Rose – The Queen of Skin Care - Part 1

Nothing compares
I've been skirting around the edges of writing about Rose for a while now. There's so very much to tell that it would be completely unfair to you (and roses) if the information were too condensed.

I have therefore decided to split the article up into 2 parts and hope you will agree when you have finished reading that there are some ingredients that just deserve a bit more attention than others.

Royalty To Be Sure 

If I had to choose a single ingredient for my skin care, it would be Rose. Whether the essential oil or hydrosol –  rose has so much to offer in so many ways that it has earned itself the title 'Queen of Flowers' as well as 'Queen of Essential Oils'. I believe 'Queen of Hydrosols' is equally fitting.

Rose offers multiple beneficial qualities – not just to the skin, but to the body and spirit as well. It is a constant delight to experience how powerful, yet how gentle this unique ingredient is.

I'll Bet Your Nose Will Never Forget

I never tire of the scent of rose, and am willing to bet that anyone who has experienced the fragrance of genuine Rose Absolute, will forever be able to tell the difference between the real deal and a synthetic rose perfume. The difference is staggering. The two are not just worlds – but entire galaxies – apart.


Way Back When – And Now

The use of rose dates back to 10th century in Persia where it is believed that the renowned physician and philosopher Avicenna could very well have been the first to distill rose – perhaps for medicinal purposes. By the end of the 10th century, rose essential oils and rose waters had spread throughout the Arab speaking countries.

Today, rose is cultivated and harvested in many countries, but Bulgaria and Turkey rank among the largest producers.

Rosa Centifolia

The Chosen Two

There are over 100 species of rose, but only 2 are used for skin care (and perfumery): the Damask Rose (INCI: Rosa Damascena) and the Cabbage Rose (INCI: Rosa Centifolia). Harvesting of these fragrant flowers is done entirely by hand and begins at sunrise.

In order to capture as much of the precious aromatic as possible, distillation takes place on the same day as the flowers are picked. Rose petals have a minimal oil content, why it takes approximately 2000 flowers to produce a single milliliter (about 20 drops) of Rose Absolute oil.

Needless to say, the price of the oil reflects this, and even though the cost of Rose Absolute is so lofty that I think twice about each drop I use, there is quite simply no substitute for it. Most of my suppliers offer an organic variety of both the absolute and hydrosol (which is even pricier than the nonorganic version) but, because we are talking about ingredients that effortlessly penetrate the skin, there is no question: the organic variety is always the one I order.

Rosa Damascena

The Oil - Three Different Production Methods

Rose essential oil is produced in one of 3 ways:

1. Steam distillation:
where crushed rose petals are steam distilled to produce what is known as an 'attar of rose' (or rose otto). Because of the heat involved in the production method, some of the components are lost in the process and the scent of the oil is not 100% identical to the original rose scent.

2. Solvent extraction: 
produces an oil called rose absolute. The rose petals are placed in a vat with a solvent and agitated. This draws out the aromatics (along with wax and pigments). A special vacuum process then removes the solvent from the mass. Finally, to refine and purify the oil, the mass is mixed with alcohol, then low-pressure evaporated to again remove the alcohol and any remaining impurities.

3. Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction:
combines the best of both the steam distillation and solvent extraction methods and produces an oil that is sold either as Rose Absolute or as Rose CO2 Extract. Production involves some seriously pricey equipment but results in an exquisite oil that is very true to the original scent.

Producing a Hydrosol

Hydrosols are commonly referred to as the by-products of steam-distilled essential oil production. As a whole, I find it a bit unfair to refer to a hydrosol as a byproduct – it really is a product unto itself. A growing number of essential oil and hydrosol producers seem to agree, because there is an increase in the number of them distilling with the hydrosol as the intended end product.


Distillation by steam – a quick description: 

In this process, herbs, flowers or plants are distilled with pure spring water that is heated and steam-pressed through the plant material. The steam helps release the essential oils from the plants, where they then pass through a cooling process, and finally to a container where the oils float on the surface of the liquid. When the essential oils are collected, the liquid that remains is the hydrosol – deliciously fragrant, powerful and the basis of every 'water' based product I do.

What's Next

Next installment, I'll get into what rose essential oil and hydrosol have to offer in the way of benefits for skin care (and everything else).

Many thanks to Rolf Kokkonen for the use of his lovely photos of the Damask Rose and The Cabbage Rose

Read part 2 right here

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