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In the practice of aromatherapy, essential oils, fragrance oils and hydrosols are often confused as one and the same oil; however, although essential oils and hydrosols are used in therapeutic aromatherapy, fragrance oils are not.

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, also have their own therapeutic properties; identifying the differences between each of these oils is sometimes difficult.

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 holds no therapeutic value in aromatherapy.

The Chemistry of a Pure Essential Oil

Essential oils are very complex substances; all essential oils are made up of many individual chemical components which are often 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 exhaustive):

–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 healing, therapeutic properties; 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.

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.

Essential oils are usually 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 hydrosol.  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.

Fragrance Oils in the United States

Fragrance, or perfume, oils are very popular in the United States; unfortunately, fragrance oils are purely synthetic and do not have any of the therapeutic properties which essential oils hold.  The popularity of fragrance oils in the United States often leads to confusion as to the use of essential oils in the therapeutic practice of aromatherapy.

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.

How to Identify Pure Essential Oils From Fake Oils

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

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Essential Oil, Fragrance Oil or Hydrosol?

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

CopyrightSharonFalsetto2010 All Rights Reserved
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