you feel better placed to decide what’s right for your personal wellness journey."

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If you're looking for those ingestible CBD benefits (aka, the pain and anxiety relief, mood stabilization, etc.), a capsule is a great option. When shopping for capsules, Behrens offers this tip: "The best way to ensure you’re getting the most CBD absorbed into your body is to look for capsules that are formulated to be water-soluble (avoid gel caps)," she says. "Because even if something has a high dosage of CBD, that doesn’t guarantee your body will be able to absorb it all (or even most of it) if it’s not made to be 'body-ready.'"

You also want to look to confirm that CBD product has been tested by a third-party laboratory and that it comes from hemp grown in the U.S. "The reality is that the CBD industry is relatively new, and quality control systems are still being put in place," says Drew Todd, co-founder of CBD supplement Feals. "A valid certificate of analysis (lab report) provides detailed insight into what the product actually contains. If a company is reluctant to share lab reports or doesn’t have any at all, stay away. Also, the U.S. enforces some of the highest cultivation standards, and with the federal legalization of hemp this past December, even higher standards, transparency, and quality controls are in the works."

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CBD suspended in oil is the most common form of CBD you’ll find on the market. These tinctures come with an oil dropper that you either put under your tongue (or in a beverage, like your before-bed chamomile tea) or a sprayer that you spritz directly into your mouth. "This is the fastest way of ingesting CBD and impacts the body quicker and maintains higher availability," says Behrens. (The taste can be a little overpowering for some, which is why I recommend mixing it into a drink.)

As for how much to take: "The right dose of CBD depends on the person, but most people need a significant dose of cannabinoids to experience the full benefits," says Todd. Though if you're brand new to the stuff, go easy. "For first-time CBD users, it is best to take the recommended dosage (i.e., one dropper of tincture) without any alcohol in your system to serve as a baseline to see how your body reacts," adds Capobianco. "Everyone's endocannabinoid system is different and dosage can vary by individual."

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Topical CBD products can help with everything from localized muscle tension to acne and rosacea. For soothing body aches, Todd recommends looking for products that are infused with complementary ingredients, like essential peppermint oil and menthol, which can "help CBD’s natural ability to return balance to the body."

Some important things to look for in your CBD lotions body oils, face oils, and serums: "Consumers should seek 'broad-spectrum' or 'cannabinoid-rich' hemp oil, which contains not only CBD but retains many of the plant's original compounds," says Capobianco. "We recommend against purchasing any product utilizing 'CBD isolate'—it is a cheaper and more heavily processed powder form of CBD that is derived by stripping away all of the plant’s natural compounds, vitamins, minerals, and isolating only one."

Also, no matter what delivery system you're choosing, you want to make sure the products explicitly say "CBD," which is not to be confused with hemp seed oil. "If it says 'hemp seed oil,' 'cannabis sativa seed oil,' or anything with the word 'seed,' without reference to hemp oil or cannabis sativa oil, it is a hemp oil product v. a cannabinoid-rich hemp oil product," says skincare expert Derek Chase, founder of CBD skincare brand Flora + Bast.

This can be a tricky distinction for consumers to navigate. As Capobianco says, "Unfortunately, there afd a number of brands cynically cashing in on the cannabis trend and misleading consumers by photographing their product next to images of cannabis leaves or making false claims about it containing CBD when in fact there is none. There is zero CBD found in the seed of the hemp plant."

Also, plain and simple, if a product "doesn’t smell reminiscent of cannabis, it probably isn't," says Chase.