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June 12, 2023
Essential oils often take centre stage in the world of plant extracts. But there are lots of other fabulous ingredients that can also compliment your natural ingredient pantry. One them is hydrosol. With so many great uses for this gentle ingredient, especially in summer skincare, I knew I had to let you guys know about some key ways to use a few popular hydrosols to get your inspiration going.
What is a hydrosol?
Essential oils can be extracted from plants using steam distillation, a process that involves plant material being placed over steam. As the steam goes through the plant material under pressurized conditions, it breaks open the cells of the plant releasing scented molecules into the top of the still. The gas then passes into the cooling part of the unit where cooling coils cool down the gases making them return to a liquid state. In the final catch basin are two products; the essential oil and a water. The essential oil floats on top, while the substance underneath is the water. Over time, this water has been known by a few names including hydrosol, hydrolat, distillate and floral water.
One of the great benefits of hydrosols is that they are gentle enough to use on the skin directly without being diluted. Regardless, an allergy test is always in order when trying something new.
What is the difference between a hydrosol and a floral water?
Originally, the term hydrosol was coined by Jeanne Rose in the 1990’s; “hydro” meaning water and “sol” meaning solution. Hydrosols, although beautiful products and great for skincare, have a short shelf life. To elongate the shelf life with a similar product, companies began making “floral water” which is essential oil in water, with added preservative and probably containing a solubilizer. When buying for an aromatherapy pantry, I encourage buyers to look for the terminology and ingredients on the label. Does it say that it is a floral water? In that case, it is probably essential oil in water and may not have the same uses and effects as the hydrosol. They do, however, make great room sprays.
Note that essential oils on their own are not soluble in water so if you are trying to make floral waters at home, placing your favourite oil in water and mixing it won’t work. Essential oils can be dispersed by fatty acids. This is why they are called essential “oils”; they are oil soluble.
What are the beneficial properties of hydrosols for the skin?
Below are some of my favourite hydrosols and their uses.
Frankincense hydrosol (distilled from Boswellia carterri)
Frankincense is a great hydrosol to use as a facial toner, especially at night. Beneficial for mature skin, this hydrosol may improve tone to tired skin and help with fine lines and wrinkles. Gently do a facial cleanse, spray the hydrosol on a cotton pad and use as a toner. The scent will be very calming before bedtime.
I love frankincense hydrosol for lotions. Even through heating it gently, the scent is retained in the final product. Keep this in mind if you want to add it to your lotions. Adding a bit of a complimentary scent like rose will create a wonderfully scented relaxing lotion.
Helichrysum hydrosol (distilled from Helichrysum italicum)
Helichrysum hydrosol is a great one to use on sensitive skin, dull skin, or for minor cuts and irritations. As a toner it may help to brighten the skin. It is an anti-inflammatory and may help people with very sensitive skin on the face.
If you do a lot of gardening, keep some helichrysum hydrosol in your fridge to spray on the scrapes that come with pruning bushes.
I like to use this hydrosol in a liquid or foaming face wash. It helps to cleanse the skin without tightening and redness. Helichrysum hydrosol is a middle note that I think requires a second note to make the overall scent more appealing. Depending on your skin I would pair it with a floral such as geranium for mature skin or a wood oil such as cedarwood for oily skin.
Lavender hydrosol (distilled from Lavandula angustifolia)
Of course our beloved lavender creates a multi-purpose hydrosol. You can use this on your skin after sun exposure to help ease the effects of reddened skin. Or use it to calm the skin after shaving.
It is also anti-inflammatory and will help with itching. Use lavender hydrosol to cut down on the itching from insect bites. Many insects don’t like lavender. Spray this hydrosol on a cotton pad and leave it in an ant path to deter ants in the home. Or spritz it into a closet that isn’t opened much during the summer months.
Lavender hydrosol is another one that I like to use in a face wash. It has so many beneficial properties for so many different skin types, it’s worth having in your collection.
