Hydrosols are the watery by-product of the steam distillation process used to extract essential oils from plants. In this article, we’ll go into detail about steam distillation and find out why hydrosols are an up-and-coming trend in aromatherapy.
Hydrosols are also known as herbal distillates, hydrolats, hydroflorates, distillate waters, floral waters or flower waters. They are products from steam distilling plant materials. Hydrosols are like essential oils but much less concentrated. When essential oils are made, the raw plant material is exposed to a steam bath, which causes the glands to release the oils and essence of the plant into the steam. The remaining water is hydrosol. Hydrosols contain all of the essence of the plant, just like essential oils, but in a milder form, making them suitable for applications where essential oils would be too strong. The concentration of essential oil in a hydrosol is a mere 0.01 to 0.04 percent. (1), (2)
Hydrosols offer some advantages over essential oils. A major one is that they do not need to be diluted before applying them to the skin because they are not concentrated. You can apply hydrosols topically in the same manner as a carrier oil or inhale them. Both of these methods are safe. Hydrosols can also be used in place of water in creating natural fragrances, lotions, creams, facial toners and other skin care products. They can also be added to bathwater, and used on their own as a light cologne or body spray. (3)
A cautionary note: some vendors are selling essential oils added to water as floral waters. Only hydrosols are true floral waters because they are made by the same steam distillation process used to make most essential oils. (4)
How Steam Distillation Works
Plant material (e.g. lavender) in a vessel is exposed to a steam bath. The steam carries the essential oils through the apparatus, and then to a condensation flask, where the condensed liquid phase separates into two components – water and essential oil. After distillation, the vapors are condensed. Usually, the immediate product is a two-phase system of water and the essential oils, which then allows for separation of the two components by decantation, partitioning or other methods.(5)
Here is a link to a YouTube video on how steam distillation works. It’s an 18-minute video. They make juniper essential oil. Fun times!
Below is a diagram of the equipment setup used to steam distill essential oils.
Two Key Hydrosols
In my aromatherapeutic balm that I am marketing this year, there are two hydrosols that I incorporate into the mix of ingredients: Helichrysum hydrosol and Roman Chamomile hydrosol. I purchase them from Plant Therapy. The Helichrysum hydrosol is soothing to the skin, has anti-aging qualities and helps heal bruises, all without the high price tag of Helichrysum essential oil. Roman Chamomile hydrosol is calming to the skin, much like its essential oil counterpart.
One thing that sets hydrosols apart from essential oils is that they need to be refrigerated. This is due to their predominantly water content. Their shelf life ranges from 12 to 24 months. (6)
Aromatherapist Lea Harris (www.usingeossafely.com) published a Hydrosol Quick Start Guide. According to Lea, hydrolates or hydrolats are the most appropriate term for hydrosols. Hydrosols contain all of the water-soluble chemical constituents of distilled plant matter. The Latin word hydro means “water,” and lait means “milk.” Hence, “watermilk” or “milky water.” The “milky” reference reflects how it appears when it comes off the still. (7)
As I mentioned a few paragraphs above, Helichrysum hydrosol was chosen as one of the base ingredients for my aromatherapeutic balm because it is soothing to the skin, has anti-aging qualities, helps heal bruises, and in addition, it is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, cicatrizant (to heal or become healed by the formation of scar tissue), anti-infectious and antiviral. (8)
Roman chamomile hydrosol, in addition to having calming properties, is anti-allergenic, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, bactericidal, and cicatrizant. (9)
Hydrosols have tremendous potential in the aromatherapy marketplace due to their safer characteristics and versatility. Have you used hydrosols before? If so, what do you use them for and what do you like about them? Feel free to drop me a line in the form below.
(2) (6) What are Hydrosols?
(3) (4) What Are Hydrosols?