Skincare miracle: why hempseed is set to become the ingredient your skin can't do without

Unpicking the beauty world’s coveted albeit controversial skincare product, hemp seed oil

A hand-protecting cream with hemp seed oil is one of The Body Shop's best-selling products. Courtesy The Body Shop
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When The Body Shop launched its hempseed oil beauty range in 1998, its store in France was raided by the police owing to the contentious source of the extract used in the products: the hemp or cannabis plant.

Eventually, it was proved that the plant is not only for medicinal use, and beauty brands have been extracting the non-psychoactive parts of the plant – hempseeds – to create antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing skincare solutions for nearly two decades now. Today, The Body Shop sells one of its Hemp Hand Protectors every nine seconds to customers all over the world, including in the UAE.

The controversy rears its head every now and again, though, which prompted the Dubai Municipality to release a statement in January confirming that the sale and purchase of hempseed oil is legal here. Not to be confused with CBD or THC oil, derived from the flower and leaves of the cannabis plant, hempseed oil is derived from cold-pressing its seeds (which can also be ingested much like pumpkin or sunflower seeds).

Nearly 50 per cent of each seed's weight can be extracted to yield the polyunsaturated fat oil that has become all the rage among skincare brands and buyers, owing to its purported ability to protect and moisturise the skin more than any other natural extract. Hempseed oil is made up of 80 per cent fatty acids and forms a rare combination of omegas 3, 6 and 9.

In January, Dubai Municipality released a statement confirming that the sale and purchase of hempseed oil is legal in the UAE. Courtesy The Body Shop

As Jennifer Hirsch, beauty botanist for The Body Shop, explains: "Plant oils work with your sebum, the skin's own oil and natural moisturising factor to enhance the skin's barrier function. This reduces trans-­epidermal water loss, which means skin is better hydrated." Essentially, the hemp acts like armour to lock in moisture and defend skin against the elements, making it ideal to include in a daily moisturiser and SPF.

“In my 24 years in the cosmetics industry, I can think of few ingredients that stand out simply because of their performance and efficacy, but hemp is one of them,” Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, has said.

Other beauty brands, too, are getting wise to the benefits of hempseed oil. Brands such as Hempz Beauty and Yaoh use it across their range of products, from scrubs and body washes to haircare, while Milk Make Up recently introduced a lash-conditioning mascara infused with the oil.

“The Yaoh sunblock is amazing,” says make-up artist Poppy France. “It moisturises, and I’ve used it in really hot sun, and it was fully protective and smelt good, too. I also use it on shoots as it creates a nice base underneath make-up that doesn’t cause spots.” Also a fan of the brand’s moisturiser, France insists it cured her “dry and flaky” complexion, and is now her go-to to hydrate her skin.

The health of your skin also depends on what you eat, and many in the UAE have turned to hempseeds to make healthy alternatives to milk. 

Hemp seeds can be used to make oil for skincare and milk for nutrition. Getty 

"I was really surprised you could get hemp here. Years ago, you couldn't even buy The Body Shop range of hemp products, but now I use the seeds for myself and my family," says Dubai resident Jo Joblin. "I was looking for alternatives to soy, and spoke to a friend who was making her own hemp milk, so I decided to try it," she adds, touting the merits of the creamy, nutty liquid that comes from blending hempseeds with water, salt and other optional sweeteners, such as vanilla, in a high-speed blender.

The thick "milk" can serve as an alternative to traditional cow's milk, and works well with granola, in smoothies and as an accompaniment to your morning cereal. Taste aside, home-made hemp milk also promotes strong, healthy and clear skin, hair and nails, as do hempseed supplements.

Look to Australian brand Tonik, which manufactures vegan-friendly hemp supplements and extra-virgin, cold-pressed hempseed oil, which promise to give skin an extra moisture boost.

"Australian and New Zealand laws changed recently to allow the sale of hempseed oil after years of debate and fear of harvesting hemp for commercial sale," says the brand's creative director Pip Summerville, who says Tonik Hemp Seed Oil and Tonik No 4 capsules are 100 per cent compliant with the UAE's laws and available to order from

While The Body Shop works with a co-operative of 300 farmers to sustainably grow its “miracle crop” in France, Toniq sources its oil from a farm in northern China, which has been a site for hemp-growing for more than 2,000 years. In fact, both farmers and the planet benefit from hemp production. The plant is said to naturally clean soil without the need for artificial fertilisers, and it has been used to craft sustainable building materials, too.

The hemp plant is also four times more effective at soaking up carbon dioxide than other trees, making it an environmentally friendly crop for some nations to grow or buy, depending on the legalities.