Renowned for its sweet, warm and comforting fragrance, vanilla is also soothing and antibacterial when applied to the skin. Vanillin, its main aromatic compound, is an antioxidant and contributes to restoring the skin's brightness and softness.
Vanilla beans (pods) are the dried unripe fruits of the orchid Vanilla planifolia. Native to tropical America, it can grow in most tropical areas near the equator. Every flower is pollinated by hand and pollination must occur within a few hours of the flower's opening. Each blossom produces a single bean that is normally harvested after eight or nine months and then passes through a complex curing process before resembling the black-brown fragrant spice we all know.
Vanilla pods are made up of sugars, vanillin, fats and mineral salts. When applied topically, the sugars in vanilla act as a humectant. The humectant action also forms a barrier on the skin, which prevents moisture loss.
Vanillin naturally occurs in the pods and is the main source of the characteristic vanilla scent. It has been studied in the past decades and has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties when applied to the skin. It also showed antidepressive properties when ingested or inhaled. The fragrance itself is used for its uplifting, de-stressing and aphrodisiac qualities in aromatherapy, as well as being an ever-popular note in perfume.
Lush used to buy vanilla beans from the Fair Trade Ndali farm in Uganda but plans changed due to a very serious shortage of vanilla on the market generally and in Uganda in particular. This is why Lush currently purchase beans from Madagascar, where the government has put practices in place ensuring quality and reducing illegal smuggling. Reaching the same goal, an organisation was created there that buys beans from local farmers at a fair price and sells them to companies that match their high standards. They also promote agroforestry practices to help maintain local forests through vanilla cultivation. Lush buy the pods from this organisation and ships them to France where they are processed into an absolute.