A Rose by Any Other Name

I’ve been treating human clients today. I’ve done reflexology sessions for 2 clients and 1 Ayurvedic aromatherapy head massage. I just had to use rose for the latter client because the scent is so balancing and enticing. It allows the mind to wander into the beauty of life – in my opinion anyway!

There’s nothing like scent of a rose to conjure up images of past times. Smells are very powerful triggers of specific memories, and are used in therapy to help recover lost memories. Research at Toronto University shows that memories triggered by smells tend to be clearer, more intense and more emotional. One theory is that this is because the part of the brain that processes smell has direct links with parts that are involved in emotion and memory. In humans, about 300 active olfactory receptor genes are devoted to detecting thousands of different fragrance molecules through a large family of olfactory receptors of a diverse protein sequence.

One such aroma for me is rose. One whiff of an English tea rose and I’m transported to 1976 to my Grandma’s garden, sat on the lawn with her Golden Labrador, Sandy. I guess that’s why I adore the smell of rose absolute, for me it recalls happy childhood memories and endless summer days.

Rose features in my organic skin care range at Norfolk Organics. When I was first formulating the products for my organic skin care brand I was astounded at my investment for rose otto, over £2,300 for 1 litre. Nevertheless, if organic rose essential oil was to feature in my skin care then I’d have to bite the bullet, swallow hard and buy it!

I have since learned a lot about rose, not only how it affects the olfactory senses by inhibiting stress and bring feelings of peace and balance, but also how these wonderous blooms are processed into the oils we use in our products. Rose otto oil is very difficult to extract, which explains why it’s a very expensive oil. There is roughly 0.02 percent essential oil in every rose blossom, meaning you need at least 60,000 roses to produce just an ounce of oil.

From 10,000 pounds of roses, ten pounds of a substance can be extracted by solvent methods. This is then refined to create rose otto oil. At least 67 percent of this extraction is used to make rose otto oil. 

So how is rose absolute less costly than rose otto? Because of the way in which its oil is extracted. There are a couple of ways to extract essential oils and I was lucky enough to see myself when last year I visited a distillery. Hydro Distillation is a popular way to extract essential oils. Rose petals, usually from the highly fragranced Rosa damascene, are placed in a container with pure water then slowly heated. The warm water allows the flowers to release their essential oil. The steam and essential oil pass through a cooling process and finally to a container where the oils float on the surface. This oil is then skimmed and sold as Rose Otto. The watery liquid that remains is called Rose Hydrosol which you usually see in facial toners and cleansers. Rose Otto tends to have a clear to very pale-yellow colour and a light, gentle aroma which lends itself well to wearing it as a perfume.

Solvent Extraction is usually used to extract the oils from petals which becomes rose absolute essential oil. This happens in three very complex stages.  First, the rose petals are placed in a drum with an organic solvent and rotated. This is the drawing out stage to create the aromatic scent of the petals. When the solvent has evaporated, what remains is a thick, waxy substance called a concrete, this is not used by aromatherapists. Next, the waxes and non-aromatic components are filtered out of the concrete with ethanol alcohol, leaving behind an aromatic liquid we call Rose Absolute.

Solvent extraction gives a greater yield than distillation which is why Rose Absolute tends to be less expensive than Rose Otto. The colour of Rose absolute tends to be a dark orange to red with an intense, pungent rose aroma. It is preferred by perfumers and said to be closer in fragrance to the flower than rose otto.

In 2010, Chinese researchers published a study uncovering that rose oil exhibited one of the strongest bactericidal activities compared to 10 other essential oils. As well as being a key fighter of bacteria, thus helping most infections that cause spots or skin eruptions on the face, Rose absolute brings pure joy to my skin. This luxurious oil is also known to have many other skin benefits too. These include reducing heat in inflamed skin, treating broken capillaries which my clients have testified after using my rose facial serum with argan oil, and it’s extremely penetrating – just what I need when I’ve been out during the cold winds of winter with the horses.

And one final thought – unsure about the validity of purity of your rose absolute? Stick it in the freezer because at cold temperatures pure rose absolute turns into a wax!

Niki Senior – Founder & Formulator of Norfolk Organics

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