When you think of this flower, romance and Valentine’s Day come to mind. Perhaps your beauty and health should be associated with it, too.
Of course, staring at a pretty pink or red bouquet won’t help you look better, but maybe wearing their extract does. Forms used as food grade flavorings, such as in chocolate truffles, might offer you more than just a floral taste.
What is rose essential oil?
Also known as rose otto, it’s made from the distillation of rose petals using steam. It’s one of the most expensive essential oils in the world since it takes 22 lbs of petals to make a 5 mL bottle.
Within the Rosaceae plant family, there are over 270 different species of roses and an even higher number of cultivars. The type most commonly used to make oil is Rosa damascena L.
In the Middle East, it has been used an herbal remedy since ancient times for allegedly helping abdominal and chest pains, menstrual bleeding, and digestive problems, among other uses. (1)
Rose oil does not smell like the freshly picked flowers. This is because the heat used to make it destroys certain aroma compounds. However the main one responsible for the scent of roses, beta-damascenone, remains present in the essential oil.
The chemical composition of rose essential oil is:
- citronellol (15.9-35.3%)
- geraniol (8.3-30.2%)
- nerol (4.0-9.6%)
- nonadecane (4.5-16.0%)
- heneicosane (2.6-7.9%)
- linalool (0.7-2.8%)
Those are the constituents in highest concentration. There are also the powerful antioxidants kaempferol and quercetin. (2) (3)
Rose essential oil blends well with geranium and lemon. All three contain citronellol and geraniol.
Jasmine, lavender, vanilla, and ylang ylang are other flowery scents that can be blended. For something spicy, combine with cinnamon, clove, or ginger. Woody aromas like cedarwood, frankincense, and patchouli work, too.
Due to the frailty of the flower, the production of rose oil typically involves harvesting the petals by hand and steam distilling them the same day. You may pay a small fortune for this.
Young living rose oil costs $244.08 at retail and $185.50 at wholesale. That was their price for a tiny 5 mL (0.17 oz) bottle at the time of review. That’s a whopping $1,443.66 per ounce for retail! And that’s for conventional, not organic.
A 20 oz bottle of Coke costs around $2. If you filled it with this oil, its value might be enough to buy yourself a Mercedes CLA coupe!
What is rose absolute?
The difference between rose oil and rose absolute is that the former uses steam distillation, while the latter uses solvent extraction. Both are used for the same purpose of producing a floral scent in perfume and skin care products.
The alcohol and other chemical solvents used to extract rose absolute results in a milder scent and some argue these added ingredients are unhealthy for skincare. Since essential rose oil involves nothing but water during production, it’s the best and most pure form.
The benefit of absolute is that it’s affordable. Use for hair, lip gloss, and in diffusers without feeling wasteful.
Young Living and Doterra don’t sell it since technically, it is not an essential. The brands Plant Therapy, Aura Cacia, and NOW sell it for peanuts in comparison – costing in the neighborhood of $10 to $50 per bottle. Some of these are even USDA certified organic.
NOW sells a 1 fl oz bottle, which is about 6x the size of Young Living’s EO. The reason it’s so cheap is because it’s not pure absolute. It has been watered down with grapeseed oil.
The following are what rose oil is currently being researched for. Since the research is preliminary and the suspected advantages remain unproven, this oil should not be used to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
1. Potent antioxidant activity
If you look at essential oil ORAC values, you will find rose within the top 10. Its value is quite high at 158,000.
Another testing method, DPPH, pits its free radical scavenging activity against vitamin C (ascorbic acid). It too reports impressive results. Not only for the Rosa damascena species, but also the less common Rosa bourboniana and Rosa brunonii. (4)
Similar to vitamin E, it has been shown to have high inhibitory effects against lipid peroxidation (oxidation of fats). (5)
When topically used in skin care, the oil and absolute could offer anti-aging advantages. The antioxidant activity might lessen the formation of deep wrinkles, fine lines around the eyes, and discoloration, all of which are worsened by the free radicals created by UV light.
2. Brightens skin
Doterra says in their marketing that it promotes an even skin tone and healthy complexion. Although this perk has not been scientifically measured, many reviews claim rose oil for skin lightening works.
That would make sense, because topical vitamin C has been clinically found to have a mild depigmentation benefit, by inhibiting the oxidation of melanin. (6)
3. May help protect male reproductive organs
While this flower is associated with femininity, men shouldn’t be so quick to ignore it.
In a study using 48 adult male mice, some were poisoned with formaldehyde. For the groups that received Rosa damascena oil, their reproductive organs were much better protected:
“…significantly improved serum T level, testicular weight/histological structure, tubular diameter, Leydig cell number and epididymal sperm characteristics in comparison to its lower doses and the control group.”
They believe it was due to the antioxidants in rose oil. (7)
Because diabetes causes increased glycation and oxidation in the body, antioxidants are arguably even more important for those with the disease. In a study using diabetic rats, similar protective effects were seen against testicular damage caused by the disease. (8)
4. Potential for asthma, COPD, and lung problems
Theophylline is a medication used to treat wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. It’s used for asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other breathing disorders. (9)
In a study using guinea pigs, it was reported that rose absolute “showed a potent relaxant effect” on their trachea that was comparable to that of theophylline. (10)
Aromatherapy often makes breathing harder for those with allergies and sensitive lungs. This might actually be an essential oil that’s good for asthma and breathing, if it truly relaxes the trachea. Obviously, much more research is needed to determine if this happens in humans.
5. Being researched for Alzheimer’s
Recent research from 2017 claimed that rose essential oil delayed progression of Alzheimer’s disease-like symptoms in an animal model of C. elegans (roundworms). They said:
“…significantly suppressed Aß [amyloid beta] deposits and reduced the Aß oligomers to alleviate the toxicity induced by Aß overexpression.”
