By Deniz Ataman: Beauty and cannabis have a longstanding history. Cannabis use in civilization goes as far back as ancient Egypt, where queen and beauty icon Cleopatra would anoint herself with cannabis oil as part of her skincare and beauty regimen. Today, we’re learning more about the role of cannabinoids within the body, and how these unique compounds interact with the skin at the cellular level. 

We’re familiar with CBD and THC in beauty, but what do we know about the source of all cannabinoids, cannabigerol (CBG)? Topically, it’s a powerhouse for cosmetic formulations, offering lipid synthesizing, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties to soothe common issues like eczema, psoriasis and dry-skin syndrome.

The mother of cannabinoids

Known as the mother of cannabinoids, cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) is the reason we have THC, CBD and other minor cannabinoids that interact with our complex endocannabinoid system which regulates our physical and mental functions. Once heated, CBGA converts to its non-acidic form, CBG.

During the plant growth process, plant enzymes convert CBGA into major and minor cannabinoids. Once the plant is fully matured, a nearly spent CBG is left in only trace amounts.

Traditional methods like solvent or CO2 extraction are ideal for some botanicals; but to mass produce a minute quantity of CBGA through these methods will result in a low yield at a high cost. Instead, we look to biotechnology. Through fermentation we can produce a stable, reliable supply of potent CBG and CBGA for skincare and beauty formulations at commercial scale.

Going skin deep

One of the major skincare trends from the last year surrounded more honest discussions by brands and influencers on skin challenges like eczema, psoriasis and acne. Cannabis oil is known for its fatty acid content (about 80%)—like linoleic acid, alpha-linoleic acid and gamma-linoleaic acid—which are already found in our skin; as well as vitamins B (aids in skin cell production and reducing dark spots) and E (hydration and scar reduction). These ingredients are also formulated into beauty products to help reduce inflammation, moisturize and increase skin hydration.

When we isolate CBG produced through fermentation, studies show it’s a triple threat ingredient as an:

As a clean active, CBG’s multifunctional properties can be smoothing for skin and has potential to join the product label along with other clean beauty ingredients:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) – includes glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric acids to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, irregular pigmentation and age spots
  • Poly-hydroxy acids – similar to AHAs but with less irritation for sensitive skin
  • Salicylic acid – removes dead skin, improves texture and color of sun-damaged skin
  • Hydroquinone – lightens hyperpigmentation
  • Kojic acid – lightens dark spots and reduces melanin production
  • Retinoids – derived from vitamin A used to improve acne and acne scarring, uneven pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, skin texture, skin tone, color and hydration levels
  • L-ascorbic acid – the active acid in vitamin C proven to stimulate the synthesis of collagen, minimize fine lines, scars and wrinkles
  • Hyaluronic acid – found naturally in skin to cushion and lubricate connective tissues; addresses hydration and firmness
  • Copper peptide – helps firm, smooth and soften skin; as well as rebuild the natural tissue building process 
  • Alpha-lipoic acid – a water and oil soluble ultra-potent antioxidant that reduces fine lines; as well as a booster for other antioxidants like vitamin C

Another growing segment in beauty is the beauty drinks market. By 2024, this segment is expected to reach $4.4 billion driven by consumer preferences towards preventative skin care including different ingredients like vitamins, minerals, collagen, coenzymes and carotenoids. CBG’s addition to active beauty formulations is mostly for topical use; but once encapsulated it can transform from an oil-soluble to a water-soluble ingredient for bioactive beauty drinks that address collagen production, inflammation and elasticity. Of course, with more sound research behind CBG’s efficacy in these applications, it can certainly be a potential growth opportunity for cultured, water-soluble cannabinoids.

The beauty of biotech

Fermented ingredients are a source of major innovation in developing active and restorative beauty products. By 2027, the biotech ingredient market is expected to reach $3.03 billion, driven by the beauty industry’s investment on active and sustainable ingredients, including commercial scale cannabinoids.

The rise of minimalist beauty trends like Australian Beauty (A Beauty) and Korean Beauty (K Beauty) promote a more streamlined beauty routine with fewer products that contain high quality ingredients, namely cultured ingredients. For fermented ingredients, we’re working with compounds that mirror our skin’s microbiome. This is especially important for sensitive skin, as these ingredients mimic our cell functions, reducing the chance of adverse reactions. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchi are known to increase friendly bacteria in our gut microbiome. Cultured ingredients applied to skin are known to help absorption and create new skin-enhancing properties. 

Benefits of biotech

When it comes to expanding quantities for rare compounds, we’re seeing biotech as a viable production method. Biosynthesis uses the metabolism of a microbe to produce a compound (in this case cannabinoids). These compounds are bio-identical to their counterpart found in nature and work in the exact same manner in the body without the presence of additional compounds or trace constituents. As a result, cultured ingredients are produced as an isolate with 98% + purity and devoid of pollutants, irritants and heavy metals absorbed by plants growing out in the field – in other words, biosynthesis produces a reliable and consistent product. 

Many clean beauty ingredients are derived from plants which require natural resources to grow and then extracted using methods we mentioned earlier. However, for rare compounds these cultivation and extraction methods would produce a low yield at a high cost, requiring a substantial amount of energy, land and water. It would be deemed unsustainable. Biosynthesis offers a sustainable alternative to traditional processes that uses less land, electricity, water and pollutants. 

Cannabis has traveled around the world for millennia, weaving in and out of cultural taboos and norms across civilizations. Its reputation over the last few years has undergone a complete makeover driven largely by legal markets and accessibility, increasing scientific studies and educational materials. Using a proprietary precision fermentation process, we’re developing access to the rare CBG and learning about its potent benefits for beauty. As cannabis and cannabinoids have gained more traction in states across the country, we’re now not too far from the bottles of Cleopatra’s vanity anymore.

Words by

Deniz Ataman

Deniz Ataman is a freelance writer who served as the editor of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine for four years. Her writing explores plants, essential oils, fragrances, flavors and sensory research for B2B audiences and independent publications. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.