Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fragrant Musings: Pros and Cons of Coffee Absolute / Essential Oil

Whether or not coffee is a notoriously difficult note for perfumers to use because of its savory aroma is a matter of taste and the least of my concern. It's been fun learning more about using coffee absolute and essential oil, but also kind of eye-opening. I found conflicting information regarding caffeine: Some sources say there is no caffeine in their coffee oil, while some say their coffee oil is very high in caffeine, and also that the beauty industry has been using caffeine in high end products to supposedly fight aging. Is that why coffee has become a popular material? I've heard of home remedies using ground coffee in a scrub to fight cellulite, but what does caffeine do besides stain your skin or possibly get absorbed by the skin and have people addicted to the beauty products that contain it?

Other sources say there is no essential oil in coffee beans, so of course, my next question is, how do you make coffee oil? Infusion makes sense, and coffee infused oil is something I can make on my own, although I don't think I'd do it without finding a proper preservative for it, which brings me to the question of the oil's shelf life, which no one has answered, but I digress; Robertet, for instance, offers on their list of raw materials (Read on Wikipedia about fractional distillation) Coffee Decolorized Absolute "with a very mild solvent to keep the top notes and avoid artefacts" (new terminology for me). I guess they couldn't get the color back in the material, which is fine since that is the natural form of the adulterated material. I don't want to use artificial colors, caramel coloring, etc. in my products, either. Neither do I want natural additives that don't work or eventually turn rancid and, heaven forbid, develop mold, which brings me to the point of this post, to ask whether or not raw materials are truly safer to use than technologically advanced fragrance oils.

As a mixed media perfumer, time and again I'm caught between two worlds, one being the world of natural products and the other, of technology. I have been faithful about using good oils like jojoba, and would like so much to move in the direction of all naturals, but there are clearly issues I must face regarding product safety, and natural isn't always the best solution. What is the point of using a natural material if it's been adulterated with, say, a neurotoxin like hexane? It's kind of like eating nothing but macrobiotic soy products for 10 years and getting sick (which happened to someone I knew)--you know many soy products are hexane-treated, right? On the other hand, is fear of hexane also like eating only organic fruits and vegetables, for fear of pesticides that are present in the regular supermarket variety, but not enough servings to keep you healthy? Because ironically, you would get more nourishment if you ate more fruits and vegetables regardless of whether they're organic or not. (Related read: Should I Worry About Hexane in Soy Food? | Berkeley Wellness)

So, I want to ask you which you would rather use: a synthetic product with molecules too large to get absorbed by the skin, that's been given the OK by the FDA, or an essential oil that hasn't been tested extensively that will be absorbed by the body? Does coffee really offer a health benefit, enough to warrant direct contact? I still would like to experiment with the coffee CO2 extract I got, which is the most promising type of coffee note I've found thus far. Mine is of a beautiful deep brown hue, rich and dark, and smells of authentic roasted coffee. I could possibly incorporate a little of both fragrance oil and CO2 extract in my perfume blend, especially because the ambery color of the coffee CO2 is so pleasing in a perfume, but I don't know enough about the range of this relatively new fragance material yet to put it out on the market, to apply on skin...although, believe me, the thought of using coffee in an "addictive scent" is the most tempting thing of all. If this coffee CO2 extract is as caffeine-free as it is solvent-free, I think I've found my material.

Related read: "Large scale supercritical fluid extraction of low price, commodity items such as coffee, tea, and saw palmetto indicates that supercritical CO2 processing can compete economically with traditional extraction and separation processes." The Top Ten Benefits of Supercritical CO2 Extraction - Phasex Corporation