The Difference Between Hydrolats And Hydrosols

People ask “What’s the difference between hydrolats and hydrosols?” Oh, if only it was a simple answer because there are others words also used to mean the same thing; Flower Waters, Hydrolates as well as the very old terms, Aromatic Waters and Spirituous Waters. So, let’s go through just what is a hydrosol, and learn more about using hydrosols in skincare.

Using hydrosols in skincare has been around for a very long time. Traditionally, when a fresh herb like lavender or rosemary was gathered and stuffed into a distillation machine, it was boiled in water which broke up the molecular structure of the plant material. As the water boiled, steam went up a pipe and carried the lighter molecules that had been released from the herbs.

Photo of a copper distillation unit.This pipe then went into a condensation spiral to cool down and was collected in a container. The essential oil from the plant floated to the surface and the water underneath was called the flower water. It’s a little confusing even from that early stage a, often, it was barks, leaves, twigs, roots, and leaves that were distilled, not just the flowers, so calling it “flower water” was not strictly accurate, but everyone knew what it meant and understood what it was. The processing system is still pretty much the same now – just on a huge scale.

Different cultures used this very differently. In Europe, it was originally considered to be a waste product, and it was only the essential oil that had any value. Then people began to realize that it had similar properties to the essential oil and was a valuable product in its own right. In the Middle East, around Lebanon, the same process happened but the pre-soaking and distillation took much longer. This broke the materials down to a much greater degree and the resulting oil/water mix can smell quite disgusting. It was bottled and left to mature for a year, during which time the electrons and molecules in the containers slowly rearranged themselves until the product was ready.

The essential oil floated on top but was only used to stop the water from going brackish. The essential oil was not considered valuable at all and was a semi waste product. The water distillate was the prize and after it had matured, smelled incredible. I spent some time training in this method and can confirm that waters processed this way are exquistie – but they are also extremely rare and therefore, very expensive. They don’t just use hydrosols in skincare; it is quite common there to spray a little Orange Blossom Hydrosol onto your morning coffee. I can confirm that it is delicious!

photo of a man with a damp face with a text overlay "The difference between hydrolats and hydrosols and how to use them for all skin types including acne, eczema, and psoriasis"

 

How Can You Tell A Fake Hydrosol?

You have to start by knowing that there is a relatively new technique whereby a small amount of essential oil is solubilized into the water and sold as a flower water. There is no strict legal definition between any of the names, so for simplicity, I am going to say that the water from distillation is a hydrosol and the water that has essential oil distilled in it is a pseudo-hydrosol or hydrolat. Other people may disagree with me and say just the opposite, and many retailers use all the words in their marketing with total disregard for any customer understanding. I no longer use the term Flower Waters at all.

There is a difference between Hydrolats and Hydrosols as they are different products, but they both have desirable attributes. Some Hydrosols (that’s the steam distilled type) like Geranium can smell a bit “catty” and not as you would expect. It’s still a good therapeutic product though. The Geranium Hydrolat or Pseudo-Hydrosol (that’s the essential oil in water type) usually has a better fragrance, as expected.

As they are all functional, I don’t consider hydrolats to be “fake” hydrosols. They are only fake if they have been incorrectly described and are sold claiming to be something that they are not. Using hydrosols in skincare in big business and many sellers are not clear about what they sell and others are downright dishonest or stupid! You always have to double-check the label and description to ensure you can see the dirfeerence between whether it is a hydrolat or a hydrosol and you know what you are getting.

For each of the waters I write about here, I have sought out the Hydrosol (the steam distillation) only, to make it easier for you to be sure of what you are buying. If there is not an option showing for the country you live in, that will be because I could not find one where I was happy with the quality.

Using Hydrosols In Skincare And What Are Hydrosols Good For?

Using hydrosols in skincare is not the only function they have and they can be used in so many ways. Think of them as a water-soluble version of an essential oil that can be safely sprayed onto your skin as they are. You can use them to blend face masks, fragrance rooms, fragrance yourself, and even use them in cooking. I like to use them as part of the water stage when making gels, creams, and lotions. There is a great Rose Water & Niacinamide Spray Formulation that can easily be adapted to use any of the Hydrosols below. Blending a couple of them together gives amazing results – you should try Rose Hydrosol and Orange Blossom Hydrosol after you have watched this video – it’s incredible!

How Do You Use Rose Hydrosol In Skincare?

This is probably one of the most well-known hydrosols. It is said that rose is the world’s most liked fragrance in every culture, closely followed by vanilla. Remember that this hydrosol is the water from steam distilling rose petals to make the rose oil. It takes about a quarter of a million rose petals to make just 5ml of the oil, so you can see it is quite labor-intensive. The process is believed to have been developed centuries ago in Persia.

Using Rose Hydrosol in skincare is desirable for several reasons;

  • It is well tolerated and beneficial for all skin types. It is so gentle to your skin, it can even be used on babies
  • It’s a great humectant which means it moisturizes your skin and it helps your skin to retain that vital moisture
  • It revitalizes dry and mature skin and helps to balance sensitive skin to be more resilient
  • It controls and balances sebum production making ideal for both dry and oily skin
  • It is gently antiseptic and cooling when used on the skin. It is ideal to use after cleansing or before applying your normal moisturizer
  • Rose Hydrosol contains antioxidants that are essential for fighting free radicals that would damage your skin
  • It can help with PMS, cramps and associated mood swings – it’s great to restore some calm

         

What Is Orange Blossom Hydrosol Good For?

This is another popular hydrosol that is well suited to all skin types. It has a haunting, dry aroma and is made by steam distillation of orange blossom. I live in Valencia, Spain and the city has orange trees on every street to provide shade and also look attractive. The fragrance across the whole city when the trees are in bloom is incredible and you can feel how much it affects people – they are pretty chilled here even before the blooming!

Here are some things you may not have known about Orange Blossom Hydrolat;

  • It’s gentle enough to use on a baby’s skin and has benefits for all skin types
  • It has a slight astringency which feels comfortable on the skin and makes it effective for acne-prone and greasy skin
  • Irritated skin is calmed and soothed – that’s good for acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • It helps to smooth the skin and keep it moisturized. This is excellent is after-sun products
  • Spritz a little on your pillow at night to get restful sleep
  • It’s antispasmodic, antifungal, and antibacterial
  • Surprisingly helpful at breaking addictive habits whether that be smoking, drinking, or other destructive behaviors.

        

What Is Frankincense Hydrosol Used For?

Frankincense is steam distilled from a gum/resin. The plant is a small tree with woody stems that exude a resin when the bark is cut, and these “tears” of frankincense take about 3 months to harden up before they can be cut off and then steam distilled to produce frankincense essential oil. The water condensate is collected and this is the Frankincense Hydrolat that is so effective in skincare. In Biblical times, the resin would be left to soak in some water for a while before being taken out and dried for future use. That water was often drunk, used to clean wounds and was used like a hydrosol in skincare.

  • Frankincense Hydrolat can be used neat on the skin and is very good at toning and refining the texture of the skin
  • It’s suitable for all skin types but especially beneficial for mature skin where it strengthens the skin and has a strong, regenerative effect
  • Wonderful to use on acne-prone skin as it is antibacterial and calms down inflammation. It also helps to heal acne scars faster.
  • It helps to dry up excess mucus and expel phlegm from the lungs when sprayed on the back and chest
  • Wonderfully calming when used in an aromatherapy diffuser
  • Very good for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Helps to slow down the visible signs of skin aging. Mix with powdered clay to make a toning facial mask

         

Using Chamomile Hydrosol In Skincare

This is produced by the steam distillation of chamomile flowers when making chamomile essential oil. There are several varieties of chamomile plants, but they share a lot of similar properties. This is a very strong smelling hydrosol and you may want to blend it with other hydrosols in skincare use.

  • Chamomile Hydrolat calms and tones the skin in a very strong, but gentle way
  • It’s gentle enough to be used on babies, but it is best to use it diluted as it is very potent and effective in small amounts
  • It has an astringency that makes it excellent for acne-prone skin. It tightens the pores, calms down any irritation, and reduces the redness of the skin
  • Excellent to lose those eye bags! Soak cotton pads and place them on your eyes while lying down. The astringency cools and tightens the under-eye area. This is really soothing during hayfever season
  • Excellent for inflamed eczema and psoriasis – it soothes and reduces inflammation
  • Very handy to spray in a bedroom prior to going to bed. Makes it easier to get off to sleep. Works very well with kids and babies
  • Spray directly onto your feet as it is antifungal and soothes any athlete’s foot type problems

         

What Does Lavender Hydrosol Do?

Lavender Hydrosol is another very well-known product that is so often either adulterated or synthetically produced to make linen waters for ironing. Get the real thing though, and you will really benefit from using the true steam distilled water. It’s a great hydrosol to have around the house and can be used neat or blended. Perfect as a room freshener or directly on the skin as a soothing aftershave. It’s one of the most versatile hydrosols in skincare.

A very wrinkled, old man's face and a text overlay "Lavender Hydrosol Smooths out fine lines & wrinkles"

  • Lavender Hydrosol has wonderful anti-aging skin benefits including smoothing out fine lines and firming the skin
  • Helps to control sebum production so is a must-have for oily and acne-prone skin
  • Takes away the sting of sunburn
  • Spray a little on your pillow to ease your way into sleep – only a little, as too much, can be a stimulant
  • Has a gentle astringency which makes it very rejuvenating in facial products
  • Can be used neat but is often better when blended with other hydrolats
  • Calms any irritated skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis

         

Is Rosemary Hydrosol Good For Hair And Skincare?

A Rosemary rinse is a well-established thing for your hair, but who actually ever does it? Rosemary Hydrosol is a really easy way to get the benefits of the herb in a very accessible way. Here are some other great ideas.

  • It’s a good tonic for the skin and makes an excellent aftershave spray
  • Rosemary Hydrosol brightens the complexion and helps to unblock pores
  • It’s wonderful at clearing the air in a room and making it easier to breathe
  • It’s excellent for acne-prone skin because it is antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory
  • Spray it directly onto your hair to soften, condition, and add shine. It’s also a great way to revive and refresh your hair if you have been somewhere smoky
  • When diffused, it gives clarity and helps to focus your thoughts – wonderful if you have to study

         

 

How Do You Use Tea Tree Hydrosol In Skincare?

This is produced by steam distillation of the tree foliage of the tea tree itself. Some people find the aroma very “medicinal” but I like it and think it is wonderfully fresh. It is very functional and does work very well.

  • Tea Tree Hydrosol is almost a first aid kit – spray it on cuts, scrapes, and wounds
  • Excellent to use on eczema and psoriasis 
  • Very good for someone with acne and even better if combined with Lavender Hydrosol. If you don’t have a chance to shower after working out or running to work, a quick body spritz with Tea Tree Hydrosol will freshen you up
  • Spray it directly on your feet as it is a good antifungal. Spray it directly into shoes and trainers to clean them out
  • Very useful for cleaning and disinfecting the air when used in a diffuser and especially useful in the winter season

         

Using Geranium Hydrosol In Skincare

Geranium Hydrosol is one of the steam distilled waters that you would expect to smell gorgeous, but it often doesn’t have a hugely pleasant aroma. It’s not gross, but it’s not pretty either. It’s worth using though, as it has some extremely desirable attributes that you won’t find in any other hydrolats.

  • Can be used by all skin types and is balancing for dry and oily skin to behave more like normal skin
  • Wonderful for reducing the appearance of thread veins/spider veins on the face
  • Balancing for acne-prone skin. It has a slight astringency which tightens the pores and cleanses the problem areas
  • Geranium Hydrosol is a great hair conditioner – spray it directly onto your hair for shiny locks
  • It helps to keep your skin hydrated and moisturized when used regularly
  • Be aware that the true hydrosol (product of steam distillation) does not always smell as attractive as the essential oil does. However, it’s still an excellent hydrosol to use and can always be blended with other hydrosols
  • Spray neat onto areas of rough skin like elbows, knees, and feet as it is very softening

         

What Is Peppermint Hydrosol Good For?

It takes 1 kg of peppermint leaves to produce 1 litre of Peppermint Hydrosol. This ratio is important, so the product is standardized and always of good quality. A couple of tablespoons in a glass of water really helps flatulence and digestive upsets. It can be used in several ways, mostly related to cooling down. It has an instant effect and is one of my favorite hydrosols in skincare.

Close up photo of a man with corn row hair braids and a text overlay "Peppermint Hydrosol soothes an itchy scalp"

  • Peppermint Hydrosol is best known for being cooling for the skin and is wonderful to spritz on your face and neck in hot weather
  • It soothes itchiness whether that be from eczema, psoriasis, or insect bites
  • It reduces pore size and illuminates dull and lifeless skin
  • It can be used to ease stiff muscles – a great idea to carry in your gym bag!
  • Spritz it straight into your hair if you have an itchy scalp
  • Cools down hot joint inflammations such as stiff knees
  • Helps with hot flashes and time of life changes

        

What Is Witch Hazel Hydrosol?

It is the classic astringent that every household used to keep in their first aid kit. It’s made by steam distillation of the leaves and twigs of the plant, and it is a powerhouse of beneficial ingredients. It is one of the most commonly known ways of using hydrosols in skincare, be careful about what you buy. Many commercial Witch Hazel products are actually a large percentage of alcohol with just a little Witch Hazel Extract. Make sure you get the hydrosol.

  • It is rich in antioxidants which tackle free radical activity in your skin. This protects collagen and elastin from being damaged.
  • It can be used as a toner on its own although some people may find it a little too astringent. If so, blend it with one of the other hydrosols
  • It tightens the skin and reduces pore size and as an anti-inflammatory, is an ideal choice for acne-prone skin
  • Wonderful to remove puffy eye bags whether you have hay fever or have watched a weepy movie. Dampen some cotton pads with Witch Hazel Hydrosol and rest them on your eyelids for 15 minutes.
  • It’s often used in cellulite products and varicose vein products as it is a venous constrictor
  • Once on the skin, it gives an immediate cooling sensation which is very nice in the hot weather. Even better when blended with Peppermint Hydrosol
  • It helps with healing hemorrhoids, eczema, and psoriasis although I do not suggest using it directly for those conditions. Make it into a gel for better and gentler application

   

What Is Sandalwood Hydrosol Good For?

This is produced when the chippings of the heartwood of the sandalwood tree are steam distilled to produce sandalwood essential oil. The hydrosol has a wonderful, warm aroma that is very seductive and long-lasting. 

  • Sandalwood Hydrosol balances the skin and really helps to improve dry and problem skin.
  • It targets fine lines and wrinkles and is a must-have in quality anti-aging products – use it before applying moisturizers and serums
  • It’s intensely soothing and calming making it ideal to spray directly onto eczema and psoriasis where it also helps to reduce inflammation
  • Whether you use it on yourself or in a diffuser, you will find it calms and relaxes you.
  • It soothes skin rashes and quickly works with acne to reduce redness and inflammation. It prevents further infection

         

So Now You Know About Using Hydrosols In Skincare

As you now also know, sometimes there is no difference between a hydrosol and a hydrolat, and sometimes there is one heck of a difference. It all depends on the knowledge, honesty, and integrity of the seller to understand what they are selling you and to correctly label the product. I hope I have given you many reasons to start using hydrosols in skincare and the items I have listed on the Amazon links are all hydrosols from steam distillation. Some have a gentle preservative added already, but if you buy a larger size and decant it off into a handy-sized bottle, always keep your larger stock bottle in the fridge to prevent fungal contamination. Using hydrosols in skincare is not only easy, it is an absolute delight to your senses and a benefit to your skin. Go back and check out that video above for a great free recipe.

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