My almost lifelong search for the perfect shampoo has recently landed me on a relatively new cast of products: CBD-based and -infused shampoos. This may be unsurprising, given the attention that all things CBD have received in the past few years.
Many brands of CBD hair care claim their products will improve moisture and growth, as well as reduce inflammation and scalp dryness, and in my quest to verify whether these claims are true I tried some of the most popular and supposedly best CBD-based shampoos out there. I’m happy to report that my hair has, in fact, felt less broomlike.
That said, experts say the effectiveness of each product isn’t necessarily strictly related to CBD, but instead depends on a variety of other factors.
But, first things first: What is CBD and how does it interact with hair?
The ABCs of CBD
Put simply, cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, is a chemical found in the cannabis plant. Because it does not contain THC, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, CBD does not get you high.
“CBD applications are widespread,” said Dr. Siamak Tabib, an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA. “It is used in many different shampoos and topical solutions as CBD isolate — which means by itself, without the benefits of the other cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant.”
The way CBD interacts with a user’s scalp and hair is directly related to the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the area. “CBD has an entry point to become activated [by these receptors],” said Dr. Jenelle Kim, the founder and lead formulator of JBK Wellness Labs in San Diego. “We know that CBD can reduce inflammation, so it [potentially] helps with dandruff, eczema and other scalp problems. It also helps increase circulation, which is a key in both hair growth and properly nourished hair. In short, CBD has the potential to provide us with well-nourished hair that appears well-nourished.”
Dr. Adam Mamelak, an Austin, Texas-based board-certified dermatologist, echoed Kim. “CBD has been examined in psoriasis, eczema, itching, acne and hair loss,” he said. “These conditions commonly affect the scalp and lead to dandruff, scaling and itching.”
It’s not all so clear-cut, though
Of course, companies that sell CBD-based shampoos are bound to sing the praises of their products. But while there are benefits to using these shampoos, they might not be entirely dependent on the properties of CBD.
“At this point, most of the data is anecdotal,” Kim said. “But many people have been seeing incredible effects. Some of them may be attributed to the synergy of ingredients in the formula.”
That is, if a product contains CBD, it may also contain other ingredients that contribute to the benefits of the product as a whole — which isn’t a bad thing.
“When I look at the formulations out there for CBD-based shampoos, it’s clear that they include other ingredients that are beneficial to healthy hair and scalps,” Tabib said, noting that macadamia nut oil, vitamin D, vitamin E and other oil-based products that are generally thought to assist proper skin and hair development are also present in many shampoos that contain CBD. “They may influence the feeling that these products are working,” he said. “And it may have nothing to do with the CBD itself.”
So, if we’re not even sure about the benefits directly related to CBD, is it even worth buying these more expensive products? Whereas “regular” shampoos such as Pantene, Nexxus, L’Oreal and Dove cost, on average, between $6 and $15 a bottle, all the CBD-heavy ones I tried cost well over $20 (some even exceeding $40). Still, the latter products seem to be more specialized and therefore deserve comparison to a slightly more expensive category of accessible shampoos. Take Moroccanoil, for example, used by plenty of people seeking higher-end hair care. At around $25, it is not as expensive as many CBD shampoos, but it certainly costs more than standard drugstore fare. Redken and Luseta, on the other hand, sell for a bit over $30 each.
All the experts I spoke to warned of one potential health drawback to using CBD-based shampoos: the possibility of an allergic reaction.
These experts also noted that CBD shampoos are safe for adults of all ages and genders, but did warn that no study regarding their effects on kids has yet been made public.
What’s the best way to use a CBD shampoo?
In terms of their application, the highlighted products below are no different than “standard” shampoos. Mamalek suggested using them 2-3 times a week, applying directly to the scalp and leaving there for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing.
Plenty of the CBD-based shampoos I tried came with instructions that are remarkably similar to how I’ve applied “standard” shampoo for three decades. In that sense, there’s no difference between a CBD shampoo and a more “classic” one. Here are the ones I tried:
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Best for dry scalp and dandruff: Dr. Hempster
Best customization: Prose
CBD for Life
Best for curly hair: CBD for Life
Best for colored hair: HempMeds
Best for scent: Prana Principle