Weed is here in Canada, what does it mean for your skincare?
The short answer, is not much.
Today is officially the day where weed is now legal across our great country- Canada. It’s a tricky beast of an issue- there are so many questions that relate to it in a thousand ways. People are definitely ‘buzzed’ (Ha! Mom joke) about the potential for cannabis in its different forms in skincare. The truth is- it’s still the wild west when it comes to understanding what form if any it will be allowed in skincare, what are its benefits from a scientific and not just an anecdotal perspective and what are the risks. It’s indeed a ‘growing’ industry (last pun for the day, I promise) but one full of uncertainty and questions with no answers. Here is what we do know.
The Regulatory System for Skincare in Canada:
First a quick note about the different ways skincare can be sold in Canada. There are three routes that skincare can be sold based on what the product claims to do and what level of medical oversight due to potential risks Health Canada feels is necessary. The lowest category of risks belongs to products that Health Canada calls cosmetics- whether they are colour cosmetics (like make-up) or skincare. Health Canada maintains a list of ingredients that cannot appear in cosmetics like most forms of cannabis and/or ones that have restrictions on them, for instance a limit on concentration. The 2nd class of product are considered drug products but are low risk enough that they are consider Over-the-Counter. Sunscreens that have a labelled SPF are considered this type of product and can either have a Drug Identification Number or a Natural Health Product Number, depending on the type of ingredients. A product can contain typical sunscreen actives and be considered a cosmetic product if it makes no sun protection claims and is not marketed as a sunscreen. Finally, there are prescription drug products that require a physician to write a prescription for.
Until today, cannabis was available in a medical grade form by prescription but was not permitted for use in cosmetics or as a natural health product. Any form other than the prescription form was considered illegal and thus subject to the laws that dealt with it as an illicit drug. Today with official legalization taking place, let’s see how that may or may not change.
The three forms of Cannabis related actives and what is currently allowed in skincare
When we talk about cannabis based topical products, there are typically three categories. Hemp seed oil based products, which are allowed in cosmetic skincare, is the most widely used form and has been since the 90’s. The Body Shop was one of the first to use it. It contains no cannabidiol or derivative whatsoever and is analogous to any other plant based oil. It’s purported to be rich in Omega fatty acids and is thus comparable to something like the Inca Inchi Seed Oil that we use in our Natrèceutique line.
The newest rage in the skincare industry is CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol or Cannabis Sativa Flower Extract. This uses the whole plant as its source rather than just the seeds. It contains no THC, however, and does not deliver any psychoactive high. It’s currently not allowed in any cosmetic skincare product in Canada by Health Canada and appears as a prohibited item on the Cosmetic Hot List. Health Canada is relatively weak on enforcing restricted and prohibited ingredients in cosmetic skincare though so it does not mean that there are no products available. These products are just not strictly legal and the companies in question most likely have not submitted a cosmetic notification form to let Health Canada know the product is being sold.
Their legal status is not set to change today with the legalization of weed. Health Canada has not implemented any framework for approving cosmetics that contain CBD’s and its unclear to pretty much everyone if and when they will. Earlier in the year, insiders predicted that products containing less than 10 ppm THC will be one day be able to get a Natural Health Product Number. This means they might allow for CBD products with declared concentrations in Over The Counter topicals in the same way they regulate sunscreens. This would allow them to maintain a level of oversight over products and brands would have to specific levels of quality control and transparency. However, at this point, I have not been able to confirm whether this will actually happen.
Alternatively, CBD might become a permitted ingredient in cosmetic skincare but with restrictions in concentrations and products will not be able to make any health claims. This route will also mean that products will not list the concentration of CBD as an active ingredient so consumers would have a more difficult time assessing concentrations across products.
The third category are topical products that actually contain THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the active that gets you the ‘high’ associated commonly with cannabis use. It might seem perplexing but while you can smoke or ingest products with THC, you will not be able to pop into your local Sephora and buy a lip balm containing it. In other words, it’s not an active that we or other skincare suppliers will have access to. It’s unclear whether government mandated suppliers will have topical products. As of today, cannabis oils with different combinations of THC and CBD can be sold through whatever means each province has set up as their avenue of distribution. Presumably, people can purchase the oils and DIY homemade topical applications or perhaps these dispensaries will have ready made versions. These topical though will be restricted to these dispensaries (on-line or physical locations) so no Sephora products or private brands will be able to sell them. In any case, products containing THC are outside of skin deep beautifying or wellness applications. Which brings us to what are the possible benefits of each type…
Benefits in Topical Use
As mentioned, hemp seed oil is really just another choice of plant based oil. You can weigh its pros and cons against any other plant oil like our Inca Inchi Oil or Hibiscus Oil. You’re looking at what phytonutrients are available in its profile and then you will want to look at is extraction method and purity.
The CBD portion of skincare is the one that has been a huge emerging trend but one with plenty of questions. It’s reported to work on certain receptors within our body, separate from a psychoactive point of view, that can help with pain management and anxiety, which is why it’s merged into a wellness product as well. From a strictly skin deep benefit, it seems that it’s mainly an anti-inflammatory and thus potential benefits relate to eczema, psoriasis, acne etc. However, what concentration is required to be beneficial? Since it’s not permitted for use in cosmetic skincare, it’s virtually impossible to get samples for research and development purposes. There is a route by Health Canada for applying for clinical trial studies for Natural Health Products but it’s a much more involved process than for a cosmetic product that makes no health claims. It requires proper authorization from Health Canada to begin, physician and an external review board oversight. It’s unlikely then that smaller companies will undertake the necessary steps to properly start the important initial research. As more data emerges from larger corporations, and as regulations are more firmly set, then it makes sense smaller entities will start to offer products in a legal setting. This legal setting will most likely involve pre-market approvals by Health Canada with defined limits for % of active, defined health claims that can be made and will mandate that only specially licensed facilities will be able to manufacture products according to Good Manufacturing Practices and quality control.
I’ve not come across any skin related benefits to using THC based topicals. I doubt it will become a mainstream skincare active but we will have to see how the ebbs and flows of the industry with this new heyday of legalization.
For the moment, we as a skincare company have no products in research in development that use any of the above cannabis products. With our close proximity to medical professionals capable of running proper Health Canada approved clinical trials, it’s possible that we could take steps to further advance research for CBD as an active. There is certainly a lot of hype surrounding the ingredient but that has never been an incentive for us to take action. The world is full of interesting and exciting ingredients for skin rejuvenation and wellness. Let us know what you think because your interest, as opposed to hype or observing trends, is an actual incentive for us to act. Share in the comments what you think!