Orange blossom hydrosol (Neroli), (distilled from Citrus arantium)
I love the smell of neroli. This is not a usual floral scent where I live so when I come across it, it always has wow factor. Neroli is an expensive essential oil, which may be out of reach for some people’s budgets. Bring on the neroli hydrosol!
Hydrosols and oils that come from the flowers of plants tend to be our face oils. The flower is the face of the plant. Use neroli as a toner after cleansing for all skin types. It is especially beneficial for dry skin. Blend this with frankincense hydrosol for mature skin.
Neroli hydrosol is beautiful and complex enough on its own to use as a perfume, room spray or linen spray. Like the essential oil, neroli calms stress. It’s worth trying this one if you are a fan of florals.
Peppermint hydrosol (distilled from Mentha piperita)
This hydrosol has a fresh clean scent which makes a great room spray, in particular for a kids room or the bathroom. It helps to project energy into your environment. Give a spritz to a closet that doesn’t get opened as much in the summertime. Using peppermint and lavender hydrosol together in a lotion will make a lovely freshly scented product.
Rose hydrosol (distilled from Rosa damacena)
Rose can be a delicate floral scent but it is unmistakeable. As another one of our flower hydrosols, rose hydrosol is great to use on the skin as a toner. You can wear it as a perfume, or use it as a room or linen spray. It is important to understand your history with the scent of roses as some people find the scent to be too vintage. As a heart opening plant, rose hydrosol can be used to help you through tough times providing emotional balance and a sense of well being. It is one of my favourite oils to use in facial moisturizer as it is good for so many skin types.
Elevate your powder room space or Airbnb with a small glass bowl of rose water and one or two floating roses. The scent will fill the room with an extra touch of TLC and ambiance.
Tea Tree hydrosol (distilled from Melaleuca alternifolia)
If you like tea tree essential oil, you will probably love the hydrosol. Use this as a facial toner for acne prone skin, to balance the skin tone and open up the pores. The scent is lighter than the essential oil and soothing on the skin. Tea tree is an antifungal. Pair this with peppermint or lemongrass hydrosol for a cooling summer foot mist.
Witch Hazel (distilled from Hamamelis virginiana)
Witch hazel is often referred to as a distillate. It is distilled from the cut and partially dried, twigs and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana Linn plant. Witch hazel is known for its astringent properties and can be beneficial for acne prone skin. It is also great for minor cuts and bruises, burns and insect bites.
Witch hazel is sold both with, and without alcohol as an added ingredient. I recommend going the extra distance and looking for witch hazel without the alcohol. This will make it much safer for you and better for your formula, to add to a personal recipe.
Did you know that you can use hydrosols to water your plants?
If your hydrosol is nearing the end of its shelf life, dilute the hydrosol in distilled water and use it in moderation to water your plants. I use the hydrosol on the plant that it came from, for example, rose hydrosol waters a rose plant. Once it reaches the end of its shelf life however, you need to dispose of it. Mold is mold. Check with your local waste disposal guidelines to see if your region considers hydrosol a hazardous substance in which case you may need to drive to a specific facility to dispose of it.
How should I store a hydrosol?
Make sure that your hydrosol is stored in a cool environment, preferably your fridge. Exposing a hydrolat to light and heat will shorten its shelf life. The shelf life a hydrosol will vary, so check with your supplier. However, plan on using it within a year of purchase and buy your quantity accordingly.
Unlike essential oils, hydrosols are usually packaged in clear or frosted containers. This is so that you can keep your eyes open for floating particles. This is called “blooming” and it is mold and fungus growth. If you see blooming in your hydrosol, you can no longer use it. You will also know if your hydrosol has expired if it smells “off”.
Hydrosols can be a wonderful addition to your apothecary cabinet. As gentler ingredients than essential oils, you can use them quite safely to soothe the skin. They also make excellent room refreshers without adding any fuss to a recipe.
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