Question: Is hydrosol better/safer than essential oils?
(submitted by someone in our IG community)
Answer: I would not say that one is better than the other, both have the potential to be therapeutic and as with most things there are varying degrees of quality of both hydrosols and essential oils on the market. Hydrosols (also known as hydrolats or essential waters), however, are without a doubt safer to work with than undiluted EOs for the simple fact that the essential oils present in hydrosols are diluted.
Hydrosols and Essential Oils are both the product of steam/hydro distillation. In a typical distillation, many pounds of fresh, aromatic herb are loaded into a copper or stainless steel still with fresh spring water. The pot containing the herbs and water is heated by a flame the resulting steam travels through ice cold coils, causing the herbaceous volatile oil rich steam to condense. The distiller has the option to collect the EO or to let it mix into the condensed steam water, now trickling out of the still and being collected in a sanitized bottle.
Here at Suntrap we distill in a copper alembic still with fresh botanicals from gardens and fields that we tend ourselves or from nearby small farms we are in community with to produce hydrosol as the primary goal of our distillation. This is worth noting because most large companies sell hydrosol that is made as the byproduct of a distillation in which collecting essential oil is the primary goal. We prefer to let the fresh essential oils drip into our hydrosol in minute amounts where they lend their virtues in dilute amounts to our final product. So in other words, we do not separate the EO from the hydrosol.
Essential oils are incredibly potent/concentrated and the vast majority of them are unsafe to work with undiluted or to consume internally. I don’t think it really soaked in for me how potent they are until I started distilling plant matter myself and could observe how pounds and pounds of plant material produced mere drops of EO. The national demand for essential oil combined with the massive amount of plant material required to collect essential oil alone as the goal of a distillation is a recipe for the exploitation of plants/landscapes/entire ecosystems. (According to Ecowatch, 10,000 pounds of rose petals are required to make 1 pound of rose EO. 6000 pounds of lemon balm for 1 pound of lemon balm EO)
There are certainly people and small companies distilling essential oil from plants in landscapes they are responsibly stewarding, but because it takes SO much plant material to scale an EO distilling operation, most EOs on the market are unsustainably produced. Go ahead and google “Young Living Rosewood Lawsuit” to learn about the practices of mainstream EO companies - in that particular case, trafficking a protected plant out of Peru to make EO for Americans. Just one case of many. Is there a way that we can find a connection to nature and aromatherapy that does not involve devastating native ecosystems to mono-crop and harvest massive amounts of plant material? Or trafficking culturally important plants out of other countries? In short, yes. I want to be clear that it is not your fault, the consumer, if you have been lead to believe that EO is just like buying tea or infused oil (products that require much, much less plant materials and land for comparison.) Which brings me to another point about these mass produced, commercially available essential oils…
The Multi Level Marketing aspect of the modern EO landscape is well designed but truly depressing. MLMs historically target women and people in financial situations that are not great. If you are not aware of the predatory structure of MLMs, it is very well documented if you want to look into it. More lawsuits. Love & Light confessionals has a podcast specially about essential oil MLMs. People selling MLM essential oils (such as Young Living or doTerra) are under pressure to sell EO or risk loosing money / going into debt. They also may not be trained herbalists and may have learned most if not all of what they know about essential oils from the companies they are selling for. Because of the pressure of MLMs to sell and the lack of education about essential oils, they end of recommending their use for many more applications than is appropriate and even recommending EO for internal use, which is ill advised. The preciousness of essential oils is lost when this particularly predatory arm of capitalism reaches in.
I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that essential oils are bad! Just that mass produced essential oil that is produced in an ethical way is tricky to find. There is also a question of adulteration of product by some of the most commercial, mass produced essential oil companies, but I am not getting into that right now. There is a company, Appalachian Botanicals, who I came across recently. They are growing lavender in West Virginia and distilling it on site. They have impressive social & community initiatives and lots of transparency. Adding this example of an exceptional example of a responsible EO company to add nuance to the conversation.
As with all things: let’s examine our sources.
Okay, but what about Hydrosols???
Hydrosols balance our skin’s PH and equalize oil and water. They are mildly astringent, toning the pours and locking in moisture. Hydrosols absorb readily into the skin and are applied after cleansing and before (& after for extra dry skin) moisturizing. Apply hydrosols throughout the day to freshen up the complexion and get a dose of stress relieving aromatherapy. Depending on the plant that is distilled, hydrosols have all kinds of beneficial properties. From anti-inflammatory, to antibacterial, to hydrating. We make our small batch distillation with whatever herbs are in season that make excellent hydrosols. We pack each order with an info card detailing the herbs in your seasonal hydrosol. Often mother nature knows what we need better than we do.
The only ingredients in this hydrosol are artisan well water and the fresh botanicals from our land that we pack into our copper alembic still. The hydrosol is bottled and refrigerated immediately until it’s ready for the shipping studio. True hydrosols contain no preservatives. As a result, their shelf life is between 6-12 months, extended to 24 months if you keep the hydrosol refrigerated.
To tone, simply spray Botanical Waters hydrosol on your face after washing up. While your face is still wet, it’s time to moisturize with The Healer balm! For extra dry skin relief, spritz Botanical Waters on face again after moisturizing.