Chris von Wangenheim/Getty Images
Hannah Walhout
September 29, 2018
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

Cannabis, it seems, is the It beauty ingredient of the moment, showing up in everything from hand creams to face serums to lip balms.

"What's the point," you might wonder, "of putting it on the outside of my body?" 

You'd be surprised. The applications of the cannabis plant are many, and beauty nerds are having a heyday with it, extolling its purported anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, emollient, and regenerative properties as a treatment for everything from acne to psoriasis to signs of aging. For me, one of the most exciting developments is the increasing availability of topical lotions, oils, and creams that go heavy on a compound called CBD, the common shorthand for Cannabidiol. It's become my secret weapon for getting comfy during a flight, soothing a strained neck on a long car ride, or calming my aching feet after a day of hiking. 

For those who are unfamiliar, CBD is one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis. Another cannabinoid you may have heard of is Tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a. THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana — and is the most highly regulated compound present in the plant. 

CBD, on the other hand, is non-intoxicating and its therapeutic benefits are a particularly hot topic these days. When applied topically, I've found the effect to be soothing, relaxing, numbing, warming... basically, it makes things that hurt not hurt and things that are tight get loose. I apply it on a knot in my shoulder or a stiff knee, and the discomfort dissipates with a melting sensation. Many people also opt to take CBD orally for its mood-stabilizing and pain-management effects, and there are even prescription medications for seizures that rely on CBD.

From Left: Courtesy of Wolf & Badger, NeedSupply, Lord Jones, LEED Organics, Thrive Market

The way that CBD works — and the full range of its applications and health benefits — is still being explored, but it very broadly has something to do with the compound's natural analgesic effects and its interaction with your body's endocannabinoid system. For more information, pick up the forthcoming book, "CBD Oil: Everyday Secrets" by wellness editor and writer Gretchen Lidicker; it's perhaps the best summary of what we know about the compound, questions for further research, and how to buy and use CBD products in our daily lives. What I can tell you is that it really works for me.

If you're confused by the sudden ubiquity of CBD and cannabis-based products, you're not the only one. "My state doesn't even allow medical marijuana," Idahoans or South Dakotans may say. "So why can I suddenly walk into my local Sephora and buy cannabis oil mascara?" As you can imagine, it's complicated. And claims that CBD is 100% legal in all 50 states (which appear frequently) are oversimplifying the matter.

Lidicker does an excellent job of attempting to unravel the legal jargon in "CBD Oil" but still, even she notes that "the legal status of CBD is a real doozy." The main issues have to do with the (somewhat arbitrary) distinction between "hemp" and other forms of cannabis. Hemp refers to varieties of Cannabis sativa used mostly for industrial purposes, the THC present in most strains of cannabis specifically bred out of it. You can't smoke hemp and get high; instead, it's used to produce strong fiber for textiles, rope, and paper, as well as things like biofuels and animal feed.

Plants that qualify as industrial hemp, by the standards of the 2014 Farm Bill, must contain less than .3% THC. But the sale of hemp products is seemingly only permitted when derived from the stalks and seeds of the plant (as opposed to the flowers, where a lot of the good stuff is). Mix in the phenomenon known as the "entourage effect" — which demonstrates that CBD is most effective when used in combination with other cannabinoids, leading many to seek a "whole plant" or "full spectrum" version of the compound — and that's where it gets tricky. Are producers of hemp-derived CBD really only using stalks? Would that product be very effective? It remains unclear.

"The take-home message here," Lidicker writes, "is that many CBD oil companies are operating in a legal gray area, and this is made possible by the lack of specificity in the laws that govern and define hemp." At the end of the day, "CBD companies operating within currently accepted parameters are selling CBD products nationwide without significant interference. That could change in the future, but so far there has been no significant enforcement against consumers or vendors for selling CBD or hemp oil as long as it is nonintoxicating and made from a plant with less than .3 percent THC."

In states where marijuana is legal or allowed for medical purposes, of course, a wider variety of potent products are available. Stores and dispensaries in states like Washington and Colorado will often stock CBD tinctures, topicals, and crystals derived from hemp's more potent sister strains; these are more effective, but are also regulated (or criminalized) in the same way as "marijuana," as a drug.   

So, can you take CBD lotion on a plane? Head to the TSA website and you'll get an emphatic "NO" in the context of medial marijuana. But widely available hemp-based CBD topicals are not classified as such — and as several media outlets, anecdotal reports, and cannabis entrepreneurs have noted, they are not a huge concern for the authorities. The prevailing wisdom seems to indicate that hemp-based CBD products are OK to bring on board, but do so at your own risk.

Here are five CBD topicals I've tried, all of which claim to be totally legal, THC-free, and ready to pack. So go ahead: get loose on your next trip, and you may never fly without CBD again.

