The runner-up in the “topicals” division at December’s Emerald Cup cannabis competition in Santa Rosa had a familiar name attached to it: Lavender Epsom Salts by Whoopi & Maya, a company co-founded by comedian Whoopi Goldberg.
Chelsea Dudgeon and Newell Taylor of Rancho Cordova didn’t have the same kind of name recognition with their product, which also provides pain relief from cannabis via skin absorption. But these partners in business and romance were equipped with something better: the winning formula.
Their Deep Skin Penetrating Topical Oil took first place, besting a field of nearly 50 entries.
The weekend already had been a heady one for the couple, who joined the 30,000 people descending upon the Sonoma County Fairgrounds – one month after voters approved the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over in California – to check out pot products and socialize.
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The Cup’s awards ceremony lasted 90 minutes as the winners for best cannabis flowers, edibles and other categories were declared. At first, Dudgeon, 29, and Taylor, 49, didn’t realize that Deep Skin had won. But once on stage, the normally shy Dudgeon soaked in the moment, snapping pictures of the crowd with her camera.
“It was a huge shock,” Dudgeon said on a recent afternoon with Taylor at an East Sacramento cafe. “We had almost stopped paying attention, but we heard our contestant number and thought, ‘Wait, that’s us.’ I didn’t think we were going to win.”
Taking the top prize in the Emerald Cup is considered the cannabis equivalent of winning an Oscar, and a key way to establish clout in California’s medical marijuana economy, which is valued as high as $2.7 billion.
The award was especially sweet since the competition essentially served as the product launch for Deep Skin. Dudgeon and Taylor initially had developed their topical oil just for family and friends. They’d entered some of their homegrown marijuana in the Emerald Cup’s flowers category and decided to try their luck at topicals on a whim.
Dudgeon has grown cannabis for the past three years, while Taylor has worked for the past 17 years in pest control for the cannabis industry. The couple made their first batch of cannabis-infused topical oil about a year ago for Dudgeon’s grandmother, who suffers from arthritis in the knee. Using cannabis in other ways, such as smoking, wasn’t going to work for her. In addition, Dudgeon comes from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I wanted to make a topical that (she) could use,” Dudgeon said. “My grandma tried it and she loves it. She says nothing else works with the pain in her knees.”
“We first just wanted to make a usable product for ourselves,” Taylor added. “It happens to work for other people as well.”
Marijuana-infused topicals will not get you high. They contain trace amounts of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and those cannabinoids generally can’t enter the bloodstream via the skin. Cannabis-infused oils and creams are said to promote localized pain relief and the anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana by binding to CB2, the cannabis receptors found throughout the body.
Deep Skin’s product employs several ingredients, including olive oil, avocado oil, lemon peel and chamomile with a strain of Prism Grape cannabis. This particular cannabis was chosen for its aromatic properties since it’s less skunky smelling than many other marijuana strains.
“We didn’t want it to smell like a hippy car,” Dudgeon said. “If it smelled like weed, my grandma wouldn’t use it.”
The overall aroma of Deep Skin is mostly floral, with a bit of spice from its ginger essential oil. It sinks into the skin well and causes a slight warming sensation. This combination of balanced aromatics and easy application is what won over the five-person judging panel at the Emerald Cup. Other judging criteria included packaging and efficacy, which was in part evaluated by a judge who suffers from fibromyalgia.
“The thought and care that went into it was far and away superior,” said Paul Hansbury, co-head judge for the topicals category. “The packaging … was very impressive. It was easy to apply and it wasn’t greasy. For all five of us (judges), it’s like this product was calling out to us.”
Deep Skin oil isn’t yet available at local dispensaries, but can be purchased by medical marijuana card holders in California via www.deepskintopical.com. In Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, the oil can be delivered to a dispensary or via a courier. A 10-milliliter bottle, which contains up to 50 applications, costs $40.
Dudgeon is now looking to create a cannabis-free version of the oil, and perhaps an anti-aging cream and other cannabis-based cosmetics. With the buzz for Deep Skin following the Emerald Cup, the company is looking to move fast.
“When our name got called, I’m thinking now I have to launch a business quickly,” Dudgeon said.