Exploring Hydrosols

Hydrosols, also known as floral waters and hydrolats, are the by-products of the steam distillation of essential oils. The hydrosols contain small quantities of the essential oils themselves, as well as water-soluble components of the plants that would otherwise be lost in the distillation process.

Hydrosols differ from many of the "face sprays" and "spritzers" available in shops (which also occasionally call themselves floral waters) which are often a simple mix of water and essential oil, sometimes with a little food colouring added to make it too "authentic".

Hydrosols have a very subtle energy, and are therefore a useful addition and complement to essential oil-based therapy where a gentle approach is desired. Traditionally hydrosols are most commonly used for skin care, but they are also useful for eye inflammation and infection, and can be taken internally.

Until recently, the most readily available hydrosols were rose, lavender, chamomile and neroli (orange flower). But over the last few years more and more possibilities have been explored, as people realise that if it can be distilled, there can be a hydrosol.

Properties And Uses Of Hydrosols

  • Chamomile, Roman - soothing; anti-inflammatory; relieves stress; a compress for migraines; relieves nappy-rash; suitable for sensitive, inflamed or dry skin; sunburn; excellent for eyes
  • Lavender - soothing; gentle; balancing; antiseptic; suitable for all skin types; eczema; razor-burn; healing for burnt skin (including sunburn)
  • Manuka - cleansing; anti-fungal; antiseptic mouthwash
  • Melissa - hot flashes; a compress to relieve pain of shingles; suitable for oily skin
  • Neroli - calming; balancing; hydrating; rejuvenating; uplifting; anti-depressant; relieves stress; mildly astringent; suitable for all skin types
  • Peppermint - refreshing; deodorising; cooling; antibacterial; mouthwash; clears sinus congestion; excellent as a facial and body spray in summer
  • Rose - refreshing; soothing; anti-inflammatory; regenerative; rehydrating; a gargle for sore or inflamed throats; suitable for sensitive or dry skin; soothes irritated eyes
  • Rose Geranium - balancing; anti-depressant; hot flashes; suitable for oily or dry skin
  • Rosemary - refreshing; stimulating; razor-burn; suitable for congested skin
  • Tea Tree - stimulating; antiseptic; athlete's foot; acne

Exploring The Possibilities

Hydrosols are excellent for using within a skin care regime. In addition to being completely natural, they are gentler than many commercial skin toners. They can also be combined with sun-dried clays to make natural face masks, enhancing the properties of the clay. During the long, hot summer days or when travelling, they can be used as a facial spray to revitalise and hydrate the skin, or to set makeup.

But to limit their use simply to skin care is doing an injustice to these often overlooked healing tools.

Much like the essential oils themselves, hydrosols can be used in the bath, in compresses, for facial steaming and as room sprays. And like essential oils, that can be blended together to create synergies.

Hydrosols can also be added to carrier oils, along with essential oils, to heighten the essential oils’ therapeutic value. For instance, adding a little lavender hydrosol to a massage blend containing lavender essential oil will enhance the lavender, and essentially make the blend "complete" by utilising both the water-soluble and oil-soluble components of the lavender.

The internal use of hydrosols is still being explored, and should be considered cautiously. But studies do show that, for example, taking controlled doses of chamomile hydrosol orally can ease intestinal spasms.

Purchasing And Storage

True hydrosols should be colourless, or at most contain only a light sheen. If you pick up a bottle of neroli water and it is decidedly orange, put it back down.

Also, remember that not all hydrosols have a pleasant aroma, particularly those obtained from herbs.

Because hydrosols are all natural, they contain no preservatives and therefore deteriorate over time. The usual lifespan of a hydrosol is a year, and they are best stored in the refrigerator.

Editor's Note. Please be careful when applying hydrosols to eyes or broken skin if there is no preservative as bacterial or fungal contamination is possible.

Sharing Aromatherapy, March 1999