The Normalization of Cannabis

Taboo no more, cannabis has secured a foothold in mainstream beauty.
With brands such as Milk Makeup and High Beauty launching cannabis-oil products at Sephora, it's safe to say that weed is finding a place in the beauty rituals of U.S. consumers. Interest in cannabis beauty is rising because of the ingredient's recently developed wellness orientation, experts agree — not its illicit ties.
"It's intriguing for people because it sort of has an edge to it or was associated with something illegal…but it's no longer this hippie, crunchy hemp-based thing, it's now a plant-based, earthy ingredient that fits into what's happening in wellness," said Cecilia Gates, chief executive officer of Gates Creative. That positions cannabis beauty alongside trends like natural skin care, ath-leisure beauty and jade rolling.
"You only see the rise of normalization and social acceptance in the last year," said Olivia Alexander, founder of cannabis beauty brand Kush Queens. "It was very stoner, it was not very glamorous."
But over the course of the past year, cannabis beauty has left burlap behind and veered more toward luxury. These days, many products containing CBD, or cannabidiol, and hemp oils are housed in prestige packaging similar to other products in the beauty world.
Cannabis' rise as a beauty ingredient is due in part to the increase in legalization in recent years in the U.S., experts said, where nine states have fully legalized the substance. Funding is also pouring into the category according to CB Insights, and cannabis start-ups saw a more than two-times increase in investments during 2017 versus the prior year.
In beauty, more and more indie cannabis brands are popping up, too. At the Indie Beauty Expo in New York in August, 14 exhibiting brands were CBD or hemp-related, up from three exhibiting during the 2017 trade show.
Cannabis is now increasingly mainstream, said Sarah Owen, senior editor at trend forecasting company WGSN. Now, it's a "full-blown wellness trend" she said, adding that "cannabis-infused products are used to treat everything from chronic pain to anxiety to insomnia."
The global legal cannabis industry is expected to triple by 2022 to $32 billion, according to research from Arcview and BDS Analytics.
"For those consumers that are trend-leading, it's intriguing because it's a new ingredient, but after a while, more people will understand it and see the benefits from it," Gates said.
Dr. Howard Murad, the dermatologist behind 29-year-old skin-care line Murad, said he has increasingly seen marijuana referenced by the medical community. "We're seeing it in medical literature, talking about the benefits of it," Murad said. "Our emotional mores as a society have accepted cannabis as a normal thing."
His namesake brand is launching a product that uses hemp seed oil, which Murad likes for its fatty acids, called Revitalixir Recovery Serum. The product, $89, is meant to address the toll cultural stress takes on skin.
"The whole idea, for me, is looking at wellness," Murad said. "How can we have wellness for your skin as well as for the rest of your body, and applying agents that make a difference?"
Revitalixir Recovery Serum will be sold in Sephora and Ulta Beauty and on Murad's own web site. The product's hemp seed oil is not the same as the CBD oil used in many other brands, but the adoption of hemp by a mainstream prestige skin-care brand, as well as the products broad distribution, are an indicator of interest in the emerging category.
Sephora, in particular, is making a push into cannabis beauty in September with the launch of High Beauty, a line that features watercolor marijuana leaves on the packaging and makes High Expectations, a cannabis facial oil, $54, and High Five, a cannabis facial moisturizer, $40. Both products are housed in sleek, green-tinted glass vessels and contain cannabis sativa seed oil (hemp seed oil), according to founder Melissa Jochim, a beauty veteran who has formulated products for Juice Beauty.
" really partnered with me in terms of what they want, what their customer is wanting and where they see the spaces," Jochim said. "They were with us, even picking Pantones."
"It just hasn't been mainstream until people started seeing it as a lifestyle ingredient, or one for well-being," Jochim said. She sees her customer as two-fold — a younger shopper who is open to new things, and a more mature shopper "looking for an ingredient benefit," she said.
She specifically chose not to use CBD oil, questioning its efficacy as it relates to skin, and noting that bandwagon is already crowded. "I'm not selling a skin-care brand at Sephora to help someone with back pain," she said. Nine more products are in the pipeline, including a cleanser, peel, eye product, sunscreen and lotion mist slated for 2019.
"When hits something like Sephora that's global and across the U.S., that is a gauge to show the appetite of the consumer," Gates said. "It's a good gauge for us to say there is a want and a need for it out there."
High is joining a Sephora lineup that already includes Milk Makeup's Kush line — a mascara launched in April and a brow gel arrived in June. Both contain hemp-derived cannabis oil, which aims to add fibers to the brow or eyelashes without causing individual hairs to fall out.
Barney's New York is getting in on the trend with the launch of Body Vibes, a brand that makes stickers that it claims mimic various frequencies based on what the brand calls "bio energy technology." The business makes one sticker that features a marijuana leaf, called Flower Power, that aims to mimic the vibrational frequencies of cannabinoids. A set of 10 retails for $60. Body Vibes is also set to enter Nordstrom this fall, according to the founders.
"With the CBD sticker, you're not going to feel a head high of any sort, it is more toward the CBD frequencies, which are more about healing and calming the nervous system," said cofounder Madison De Clercq. "We have an endocannabinoid system in our body that is engaged electrically. When you wear these stickers, what you’re doing is turning that on," added Body Vibes cofounder Leslie Kritzer.
Aesthetician Ildi Pekar, who works with model clients such as Miranda Kerr, Irina Shayk and Lindsay Ellingson, sells her CBD line from her Manhattan salon, where she said she sees the benefits of CBD being more openly discussed. "There is initial confusion, but after educating on the plat itself and the benefits the skin, they gain clarity," Pekar said. She has produced two CBD-infused products — a sleeping mask and a serum — and is adding a new product to the line this fall called Code Red, $68, which includes a rose quartz roller with CBD-infused serum meant to reduce menstrual cramps.
That increased conversation around all iterations of the ingredient — that using a CBD mask, for example, won't get consumers high — is a big part of the process.
"Non-psychoactivity is what's leading this charge into the mainstream," Alexander said.
For Alexander, who founded Kush Queens after working in the cannabis industry, education is crucial. It's important to consumers on the differences between different types of cannabis-oriented ingredients on the market — for Kush Queens skin-care brand Defyant, for example, Alexander uses something called Amplifi nanotechnology that aims to make the CBD molecules smaller and allow for deeper skin penetration.
"I tried to pursue effectiveness, more than pseudoscience," Alexander said, noting that Kush Queens products center around accurate dosing and are sold in many licensed dispensaries. (The company is based in California.) The business grew roughly 250 percent in the past year, she said, and just closed a Series A from Connected Cannabis Co.
That type of education and marketing — around the wellness and scientific aspects of cannabis rather than the cool factor — is likely to have more lasting effects, experts noted.
It just hasn't been mainstream until people started seeing it as a lifestyle ingredient, or one for well-being.
"It's more novelty when you have the pot leaves and you’re trying to exploit that piece of it," she said. "That becomes a marketing gimmick, versus when you use it as a true botanical or plant-based ingredient." 
Brands such as Lord Jones, which have branding that would not inherently be associated with cannabis, are positioned well for the market, according to Gates. "It feels more luxury and it's designed really well, but they're not overt about pot," Gates said.
Entering the CBD beauty landscape is not without its challenges — after all, cannabis is not federally legalized, and the category is marred with gray areas that companies must navigate.
Since Proposition 64 passed, which legalized marijuana in California in 2016, Kush Queens has had better access to things like financing, Alexander said. But other difficulties — like getting products placed into national retailer systems — persist, she said.
The ingredient's evolving legality also places limits on shipping and distribution.
Hair-care brand Ouai, for example, recently had to pull a CBD laden batch of its scalp and body scrub from its web site because U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations put a ban on CBD in food products, which is how its body scrub was classified, founder Jen Atkin said in an Instagram post. Atkin noted that the original formula will still launch online and with retailers, but would no longer contain CBD.
Legality was top of mind for Jochim when she formulated High Beauty, which is THC- and CBD- free. "I'm looking to be a main partner with Sephora. I cannot have a brand that cannot be shipped across state lines," she said.
Public relations professional Rosie Mattio — self described as "as mainstream as they get" and a veteran of buttoned-up p.r. firms such as Alison Brod and Rubenstein — says she's seen a massive shift in the industry since she started her cannabis-focused p.r. firm, RMPR, four years ago.
"I live in the suburbs of New Jersey, I have four children, and this is my business," Mattio said. The industry was "hush-hush" when she first started, but she said cannabis is now in the mainstream.
"When I started, East Coast people did not get what I was doing," she said. But now, she's able to draw mainstream New York beauty editors to events for her clients. "Beauty editors weren't covering this 15 months ago, but in the past year, they are in," Matteo said. "The beauty industry is what's helping to make this mainstream."
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