“There’s an essential oil for that!”
We’ve heard this exclaimed by friends, from colleagues and by clients—and maybe even by strangers at the grocery store.
We’ve been invited to essential oil parties, walked by the aromatherapy oil vendors at the farmer’s market, and have noticed an astounding amount of household products packaged with the words “Made with real essential oils!” painted across the front.
As recent interest in plant-based beauty-and-wellness remedies has steadily increased, discussion of essential oils and their many uses has almost become synonymous with the word aromatherapy.
However, there are other avenues to consider when exploring plant aromatics.
So, how about hydrosols, the other plant-based aromatic?
What Are Hydrosols?
Hydrosols have been gaining popularity in the skin care and health industries, commonly being utilized alongside essential oils.
This is fitting, since essential oils cannot be made without also producing a hydrosol, as they come from the same distillation process. Sometimes assumed as simply a by-product of essential oil distillation, hydrosols are actually much more.
While less concentrated than their essential oil counterparts, hydrosols hold a valuable place in aromatherapy and offer many of their own therapeutic benefits. In fact, they are often the more appropriate choice in various instances due to their gentle and balancing nature.
As these two distillates go hand and hand during production, they can also work as a team in your personal life and professional practice.
Hydrosols may also be referred to as hydrolats, hydrolates, plant waters, and most commonly floral waters. However, to collectively call them “floral” or “flower” water is actually incorrect, as many hydrosols can also be distilled from the leaves, stems, bark and other parts of the plant.
During this distillation process, fresh plant material is placed within a still and vapor is carried through the plant material, gathering both its water and oil soluble constituents.
The vapor is then directed through cooling coils and collected in a separate vessel, where the end result is a large quantity of water topped with a thin layer of oil.
The oil yielded in this process is the essential oil, and the water portion is the hydrosol.
While the oil and water is then generally separated out, hydrosol will still contain a very small amount of essential oil in addition to the plant’s cellular water, giving both the hydrosol and essential oil similar therapeutic effects in different concentrations.
As there is generally a much larger amount of hydrosol than essential oil produced during this process, you may find that the variation in price often reflected for essential oils isn’t as dramatic for hydrosols.
Even more precious and expensive extracts, like rose (Rosa damascena or Rose otto), tend to have more gently priced hydrosols, as the abundance of water compared to oil in its flower petals makes a hydrosol more easily attainable.
If you’re a fan of rose but intimidated by the price of the essential oil, using rose hydrosol may be a more economical alternative when incorporating the extract into your practice.
Other commonly available hydrosol extracts include lavender, neroli or orange flower, rose geranium, lemon balm, rosemary and frankincense, all with unique aromatic profiles and therapeutic actions.
Common Hydrosols’ Therapeutic Actions
- Lavender—calming, cleansing, balancing, clarifying
- Rose—hydrating, calming, balancing
- Neroli—soothing, toning, rejuvenating
- Melissa/lemon balm—soothing, uplifting, cleansing, clarifying
- Rosemary—clearing, cleansing, energizing, rejuvenating, stimulating, toning
- Lemongrass—astringent, cleansing, stimulating, deodorizing
- Sandalwood—cleansing, soothing, hydrating, balancing
- Frankincense—calming, hydrating, balancing
- Peppermint—cooling, stimulating, refreshing, cleansing
- Chamomile—soothing, balancing, cleansing
- Clary Sage—balancing, astringent, soothing
How to Use Hydrosols
Hydrosols have had a variety of uses, ranging from wellness and personal care to basic housekeeping and embellishing food and drink recipes.
Many bartenders will use hydrosols to enhance the aromatics of their cocktails, adding a splash or a spritz just before serving the beverage.
Some dessert recipes like puddings, pastries and traditional Middle Eastern confections may call for hydrosols, flower waters, or other similar extracts as well. It is important to understand, however, that some floral waters are produced more like a tea rather than distilled (called a decoction), with plant material steeped in boiling water to extract its essence.
These are generally fine for internal use, and are often how the rose and orange flower water you might find in your local grocery store are produced.
However, other products labeled as “floral water” may simply be water with essential oils or other scented extracts mixed into them. Products like this are sometimes sold in the body care section at grocery stores and pharmacies.
These should be left out of culinary recipes and only be applied externally.
It is especially important when selecting ingredients for culinary use to always do adequate research on the product and producer, making sure that they are pure extracts, safe for their intended use, and from a trusted and reputable source.
If you are otherwise new to the world of hydrosols, rest assured that most of us already have more experience with them than we think.
How to Use Hydrosols for Self-Care
Whether a professional in the beauty and wellness industry or not, you have probably heard of or have used witch hazel.
This classic and versatile skin care remedy is in fact a hydrosol, and can be found everywhere from boutique spas to the shelves of your local pharmacy.
Hamamelis virginiana, a shrub native to North America, is harvested and distilled as a tonic for the skin, and has been used for a variety of topical applications for centuries.
While the same basic distillation methods are generally used for the plant (though a decocted extract maybe used by some manufacturers), the witch hazel shrub produces such a small amount of essential oil that it is only sought for its hydrosol distillate.
There are two different witch hazel formulas commonly found on the market, one that contains alcohol and one that does not.
The purity and gentle nature of the alcohol-free version is preferred, and it is best to purchase organically grown witch hazel products when possible.
Whether choosing witch hazel or the many other hydrosol distillates on the market, incorporating hydrosols into your skin care regimen offers a variety of benefits, including hydrating, clarifying, calming, toning and rejuvenating the skin.
Remarkably, a hydrosol’s primary action is to balance the skin’s current condition, so they won’t address anything that isn’t present.
For example, while rose is a wonderful option for providing moisture to dry skin, it won’t cause oily skin to produce more oil, and lavender’s ability to balance and clarify oily skin, won’t further dry out dry conditions.
So while certain hydrosols are better indicated for particular skin types and challenges, it is difficult to make the wrong choice when deciding to add any hydrosol to your regimen.
They are best applied as a toner after cleansing and before moisturizing can be followed by a crème, serum, or oil. For facial oil fans, hydrosols are particularly useful. As facial oils can be easy to over-apply, they may leave the skin greasy without actually feeling moisturized.
A hydrosol freshly spritzed over the skin beforehand offers a smooth and damp surface on which to evenly distribute the oil, helping to lesson any overly oily areas.
Additionally, smoothing your facial oil over hydrosol helps to lock in hydration, equalizing the skin’s oil and water balance exactly where it is needed.
Most hydrosols are sold with atomizing spritzers, making them easy to use for refreshing a variety of things, including you and your space.
You may consider keeping larger bottles at home and transferring smaller amounts of hydrosol into 1 or 2 ounce spray bottles to keep in your purse, gym bag, work desk, or locker. These work great as body sprays or hair and scalp refreshers, and can be sprayed over the face when your skin needs an aromatic or therapeutic pick me up.
You’ve heard of the old trick of putting peppermint essential oil on the back of your neck to keep focused at work or in class? Spritzing a hydrosol over the face or décolletage can have a similar effect, but with a lighter and less intrusive scent.
Makeup wearers can rest assured that hydrosols can even be sprayed over the face without disturbing cosmetic applications, and can be a wonderful setting spray for powder foundation. Around the house, hydrosols can purify the air in any space, including the kitchen, refrigerator, garbage can, or bathroom.
Use them to refresh your yoga mat, smelly summer shoes or sneakers, or the inside of your car. You can even replace the water in your iron with hydrosol distillate to give your laundry an aromatherapeutic boost.
How to Use Hydrosols for Client Care
Many of these same ideas can be applied in the treatment room for client care. Refresh the space with a hydrosol between clients, spritz over the skin to add moisture and tone the face and body during treatments, or even use on yourself to calm your nerves or refresh your senses during challenging appointment days.
Have a powdered mask, clay, or other dry body treatment? Activate the product with hydrosol instead of water. If applying cooling cotton eye pads to the client, soak them in an aromatic hydrosol first. Spritz warm towels, dry or wet, with their hydrosol of choice just before using them on your client.
Additionally, if there are any instances where the client experiences unintended warmth or irritation, hydrosols like rose and lavender may offer some cooling comfort to the affected areas.
Utilizing the gentle nature, kind aromatics, and versatility of hydrosols in your professional practice can greatly enhance your services and be equally enjoyable for both you and your customers.
Where to Buy Hydrosols
Hydrosol distillates have an important role to play in aromatherapy and are much more than just a byproduct of essential oil production.
They offer a gentler alternative to the strongly aromatic volatile oils that are popular in the wellness industry today, with many additional uses and benefits.
Skin can be hydrated and refreshed, spaces cleansed and deodorized, and senses soothed and uplifted all with this often-overlooked botanical extract.
While essential oils are still very much an important part of aromatherapy, understanding when and how to instead opt for hydrosols can enrich both your personal life and scent your professional services with an extra aromatic touch.
Plus, spritzing hydrosols is just plain fun!
While it is crucial that you take the time to do your own research and only purchase from trusted manufacturers, hydrosols can be an alluring addition to your practice and will only prove to elevate your enjoyment of aromatherapy’s many sensational gifts and possibilities.
About the Author
Amy T. Simmons is a licensed esthetician who specializes in holistic wellness and plant-based skin care. She is the research and education coordinator at KM Herbals, which produces hand-crafted products for spas, salons, brands, boutiques and entrepreneurs, as well as beauty, wellness and medical professionals through personal care and private label product lines. Simmons studied herbalism and aromatherapy at the California School of Herbal Studies with renowned teachers such as David Hoffman and Trinity Ava, as well as cosmetic chemistry with Rebecca Gadberry at UCLA.
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