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 skin's brightness and softness.
Vanilla beans (pods) are the dried unripe fruit of the orchid vanilla planifolia. Native to America, it can grow in most tropical areas near the equator. Every flower needs to be 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.
Extracted from the cured beans, the absolute is a thick and aromatic substance, made up of sugars, vanillin, fats and mineral salts. On the skin, sugars act as a humectant and help retain moisture in the skin, but it is vanillin that will give the main sought-after benefits of the absolute.
Vanillin is an aromatic compound that naturally occurs in vanilla and makes most of its characteristic scent. It has been studied over the past few decades and the compound has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties when applied to the skin. It is also thought to have antidepressant properties when ingested or inhaled, which is why vanilla absolute is often used in aromatherapy for its uplifting, de-stressing and aphrodisiac qualities.
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 buy beans from Madagascar, where the government has stepped in to put practices in place ensuring quality and reducing illegal smuggling. Reaching for 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 ship them to France where they are processed into an absolute.