MOST PEOPLE WILL claim they had acne as a teenager, but I had ACNE. After years of trying almost every medication a dermatologist could prescribe, I was put on Accutane, which cleared up my skin but also unlocked the hormonal gates of hell. It turned my life into a chaotic rollercoaster of severe drops and emotional outbursts, which still has me wondering how my parents persevered (and didn’t just give me away). As silly as this might sound, and as funny as it is in hindsight, I can assure you that a cocktail of gonadotropin-releasing hormones and isotretinoin medication is really not okay. Neither were the over-the-counter topicals that followed, all of which planted the seeds for an incredibly violent uprising.
During the peak of quarantine, already seven years after I’d stopped taking Accutane, things finally came to a head. The inner turmoil I’d been suppressing manifested on my face in a stunning extravaganza of fiery red bumps and hyperpigmentation. Not only could we not see people in person, but I also now felt compelled to hide my face from screens — the only means I had to connect with other humans. The feelings of hopelessness I experienced in my youth came flooding back at warp speed.
Unsurprisingly, a new dermatologist quickly suggested another round of medication. There was zero chance that, at my age, while the apocalypse seemed imminent, I would risk my emotional stability to achieve clearer skin. Instead I went home, threw out every skincare product I owned, and began researching to formulate an all-natural routine. It was the one thing I hadn’t tried — my last resort.
I’m not an authority when it comes to skincare, and I am still learning. I’ve done research and spent a preposterous amount of money on my regimen. I’ve purchased many of the trendy, overpriced skincare products and gadgets mentioned in blogs and fashion magazines. I spent a solid chunk of this embarrassing sum on importing products from Korea and Japan. There have been hits and serious misses, but nothing, and I mean nothing, has helped evolve my skin the way CBD-infused products have. Though I once had extremely bad acne, I now leave the house make-up-free and get stopped by strangers who compliment my complexion.
As a result of cannabis becoming more widely accepted and decriminalized in many states, more scientists are able to explore its medicinal uses. Research on CBD, a natural compound derivative of the cannabis plant, shows that it’s a natural yet potent antioxidant that can alleviate inflammation (inside and out), reduce skin dryness and redness, and even reverse premature aging, eczema, and psoriasis. Today, many brands have jumped on the CBD bandwagon, pushing high-end products meant to turn back the hands of time. However, not all CBD products are made equal. Many brands that tout CBD as an active ingredient are simply bottling less-effective hemp oil or a simplified CBD extract with less potency.
I have found that full-spectrum CBD serums work wonders. They include multiple cannabis plant extracts like terpenes, cannabinoids, cannabinol, and other essential oils. These products also contain very small amounts of THC, which is the component in cannabis that, when consumed, causes one to feel all tingly inside (and perhaps crave a truck full of tacos at three in the morning). If that doesn’t sound appealing, don’t worry; consumer skincare products can only include up to 0.3% THC, which is ultimately non-hallucinogenic and 100% legal. The only thing you’ll feel after using a great full-spectrum serum is pride when you catch your glowing reflection.
Here’s a list of marvelous CBD skin products that I use and feel are worth spending your points on.
Five Unisex Fragrances I Can’t Stop Wearing
words by t. cole rachel, illustration by Ahonen & lamberg
Botanika Elite Elixir
Though I’m fairly new to Botanika products, I’m now a fan for life. At 1500 mg of CBD, this might have the highest concentration of cannabinoids on the market. It cleared up stress-induced inflammation pretty quickly and left my skin feeling velvety smooth. Unlike some serums, the Elite Elixir isn’t infused with floral extracts, so the scent might take some getting used to. Still, it’s a worthwhile item to amplify your skincare routine, especially to help preserve moisture during the winter.
Saint Jane Luxury Beauty Serum
Throughout my skincare journey, I developed an abhorrently expensive habit of buying products simply because I liked the packaging. It’s almost as if my brain short-circuits any time I see a nicely designed bottle. That’s how I stumbled across Saint Jane’s excellent Luxury Beauty Serum. Containing 500 mg of CBD, it was also my introduction to full-spectrum CBD altogether. In my defense, who wouldn’t want a sleek, black-and-gold vessel for their exotic face serum? Luckily it works very well, and I find its floral-infused scent intoxicating.
Flora + Bast Age Adapting Facial Serum
Flora + Bast’s Age Adapting Facial Serum was another one of my impulsive skincare purchases, not because of the packaging but because of the word “age” in its name. I, too, will purchase almost anything that promotes itself as anti-aging or age-adapting because why not? With over 350 mg of CBD, this serum packs a generous amount of the good stuff needed to promote cellular regeneration. I have seen a vast improvement in the elasticity of the skin under my eyes, even though I doubt this or any product will provide me with the eternal beauty of Lisle Von Rhuman’s glowing elixir in “Death Becomes Her.” Siempre viva!
Ildi Pekar Tissue Repair Serum
I came across Ildi Pekar through several articles claiming that her Tissue Repair Serum was the be-all and end-all of CBD topicals. Beauty bloggers claimed that even at 250 mg of CBD, it was an essential staple in any skincare regimen. I gave it a shot, and I loved it. Pekar is a renowned NYC-based aesthetician, which means she is trusted. Hailing from Hungary, the “spa capital of the world,” she created an entire luxury skincare line that centers on all-natural ingredients. In the short time I’ve used her serum, I’ve seen some spots (that were once plagued with subtle hyperpigmentation) start to fade.
Muri Lelu Bloomrise Sativa Serum
Of all the products I’ve used, Muri Lelu’s Bloomrise Sativa Serum contains the lowest concentration of CBD (at 100 mg). However, it is perhaps the only brand with a full-spectrum serum that harnesses the full power of the cannabis flower, from stalk to seed. This has been useful for depuffing my skin in the morning, as I tend to wake up looking like a goldfish. The small, female-owned operation was founded by two first-generation American sisters with roots in Egypt, France, and Belize. The brand donates a portion of its monthly proceeds to the Floret Coalition and other nonprofits focused on cannabis criminal justice reform.
Annette Lamothe-Ramos Writer
Annette Lamothe-Ramos is the visuals director of Departures. A native New Yorker now based in Los Angeles, she is a multidisciplinary artist and creative consultant working in online media, print, and film. Formerly the creative director and fashion editor at Vice, she has also created original documentary shorts and series for several major streaming platforms.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen and Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.