Charlotte’s Web Hemp Infused Balm

Courtesy of Thrive Market

Essentially, it's Tiger Balm with a kick. This apricot oil–based balm is driven by menthol and cinnamon extracts — grown sustainably, like all of its ingredients — which provide a tingly, Icy Hot–esque relief that goes deeper thanks to the Colorado-grown, Colorado-made CBD hemp oil within.

This balm is especially good for sore post-workout muscles and painful knots, providing a distracting minty sensation and prolonged relief from the CBD. The scent can be a bit much in the confines of an airplane — it’s not inconspicuous by any means — but those who rely on Axe Oil and the like will appreciate this as a more potent version.

Charlotte’s Web, a family-owned company that’s been on the forefront of CBD supplements and skincare, carries a range of extracts, flavored oils, and capsules, as well as more subtle topical CBD creams.

To buy: thrivemarket.com, $40 for 44ml

Khus + Khus 'Copious' Body Serum 

Courtesy of Wolf & Badger

One main asset of this serum is the scent, a dusky, spicy confluence of rich notes like spikenard, frankincense, myrrh, and lavender. These ingredients, and more, are informed by tenets of Ayurvedic and herbalist medicine, all of which are meant to complement the effects of the CBD extract with their energizing, anti-anxiety, and analgesic properties. 

I’ve found the physical sensation of this one — warm and a little tingly, thanks to additives like nettle — is especially comforting in-flight, since I have a tendency to get goosebumps in that over-air-conditioned environment. Plus, unlike other CBD skin oils that typically come with an eye dropper, this one has a nice pump bottle. (I also have a tendency to spill all over myself, on planes and in daily life).

Like all Khus + Khus products, this serum is 100% plant-based and 99% organic. They make all sorts of CBD-infused and non-CBD products, including an extended line of body serums and face oils and a CBD hand cream. 

To buy: wolfandbadger.com, $48 for 100ml 

Leef Organics 'Revive' CBD Balm

Courtesy of LEEF Organics

This balm is thick and ultra-hydrating, formulated with grape seed oil and cocoa butter for a heavy-duty solution to the effects of moisture-sucking airplane air. Plus, it smells like dessert, with an herbal edge and hints of dried flowers. If you find yourself wanting to take a bite, you actually can — it’s totally edible, and many people enjoy mixing it into their morning coffee to take the edge off the jitters. 

The balm contains calendula and comfrey extracts to calm skin irritation, as well as the company’s proprietary CBD hemp oil, which is cold-pressed (more labor-intensive than the traditional extraction method) to maintain the maximum potency and nutrient value. In terms of effectiveness, this one is hard to match; the effect is immediate, and the absence of menthol or strong fragrances puts its power into sharper focus. 

Also worth trying, the brand's skin oil uses that same cold-pressed extract in the form of a serum. Excellent CBD extracts for oral dosage, plus fun CBD-infused soaps are also available. 

To buy: leeforganics.com, $30 for 59ml

Lord Jones High CBD Pain & Wellness Formula Body Lotion

Courtesy of Thrive Market

This little lotion packs a big punch. Lord Jones was founded by Cindy Capobianco, a former style editor, public relations executive, and fashion industry veteran, and the line has a sophistication and chic sensibility to match her pedigreed resume. Her CBD products have gained a cult following among influencers, with endorsements from names like Amy Schumer and Olivia Wilde. Plus, it smells amazing — a little floral, a little grassy, and just dank and musky enough to remind you of what's really going on.

Lord Jones has been a pioneer in the cannabis industry, crafting seriously high-end beauty products, tinctures, and edibles that are stocked in the chicest shops in Manhattan and beyond. Check out their "old fashioned gumdrops" — akin to a mood-stabilizing pâte de fruit, with soon-to-be-released mango chili and sugarplum flavors for the holidays — and their small-batch CBD tinctures, which come in delicious lemon and peppermint flavors. Solidifying the cool factor, Lord Jones recently launched a collaboration with Sigur Rós.

To buy: lordjones.com, $50 for 50ml 

Herb Essentials Cannabis Infused Body Lotion

Courtesy of Need Supply Co.

This one is far too large to be TSA-approved in your carry-on, but I don't really use this cannabis-infused body lotion for the loosening, relaxing sensation of CBD — it's not really a factor compared to the previous topicals. I use this because it's a damn good lotion. I bring it along in my checked bag to reinvigorate my dull, dehydrated post-flight skin when I start to unpack. 

Herb Essentials is exploring the benefits of cannabis oils for the health of our skin, and the results are exciting. The hemp seed oil they use is not at all comedogenic (meaning it won't clog your pores). It contains antioxidants like Vitamin E, and according to the company, has an "omega3-omega6 ratio [that] perfectly mirrors the natural proportions in your skin," making for fast absorption and minimal oiliness. And they also make a smaller moisturizer, a green lip balm, and a proprietary fragrance for scented candles and roll-on perfume that combines notes of patchouli, citrus, and weed.

To buy: needsupply.com, $48 for 235ml

You May Like