A true hydrosol or hydrolat is the flower water that is collected when plants are steam distilled for their essential oils. Hydrosols have a delicate nature and a light aroma which is similar to the property of the plant’s essential oil but greatly diluted. They are ideal for situations that require gentle skincare.
Until I started studying natural skincare and herbal beauty, I’d never heard of a hydrosol or hydrolate. This greatly undervalued natural beauty ingredient is fairly ubiquitous in some country’s cuisines and I’m sure most people have heard of orange blossom water or rose water and maybe even cooked with them. Unfortunately the typical ‘flower waters’ sold in the supermarkets tend not to the pure product – sometimes they contain alcohol or other solvents with some fragrance added in. This is certainly not a true hydrosol and probably not something you should be using in your cooking anyway if you can instead get hold of the actual flower water instead!
Essential Oils & Hydrosols
When plants are steam distilled for their essential oils, this process will release several compounds – some of which are soluble in water and will therefore end up in the hydrosol at the end of the process. Hydrosols contain the water from the distillation process as well as the herbal extracts from the plant. The essential oil droplets will float on top of this distillate and these tiny quantities are then removed to be sold.
Hydrosols are often considered a by-product of essential oil production and many unfortunately go down the drain as waste water from the distillation process. Thankfully some essential oil producers are now starting to view hydrosols as beauty products for sale in their own right and are consequently producing high quality flower waters as part of their distillation process.
Choose your supplier wisely
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t poor quality hydrosols out there. When plant material is distilled in closed equipment, which happens in large-scale production units, there is little chance of contamination. However, some producers use open stills which may not always meet hygiene criteria, creating the possibility of contaminants getting into your hydrosol before you’ve even bought any. Because a hydrosol is essentially a distilled water that contains various plant extracts, it is important that production meets strict criteria to prevent microbial activity.
It is precisely because of this risk that some suppliers add alcohol or preservatives (parabens, etc.) to hydrosols before selling them on to you in order to prevent any contamination and extend their shelf life. They sometimes do not declare these preservatives on the labels either making it hard for you to know what you’re buying. Nonetheless, there are some great suppliers out there who sell top quality hydrosols and it is these companies you should be looking for as they will provide you with a pure beauty ingredient that contains the skincare properties you want.
Beauty properties of hydrosols
Hydrosols can contain compounds that are only soluble in water and are not always contained within the final essential oil associated with that plant or flower. As they are highly diluted, they are very gentle and can be used for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Hydrosols make ideal toners as they are cooling and refreshing but can also be used as spritzers to set make-up, refresh your facial skin or create your own body mist. Some people even use them as room sprays or to freshen their linen around the house!
References and Further Reading
Catty, S. 2001. Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy