Essential Oil, Fragrance Oil or Hydrosol?

Fragrance Oil or Hydrosol

How to Identify Pure Aromatherapy Oil, Perfume Oil and Flower Water

The practice of aromatherapy uses pure essential oils for their therapeutic properties; fragrance oils are of use purely for their perfumery qualities and do not possess the therapeutic properties of pure essential oils. Hydrosols, formerly treated as the ‘by-product’ of the distillation process in obtaining a pure essential oil, do have their own therapeutic properties; identifying the differences between each of these oils is sometimes difficult.

The Adulteration of Essential Oils

Essential oils are obtained from plants; unfortunately, in today’s world, due to rising costs and decreasing profit margins, many companies and individuals try to ‘copy’ the essential oils produced by nature, as pure essential oils are not cheap to produce. An essential oil is ‘copied’ through adulteration or synthesization of the original essential oil; however, an adulterated or synthesized essential oil will be of no therapeutic value in aromatherapy.

The Chemical Make-Up of a Pure Essential Oil

Essential oils are very complex substances; all essential oils are made up of many individual chemical components which are difficult to identify. In addition, pure essential oils are affected by a number of factors on the source (the plant), making it impossible to ‘duplicate’ nature; these factors include (but are not exclusive):

  • the altitude at which the plant is grown; for example, lavender grown above 2000 feet will be chemically different to lavender grown at a lower altitude
  • the country in which a plant is grown
  • the weather
  • the condition of the soil the plant is grown in
  • the time of day the plant is harvested and distilled.

A pure essential oil will hold the therapeutic properties to heal; it will not be chemically altered in any way or be diluted. Some essential oils are sold as ‘pure’ when, in fact, they are diluted in a blend; this may, or may not, be identified in the small print on the labeling of the essential oil.

The Use of Hydrosols in Aromatherapy

Hydrosols, also known as flower or floral waters, are essentially the by-product of the distillation process used in obtaining pure essential oils; hydrosols are the ‘waste water’ (not oil) of the distillation process. As a result, hydrosols naturally contain some of the properties of the essential oil.

Usually, essential oils are considered to be non water-soluble but, in fact, some essential oil components do dissolve in water and combine with other components of the plant to make a hydrosol. Pure hydrosols hold healing therapeutic properties like essential oils; they are often used in skin care. However, hydrosols are also open to abuse and there are many adulterated hydrosols in circulation much the same as essential oils.

An example of a ‘fake’ hydrosol is jasmine; jasmine is frequently open to abuse due to the high cost of producing both the essential oil and the hydrolat. Jasmine ‘essential’ oil is obtained by solvent extraction, which uses chemicals in the extraction process, and therefore there is no such product as ‘pure’ jasmine essential oil or ‘pure’ jasmine hydrosol.

The Use of Fragrance Oils in the USA

Fragrance, or perfume, oils are very popular in the USA; unfortunately, fragrance oils are purely synthetic and do not have any of the therapeutic properties which essential oils hold. Fragrance oils are popular in the perfume industry, where smell is the most important factor.

Fragrance oils are also used by many small businesses and hobbyists to make home-made bath and body products. If the intent is purely for its fragrance use, perfume oils can be used as a lesser and cheaper alternative to essential oils; however, fragrance oils do not have any therapeutic value in the practice of aromatherapy.

Identifying Pure Oils From Fake Oils

In summary, it is very difficult to identify a pure essential oil or hydrosol from a fake essential oil or hydrosol. However, it is possible to learn to identify the subtle differences between an essential oil, fragrance oil and hydrosol. With research and learning, it is also possible to identify a good supplier of pure essential oils and hydrosols from those selling fake essential oils and hydrosols.

For Further Reading:

Catty, Suzanne 2001 Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy USA: Healing Arts Press

Price, Shirley 2000 Aromatherapy Workbook UK: Thorsons

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