It sure seems like CBD has become the new coconut oil. Not just because proponents of each claim miraculous/astounding/”I swear it works” effects in helping with inflammation, but because that meme about putting coconut oil on everything including your bank account suddenly seems much more accurate if you swap in CBD. So when CBD manicures started popping up on the menus of several nail salons I already frequent in NYC (plus in articles about new spa offerings in other states across the country), I didn’t even feel the slightest blip of surprise.
Before we get to the details of mani, a little CBD briefer: Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in the cannabis plant, and is closely related to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — but without the psychoactive qualities you might associate with smoking weed. Although CBD and other hemp-derived oils appear to be just about everywhere these days, the research behind what they’re actually doing is very, very limited — at least partially because most forms of CBD are still considered a schedule 1 drug. In fact, the only FDA-approved usage is for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy. Charlotte Palermino, journalist and co-founder of the weed-focused site Nice Paper, tells me, “Most doctors and researchers I speak to that are in the world of CBD put it this way: If your source is clean then your tincture won’t harm you. … You just don’t know what’s placebo or actually working, because we have no information on dosing.”
As of December 2018, CBD that is extracted from hemp is legal nationwide, but it’s not regulated by the FDA — which means there’s no rule about how high the quality or potency of CBD needs to be in products that claim to be made with the stuff. NYC and Maine have both started fining companies that sell CBD-infused food and drink on the grounds that the FDA has not deemed the compound safe for consumption, but so far there have been no similar laws made regarding beauty products.
When it comes to putting the stuff on your skin instead of ingesting it, there’s even less evidence out there: Palermino points to a 2009 study that shows the endocannabinoid system (a bodily system of cell receptors that is widely cited as proof that there’s potential for cannabis products to have all kinds of positive effects — pain relief, lowered anxiety, etc — on your body and brain) is definitely present in the skin and potentially regulates inflammation, oil production, and cell growth — but we’re still not sure how to best take advantage of that. There will need to be more studies done to figure out how much CBD will actually provide skin benefits, and how exactly to best deliver it into your system.
Dr. Ross C Radusky, MD, a dermatologist at SoHo Skin & Laser Dermatology, P.C. who the American Academy of Dermatology recommends as an expert on CBD, agrees that more research needs to happen before we call CBD a cure-all, but tells me that some studies have found that “topically applied CBD can lower the body’s inflammatory response in conditions like eczema-prone skin and in certain particularly itchy conditions.” He goes on to say that “if CBD applied to the skin can lower inflammation in [those conditions], it’s possible it can do the same in other high-inflammation skin diseases such as acne, psoriasis, and certain types of hair loss. But, the jury is still out and more research is needed.” Radusky recommends checking in with a board-certified dermatologist before you start any sort of CBD treatment to make sure there aren’t any risks specific to you.
Personally, I’ve found that popping a CBD gummy can help soothe minor feelings of anxiety, ingesting CBN oil (cannabinol, another cannabis-derived compound) right before bed will sometimes help me sleep better, and that my skin really likes beauty products with CBD. I have no idea if the first two are related to the placebo effect, nor do I know if it’s actually the other ingredients in my products that my skin likes — but I’ve definitely never had a negative reaction to any of these. Of course, it’s always highly recommended that you check in with your own doctors before introducing any sort of new ingredient to your routine, even if it’s just an herbal supplement.
Garcia tells me she finds the CBD lotions she uses in her manicures to be extra nourishing for the skin, especially in the winter. For her clients like me, she uses a blend of Lazarus Naturals Lavender CBD Balm (a full-spectrum hemp extract with 300mg of CBD in the whole package, which is higher than the minimum 200mg Palermino says she learned was necessary for topical pain relief when developing a Nice Paper x Y7 x Weed Sport balm) and a lavender essential oil for an extra relaxing experience. At home, Garcia uses CBD-infused lotions regularly to help combat her own dry skin.
The majority of the manicure was pretty standard: I was getting gel extensions, so Garcia prepped my nails with the usual polish removal, filing, and cuticle pushing. Then, she applied the extensions and gel polish, which involved going under the UV light several times. Here’s what my nails looked like right after she applied the extensions.
Then came the best part: A 10-minute hand and forearm massage with the balm and oil mix. It was so relaxing. Something in either the balm or the oil (or both?) had a cooling effect that I felt enhanced the muscle-soothing effects of the massage. This might not have just been a placebo effect: Some studies have shown that topical CBD can provide pain relief for rats with arthritis, though so far there’s nothing beyond anecdotal evidence for humans (add my manicure experience to that list).
Here’s what my hands looked like immediately after the manicure was (sadly) over.
In addition to feeling well moisturized, I must admit I also felt very chill. I was in the middle of a work-from-home week between Christmas and New Year’s — a generally more chill time overall. Still, after the manicure, the tension that tends to hang out around my eyes and forehead had dissolved, and I didn’t feel myself getting irritated on my train ride back home even once. My experience is barely backed up by science: The majority of studies about the mental health benefits for CBD have 1.) mostly been on animals, and 2.) involved eating the cannabinoid, not slathering it on your skin after you get your nails done.
I definitely also noticed that the balm and oil combo had benefits for my skin and mood well after I stepped out of Garcia’s studio. My appointment happened on a very cold night (my feet started to go numb on the eight-minute walk from her studio to the subway, despite wearing boots and heavy socks) but my cuticles and hands still looked pretty hydrated by the time I got home.
Perhaps the most exciting part? The scent of the balm lasted all night… and I could still smell it when I woke up the next morning. Scents are generally considered to have certain effects on the brain due to conditioning (not because they change your brain chemistry in any way) and I’ve definitely been conditioned to associate lavender with feeling relaxed, so the mood-boosting effect that manicure had on me lasted an extra half day until I took a shower.
While I don’t have any of the specific skin concerns Radusky mentions, the CBD products Garcia used during my manicure gave me enough extra hydration to make me want to add them to every single nail service I get in the future. If I can get that soothing lavender scent every time too, that’d be even better.