Hydrosols are water-based products made from the distillation of fresh flowers, leaves, fruits, and other plant materials. They’re a byproduct of the essential oil manufacturing process and share many of the same properties as essential oils.
The difference is that hydrosols are mostly water. This means they’re much less concentrated than essential oils. They also have a softer, more subtle scent.
Hydrosols are often used in skin care or aromatherapy products. While they’ve also been used for medicinal purposes, more research is needed to prove their effectiveness.
Keep reading to learn about how hydrosols are used and their purported benefits.
Hydrosol products should be used with caution, since they’re not regulated by any governing body and there’s a lack of scientific research about their safety and effectiveness.
Hydrosols are water-based products made from the distillation — by water or steam — of plant matter. The distilling process produces two end-products:
- Essential oil: the oil-soluble parts of the plant
- Hydrosol: the water-soluble parts of the plant (this liquid also contains microscopic drops of essential oil)
Many different types of plants can be made into hydrosols — not just flowers but also bark, roots, and other plant components like leaves.
Essential oils and hydrosols have some similar properties, but hydrosols have a much higher water content.
This means they’re gentler than essential oils and can be applied directly to your skin without needing to dilute them with a carrier oil. They also have a more subtle scent than their essential oil counterparts.
Hydrosols may be used in a variety of products, including:
- skin toners
- alternative medicines
They can even flavor drinks and other foods.
There’s a lack of scientific research on the benefits of hydrosols. But anecdotal evidence suggests that certain plants converted into hydrosols may be useful in several ways.
For example, here are some plants and a few of their purported benefits:
- Lavender: calming, relaxation
- Rose: astringent, perfume
- Lemon balm: stress relief
- Curry: cooling the skin
- Witch hazel: skin cleanser
- Chamomile: skin cleanser
Some hydrosols — such as lavender, chamomile, and the curry plant — have carboxylic acids. These acids may target and reduce inflammation, according to research from 2016.
One older 2008 study suggested that rose hydrosols may help people with insomnia. However, it’s important to note that the most effective rose hydrosol in the study contained more essential oil than the other hydrosols examined.
More research is needed to prove the effectiveness of hydrosols.
Hydrosols sweetened with sugar or honey are used as nutritive waters in the Middle East. There are more than 50 kinds of these hydrosols available in Iran, but they’re not available elsewhere in the world.
Hydrosols may also be used in products not intended for oral use. These include:
- skin and makeup products, like toners, creams, and other emollients
- topical creams for wounds, inflammation, or soothing the skin
- body products like deodorant or perfume
- aromatherapy products that can be diffused into the air
There are many hydrosol products available commercially.
Consider the manufacturer along with any other added ingredients before purchasing and using them. Fragrances and dyes may irritate your skin if you apply the product topically.
There’s not a substantial amount of evidence regarding the safety of hydrosols in the United States. Like essential oils, hydrosols aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, you use them at your own risk.
But there’s a scant amount of research in Western culture on hydrosols and their safety.
In the United States, using aromatherapy and other types of plant-based medicines is considered a complementary or alternative therapy. This means they are treatment methods outside of conventional medicine.
Complementary medicine is when you use these products along with medicines or therapies prescribed by your doctor. Alternative medicines are when you use these products in place of conventional medicines.
These therapies lack definitive research. That’s why they’re not proven as scientifically based treatments.
You should talk with a doctor before ingesting these products. Discuss how these treatments might interact with other medications you take. Stop using them if you have a reaction.
Hydrosols can be made intentionally or as a byproduct in the essential oil distillation process.
Look for products intentionally made as hydrosols. These may be of higher quality. Manufacturers of specific hydrosol products versus those packaging the byproduct may put more care and attention into the product they produce.
Hydrosols should be packaged in bottles similar to essential oils. Dark bottles prevent light from altering the product. Also avoid overheating hydrosol products.
Manufacturers create hydrosols with steam, water, or a combination of both. In some distillation techniques, herbs sit above heated water.
Equipment captures the steam, moves the vapor into equipment that can condense it, and then extracts it as hydrosols.
You can make hydrosols at home along with essential oils. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 heatproof bowls (a large one and a small one)
- 1 large pot
- several cups of the plant you intend to distill (don’t just think of flowers when gathering plants; other parts of the plant may also be used)
- Place the large bowl upside down in the pot, with the small bowl resting right-side up on top.
- Place the plant parts in the pot but not in the bowl, then cover the plants with water.
- Place the lid on the pot and add ice on the top of the lid. It may be easier to turn the lid upside down to rest the ice on top of it.
- Turn on your burner. Once the water boils, reduce the heat on the burner so the water simmers. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Replace melted ice on the pot’s lid as needed. At the end of this steaming process, open the pot of the lid. The hydrosol will be in your small bowl. Oils floating on top of the water are essential oils, and you can skim these off the water if you desire.
- Store homemade hydrosols in the refrigerator or another cool place, preferably in dark containers.
Flower waters vs. hydrosols
Recipes to create flower waters exist, but these are not hydrosols. Flower waters are made by adding plants to water, then exposing them to the sun for a period of time.
These types of flower waters are similar to products like Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Research from 2010 on these products shows that they’re no more effective than placebos.
Hydrosols are a water-based product made from plants. You may consider using them for a variety of purposes, such as on your skin or in your bath water.
In the Middle East, sweetened hydrosol beverages are popular because of their purported medicinal value.
Use hydrosols with caution. There’s not a lot of scientific evidence on their safety or effectiveness, and they’re not regulated by the FDA.