Essential Oils, Hydrosols and Eye Care
As Tisserand and Balacs say in their book Essential Oil Safety:
Undiluted essential oils should not be applied to or very near the eyes. Great care should be taken, even with diluted essential oils.
The truth of the matter is that although essential oils are wonderful healing substances they are just too concentrated to be used in and around the eyes. So what do we do when we need eye care? Where do we turn for a natural remedy?
Well one alternative might be to use herbs and herbal teas. One could make an infusion of the tea and then dilute it down to be used in eye compresses, or now that so many herbal teas come in bags some herbalists advocate using the tea bags.
Another alternative, and one more of interest to me as an aromatherapist, is to use a hydrosol. Hydrosols, as the by product of any steam distillation process, are formed whenever plant material is distilled to form essential oils, however most aromatherapy suppliers will only carry a few of the more popular and versatile hydrosols.
Recently I had what certainly felt and looked like a stye forming on my left eye. I went straight for my Green Myrtle Hydrosol. I used an eye compress with the Green Myrtle Hydrosol and felt almost immediate relief. Overnight the little white bump almost disappeared and it was completely gone in another day. Certainly not anywhere as long as this quote “Styes can last from 1 to 2 weeks without treatment, or as little as 4 days if treated properly.” Well mine was gone in 2 days and all I used was the Green Myrtle Hydrosol in an eye compress and lightly sprayed around my eye. Yeah for Hydrosols!
So what are hydrosols?
The word hydrosol is derived from the Latin “hydro” meaning “water” and “sol” meaning “solution”. In aromatherapy hydrosols are also known as hydrolates or floral waters. In her book Hydrosols, The Next Aromatherapy, Suzanne Catty uses the following definition: “Hydrosols are the condensate water coproduced during steam- or hydro-distillation of plant material for aromatherapeutic purposes.”
While hydrosols consists mainly of water they do contain some of the water soluble micro molecules of essential oil as well as water soluble plant components and it is these micro molecules that imparts both the aroma and the therapeutic properties to the hydrosols. Because they are so much less concentrated than essential oils, they are very gentle compounds making them excellent for using on delicate tissues and around the eyes. While there are a number of different hydrosols that are gentle and effective for many different purposes and conditions Suzanne Catty only recommends four to be used as an eye wash (Green Myrtle, Roman Chamomile, German Chamomile and Cornflower). Once you start working with hydrosols you will find that there are a myriad of ways to use these gentle, but very effective substances. Hydrosols should be kept very cool or refrigerated and their shelf life will vary depending on the plant material it has been derived from, however many of the hydrosols that are freely available are quite stable and generally last around two years.