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Hydrosols vs. Essential Oils

Understanding Hydrosols Hydrosols are closely linked to essential oils, but not many know how, or when to when to use them. We tend to enjoy them spontaneously! Just grab a hydrosol and use it as a spritz to refresh the face, shift the energy in an instant, or simply enjoy the aroma as a subtle [...]

Understanding Hydrosols

Hydrosols are closely linked to essential oils, but not many know how, or when to when to use them. We tend to enjoy them spontaneously! Just grab a hydrosol and use it as a spritz to refresh the face, shift the energy in an instant, or simply enjoy the aroma as a subtle air freshener. They work great in the car too.

What we hear from our Ananda Family is often that the hydrosol does not ‘smell’ like the flower or ‘as good as’ the oil they know. But that’s the point! They are not supposed to. They never will either. Hydrosols offer a completely different experience and aroma because, after all, the hydrosol is the byproduct of the distillation process While they come from the same plant and plant part as an oil does, the essence is entirely different.


What are Hydrosols?

Hydrosols, also known as aromatic water, distillate water or floral water. This is the by-product of the essential oil. This by-product is produced during the hydro-distillation process. In this process, water is evaporated together with the plant’s essential oil. It all takes place in a temperature controlled operation –let’s call it– ‘a heated container’, in which the evaporated vapors condense and liquify. That liquid is then collected in two phases. These phases are the essential oil phase and the hydrosol phase [1]. Each of these phases in this distillation process is enriched with varying amounts of the volatile constituents which comprise the whole plant, and display different degrees of water solubility.


What are Hydrosols used for?

As hydrosols are aromatic waters, research shows they are typically considered to be extremely safe beverages which are used for medicinal purposes. In fact, aromatic waters that are produced from hydrodistillation are further diluted to a 1:8 to 1:12 ratio in order to improve their palatability [2]. Most hydrosols are monoherbal, but some are polyherbal in that they contain volatile compounds from a mixture of plant compounds.

Although studies show they are considered safe to drink, in the aromatherapy world, most use hydrosols as topical sprays. We’ll get to this in a moment.


The Difference Between Hydrosols and Essential Oils

How do Hydrosols differ from Essential Oils?

Although hydrosols and essential oils are produced in a similar fashion (i.e. hydrodistillation), the end products are from two completely distinct phases. In contrast to pure essential oils sold at Ananda Apothecary, hydrosols are super-diluted with water and contain more water-soluble compounds than lipophilic (fat-soluble) ones. Essential oils can be thought of as a super-concentrate of the plant compound which was hydro-distilled, whereas hydrosols can be thought of as a milder, less potent and less concentrated solution of the beneficial compounds extracted from the plant.

Because of the super-concentration of beneficial soluble and lipophilic plant compounds in essential oils, they can be applied topically to the skin to confer positive health outcomes. Unlike hydrosols which are diluted and rarely contain lipophilic compounds, essential oils can be rapidly absorbed through the skin and are detected in the bloodstream shortly after. One study showed that the topical application of essential oils resulted in a reduction of severity of arthritis [3]. In contrast, hydrosols are not as efficacious when topically applied and are instead routinely absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract after oral consumption.

This does not necessarily mean one can not spritz a hydrosol on the skin or face. It simply means the absorption rate is not as potent as the essential oil would be. Further, the aromatic benefit of the hydrosol can work, much like an essential oil, due to the olfactory system and the way it transmits information for subtle shifts.

Skin Absorption

How does the skin absorb these compounds?

The absorption of creams, mists and essential oils via the skin depends on many factors – the type of skin, the origin of skin as well as the physical and chemical properties of the tested compound and delivery systems within. Unlike hydrosols, essential oils have “penetration enhancers” which increase their ability to diffuse through the skin without damaging skin cells. Examples of these “penetration enhancers” include fatty acids (e.g. oleic acid, caprylic acid, lauric acid etc.), pyrrolidones and polyols (e.g. glycerol and propylene glycol). Hydrosols which usually only contain water-soluble compounds are lacking in these “penetration enhancers” and therefore do not penetrate the skin as effectively as essential oils [4].

Because essential oils contain much higher concentrations of terpenes (e.g. monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and triterpenes), they are promising non-toxic and non-irritating penetration enhancers of the skin. Hydrosols do contain terpenes as a phase 2 by-product of hydrodistillation, but they are diluted to a degree that this becomes inconsequential.

How to Use a Hydrosol for the Skin?

Since hydrosols are more subtle, they tend to be more gentle on the skin and can be used several times a day, much like a face mist. Hydrosols can be used in combination with an oil, even a carrier oil to help the oil be absorbed into the skin. Hydrosols are most often used as skin toners or quick hydration spritzers. Try misting the face several times a day and see the difference for yourself. The slight detection of an aroma is the bonus. Hydrosols make for wonderful face wipes or make up removers, by adding them to a cotton pad or tissue. Another idea is to add hydrosols as the water when making a face mask.


1. Hamedi, A., et al., An Overview on Indications and Chemical Composition of Aromatic Waters (Hydrosols) as Functional Beverages in Persian Nutrition Culture and Folk Medicine for Hyperlipidemia and Cardiovascular Conditions. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 2017. 22(4): p. 544-561.

2. Hamedi, A., M. Afifi, and H. Etemadfard, Investigating Chemical Composition and Indications of Hydrosol Soft Drinks (Aromatic Waters) Used in Persian Folk Medicine for Women’s Hormonal and Reproductive Health Conditions. Journal of evidence-based complementary & alternative medicine, 2017.22(4): p. 824-839.

3. Komeh-Nkrumah, S.A., et al., Topical dermal application of essential oils attenuates the severity of adjuvant arthritis in Lewis rats. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 2012. 26(1): p. 54-59.

4. Herman, A. and A.P. Herman, Essential oils and their constituents as skin penetration enhancer for transdermal drug delivery: a review. J Pharm Pharmacol, 2015.67(4): p. 473-85.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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