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Fancy some Cannabidiol in your night cream?

  • While CBD is gaining traction for cancer and neurological diseases, it is trending in the beauty industry as well
  • Dr.Rekha Sheth believes its anti-inflammatory properties are particularly useful for Indian skin which is prone to inflammation from various pollutants

When I first saw Dr. Sheth’s new launch, an anti-pollution serum duo, subtly advertise its Cannabidiol (CBD) content, I couldn’t help but picture women in a spa with marijuana leaves plastered on their faces. Have you heard of the Vampire Facial? Snail slime face masks? The beauty industry is exceedingly creative.

The woman behind the two-year-old brand is Dr Rekha Sheth, who, with a 45-year practice, is India’s first cosmetic dermatologist. There are other firsts in the family—her father, Sharat Desai, was India’s first dermatologist. Her son Aneesh, who has a doctorate in pharmacology from Cornell University, US, believed the time was ripe to start bottling the family’s trade expertise under the eponymous label Dr. Sheth’s, “a luxury skincare brand meant exclusively for Indian skin".

Aneesh and Dr Rekha Sheth
Aneesh and Dr Rekha Sheth (Photo: Aneesh Sheth)

Before meeting the Sheths, I tried out the night serum for a month as part of a beauty routine that now only involves a clear bottle that unironically says Face Soap and another that says Oil Cleansing (both Muji). If you read the Lounge cover last week, you might know that we are going through, let’s say, a clean living phase. And Dr. Sheth’s products are paraben-, sulphate-, phthalate-free and vegan/Jain-friendly.

While CBD is gaining traction in the management of cancer and neurological diseases, Sheth and Aneesh tell me it is quite the rage in the international beauty industry as well, with CBD facials and a profusion of products with the ingredient. It was why they decided to include it as an active ingredient in their night serum.

I ask why the Dr. Sheth’s brand fashions itself as “the Indian skin" expert. “Most products available today are formulated by scientists in the US, Korea or Europe. These countries don’t face the harsh abuse from pollution, heat and UV that our skin faces every day…. Indian skin requires much higher doses of vitamins and proteins," says Sheth, adding that our diet and genetics have also predisposed us to certain diseases like diabetes and PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome), which can lead to problems such as pigmentation (not of the fairness cream variety).

Sheth has had the opportunity to work in leading universities and hospitals in the US, like Harvard University, New York University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston City Hospital and the University of Texas. She has also conducted research for industrial giants like Hindustan Unilever and Givaudan Roure, Switzerland. She tells me she was with Prof. Albert Kligman at the University of Pennsylvania when he discovered Tretinoin in the early 1970s, still the panacea for teenagers with acne. It is this global exposure that led her back to the specific needs of Indian skin with greater determination.

“Beauty products have traditionally been developed and tested for Caucasian, non-Caucasian (which meant African American) and Far Eastern skin. Our skin is different, the very thickness is different," she says. Part of her ongoing research involves seeking natural remedies from other regions that have skin of colour. “Date seed extract is a Middle-Eastern ingredient and it works for Indian skin. Everything in India is dominated by Ayurveda and while it’s easy to source Ayurvedic ingredients, we are always on the lookout for interesting new ingredients whose efficacy has been proven," she says. She names Unilever, L’Oréal, Lancôme, P&G and Shiseido, among others, as leading labs whose work they refer to. “But once they find a molecule…from research table to market it is likely to take five years."

For Sheth, the two major problems that Indian skin faces—pollution and UV exposure—both lead to inflammation. This is, for her, the chief concern and this is where CBD steps in as a miracle cure.

She clarifies that while the term “cannabis" often attracts associations with marijuana, cannabinoids represent a diverse class of hydrophobic compounds, deriving from plants (phytocannabinoids), animals (endocannabinoids) and chemical synthetics. She leads me to a medical paper on the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in dermatology, on the medical research portal Medscape. It concludes that the immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory properties of CBD have been identified for the treatment of several dermatological conditions. Cutting out the medical jargon, it essentially gets your skin to calm down.

However, despite these benefits, Dr. Sheth’s doesn’t advertise its CBD content upfront. Aneesh says this is because the word CBD is still controversial in India. And so, while he clarifies that they are within US food and drug administration (FDA) approved limits and have FDA certification, he chose to exclude it from the title.

How do new ingredients come on to the radar of beauty manufacturers? How did CBD come to them, for example? Aneesh says it was Estée Lauder Labs which first presented that cannabidiol has positive effects on eczema.

“We are always looking for white spaces in the market. And we seek ingredients to address those concerns," says Aneesh. Their new goal is to find an antiperspirant for the face. That task, naturally, must fall to an Indian dermatologist.

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