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Cannabis Cosmetics: What’s Allowed, What’s Not, and Where to Find Them

cannabis cosmetics
Written by Sarah Friedman

Cannabis in cosmetics is becoming a big thing all over the world, but what laws are there to govern the industry, and which parts of the plant can be used?

Much like nearly everything else pertaining to cannabis, different locations have their own specifications. In the US, for example, the FDA has made no official move to set regulatory standards for cannabis in cosmetics, though it has been spending time trying to get a handle on CBD in general. As of the last farm bill, industrial hemp with THC amounts of up to .3% is legal for industrial use, with some gray area over the use of cannabinoid preparations, which still mainly remain illegal.

When looking at regulation for something like cannabis in cosmetics, there are two main factors to consider: 1) the THC content, since nearly all cannabis cosmetics will be focused around CBD, and 2) which part of the plant is used for the raw materials, as some countries have different stipulations here.

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Cannabis Cosmetics in the US of A

An important thing to understand about the US is that the FDA, under the FD&C Act, isn’t required to approve cosmetic products or ingredients, with the exception of many color additives, and any substance that is prohibited or restricted otherwise.

In fact, most people have probably already noticed the message found on many herbal products that says “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.” The products they’re found on aren’t illegal, just simply not under regulation by the FDA, or legally requiring of it.

As of right now, no cannabis, or cannabis-derived ingredients, are specifically banned from cosmetics as they are not specifically addressed by the law. This doesn’t mean that such products get out of being up to code for all other requirements and regulations, even if not specifically mentioned.

A product also cannot make a medical claim, and if it does so, it can be considered a drug, and is in violation of the FD&C Act, for which the FDA can then take action against it, depending on if it sees fit. Having said all this, if the US does update FDA regulation to include specific cannabinoids for cosmetics, then production facilities would have to comply.

This lack of official regulation in the US hasn’t stopped companies based in other countries eager to get cannabis products out, from coming up with their own ways to get them on shelves in the US.

Sephora Makes Its Own Standards

When it comes to big business, not everyone wants to wait on official laws when the official laws are taking too long. In March, giant beauty retailer Sephora, based out of France, set its own standards for the use of CBD in its products.

All hemp products now sold through Sephora must comply with certain standards including: containing full spectrum or broad spectrum extracts with no isolates, being made from hemp grown in the US, having a certificate of analysis that can be viewed by the buyer, going through three rounds of testing to account for purity and contaminants, and complying with Sephora’s own standards which limit the use of certain chemicals.

Sephora is the first major company to come up with its own independent system of regulation. How this legally stands the test of time, is hard to say.

CBD Beauty Products are Taking Over the Industry

Cannabis Cosmetics in the EU

The EU has its own perspective when it comes to regulating cannabinoids in cosmetics. According to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and European Cosmetic Regulation 1223/2009, cannabis and cannabis extracts are prohibited from use in cosmetics, however, as CBD is not specifically mentioned in the Convention, it is not technically included in this.

Earlier this year, to deal with the ensuing gray area that has risen as a result of a booming CBD industry and insufficient regulation, the European Commission added both plant-derived and synthetic CBD to its list of approved cosmetic ingredients. It also stipulates that if plant-derived, it must come from hemp, or low-THC cannabis (max THC, .2%).  

The EU Cosmetic Ingredient Database further stipulates which parts of the cannabis plant are legal to use in cosmetic preparations. On a United Nations level, there are already certain restrictions, like not using resin from cannabis sativa, and that flower and leaf extracts are prohibited for use. As of right now, legally in the EU, only cannabis seeds and stems can be used for such products.

To make matters slightly more complicated, each member state of the EU also has its own laws, which are sometimes more extreme than standard EU regulation. These differences cause a disharmony in the EU, and can lead to trade disparities, like what is going on right now in France vs the EU. In this case, the question is about the ability to import and export CBD products freely across EU borders, so long as standard EU regulations are met.

What About the UK?

For a long time the UK operated under standard EU law when it came to many things, now it operates on its own again, but as of the present still uses the same general regulational standards. When it comes to cannabis in cosmetics, UK regulation is governed by The Misuse of Drugs Act – 1971, and 2001, and Regulation 1223/2009.

According to the combination of laws, cannabis seeds are not controlled, and the oils and extracts from them are legal for use in cosmetics so long as the finished product has been deemed safe. When it comes to cannabis leaves, the law states that while the leaves are a controlled substance (class B drug), purified solvent extracts can be considered not controlled substances so long as they don’t contain cannabinoids that are controlled substances (like THC).

Preparations cannot involve the flowering tops of plants. When it comes to the use of CBD itself in finished cosmetics, UK law states that pure synthetic and plant-based CBD are allowable so long as the CBD does not come from the flowering tops, does not contain any amount of a controlled substance including other controlled cannabinoids like THC, or has been qualified as exempt under the exempt product definition as per 2001 regulation.

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…And Canada?

Canada proses an interesting situation because of all the locations mentioned so far, it’s the only one with federal legalization. Even so, this does not automatically permit the use of all cannabis substances in all places. This is not the case at all. In Canada, the Cannabis Act was passed in 2018, which defines cannabis as all parts of the plant, and everything that comes from it.

According to Health Canada’s Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist for prohibited substances, cannabis is not allowed for use in cosmetics. On the other hand, industrial hemp (sometimes refer to as CBD Flowers) in Canada is defined as cannabis with no more than .3% THC in the leaves and flowers, and is not included in the Cannabis Act. Derivatives of industrial hemp can be used in cosmetics so long as the THC content is 10 μg/g or less. For this reason, hemp seed oil is often seen as an ingredient listed in products on shelves.

How much sense this all makes is questionable at best. A full federal legalization for internal use makes the nit-picking of topical use ingredients almost funny, and just, wildly inconsistent. Of course, in the world of cannabis legalization, wildly inconsistent is practically a middle name, and nearly every country has it.

Where Can Cannabis Cosmetics Be Found?

Cannabis cosmetics can be found in tons of places at this point, though this isn’t to say that all of them are legal, or will remain legal. CBD cosmetics are popular in the EU, Canada, and the US, and anywhere CBD is legal, there are sure to be some cosmetic products, given the general gray area of not having set systems of regulation.

Of course, this could easily change. Later this year, WHO recommendations will be voted on, and this vote will determine whether CBD can be legally separated from the rest of the cannabis plant. Right now, particularly in places like the EU, there’s a lot of gray area and inconsistency. CBD products are coming out left and right, and though they may be legal by local regulation, this is in opposition to the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Substances which does not as of yet differentiate CBD from the rest of the plant.

WHO recommends removing CBD and scheduling it separately, thereby changing the laws that have been governing cannabis internationally since 1961. If the recommendations are not taken, a much harder stance can be taken on the use of CBD in general, regardless of where it is used. Considering how big the industry is, this could actually cause a lot of problems, and a lot of backlash from countries that no longer agree with the world stance.

Ban On Natural CBD In European Cosmetics Lifted In Victory For ‘Common Sense’


Essentially, any country that allows for the production of cannabis products, is likely to allow some kinds of cosmetics to be produced, even if they’re solely meant for export to more lenient countries. When it comes to production, the onus is on the producing country to meet the regulatory guidelines of the country of import. In this way, many countries can produce such cosmetics, while only a few might be able to legally accept them.

The vote on WHO recommendations will likely play a large role in the future of cannabis cosmetics. If the recommendations are taken (which I think they will be), it can be expected that CBD cosmetics will start showing up all over the place, with many countries loosening their laws to allow the market legally.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.