Amyloid plaque deposits are a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s in humans. They also reported the rose otto had a positive influence on related gene expression. (11)
6. Improved lower back pain in pregnant women
In a randomized, blinded, and controlled clinical trial involving 120 pregnant women with lower back pain, those given the essential oil experienced a significant improvement.
The bars show pain reductions according to respected testing methods; the Visual Analogue Scale and functional ability according to Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaires.
There were around 40 women in each group and how they used the rose oil was topically; 7 drops were applied on the skin of the area that was painful. This dosage was used 2x daily for 4 weeks.
The researchers said this “decreased menstrual pain with no significant side effects.” (12)
7. May boost estrogen during menopause
Perimenopause, which means “around menopause, is earmarked by hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood changes, and decreased sexual arousal, among other side effects. The natural decline in reproductive hormones is believed to be a major cause for many of these.
Japanese scientists tested 10 different essential oils on women to see what effect, if any, they had on salivary estrogen levels. Rose otto and geranium boosted the levels when compared to control. Interestingly, these two share similar chemical profiles.
The other essential oils failed. Those were lavender, jasmine absolute, clary sage, ylang ylang, frankincense, neroli, orange and roman chamomile. (13)
8. Being researched for Parkinson’s
What’s been said to be “the gold standard” for Parkinson’s disease treatment is levodopa. This medication promotes dopamine production in the brain, but it can also create a dependency and some lab research suggests levodopa might be toxic to the dopaminergic neurons.
A Bulgarian university reported that the combination of levodopa with rose and lavender essential oils, plus vitamin C, appeared to reduce levodopa side effects and may reduce oxidative toxicity of the medication. (14)
9. Improved menstrual cramping in human study
Dysmenorrhea, which is the technical term for painful periods and mentrual cramps, was studied in 100 women.
Half received the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac sodium. You may recognize that ingredient sold under the brands Voltaren, Cambia, Solaraze. The other half received the drug, along with aromatherapy using a 2% concentration of rose essential oil.
The results found that the painful periods were helped most when the aromatherapy was used. (15)
10. Antiproliferative activity seen in skin cells
Keratinocytes, which are also known as basal cells of the skin, are responsible for making keratin. Too much activity can lead to skin cancer.
The wastewater from distilling rose oil was found to have an antiproliferative effect on cultured human keratinocytes, in a dose-dependent manner. It even did better than the powerful antioxidants quercetin and ellagic acid. (16)
11. Protects cultured neurons against toxins
Japanese researchers tested what protective effects – if any – various essential oils might have on the death of neuron cells caused by hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and aluminum.
As you see the essential oil of damask rose was among the best at reducing neuron cell death from hydrogen peroxide (left chart) and aluminum (on right). Their bars were high and close to those of the control groups, which weren’t poisoned so they remained at 100% cell viability.
As shown in the above chart, this neuroprotective benefit was seen in a dose-dependent manner. (17)
12. Muscle relaxant (antispasmodic) properties
Potassium and sodium function as electrolytes in the body, which means they’re involved with electrical nerve impulses. Electrolytes influence muscle spasms, blood pressure, and more.
In a study using rabbit aorta heart valves, undesirable potassium-induced contractions were reduced when they were treated with rose absolute and essential oils.
The flower extracts worked in a dose-dependent manner. As you see in the charts, the effect was similar verapamil, which is a calcium-channel blocker used for treating hypertension (high blood pressure). (18)
13. Potential for Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s is a chronic disease which most often affects the lower part of the small intestine, known as the ileum. In rats, rose oil has been found to reduce ileum contractions.
Whether or not this may be helpful for Crohn’s disease, IBS, and other GI disorders is unknown, but it is preliminary evidence that it really might affect the digestive tract, as some ancient medicinal uses have claimed. (19)
Being that many essential oils have a pleasing aroma, it’s no surprise that they may influence our brain activity.
In a Japanese study using 20 female university students, it was confirmed that rose and orange oils influenced prefrontal cortex activity in the brain. This was said to promote “comfortable, relaxed, and natural feelings.” (20)
Perhaps this is why in a morphine-addicted mice study, it was found to reduce the drug withdrawal symptoms. Drug addition in humans has not been tested but hopefully it will be. (21)
15. Reduces skin inflammation
If you still aren’t sold on the theory that carrageenan is bad, just consider the fact that it’s been used in animal research for decades to intentionally cause inflammation.
In a study which used it on rat paw edema, the essential oil of rose didn’t have an anti-inflammatory effect but the rose absolute did. This is good news for skin care, since most creams and serums use the absolute extract because it’s cheaper to make. (22) (23)
16. Kills acne-linked bacteria
At a concentration of just 0.25%, lab studies have found that rose EO “completely killed” Propionibacterium acnes bacteria after 5 minutes. (24)
The root causes of pimples and blackheads remains unknown, but it’s well-known that the presence of P. acnes bacteria in the closed nodules correlates with higher inflammation and redness. So in short, the less of it on your face, the better your breakouts will probably be.
17. Anti-seizure effects in rats
A study out of Iran reported anti-seizure effects were observed in rats:
“These results suggest that Rosa damascena essential oil significantly retarded the development of seizure stages and possesses the ability to counteract kindling acquisition.”
This was “significantly different” than the control group, who weren’t getting the oil. They believe it was helping their seizures by acting through the GABAA receptors of the brain. (25)
Where to buy
Remember the potential benefits for healthcare and medicine remain unproven and therefore, the oil and absolute should only be used for aromatherapy and topical skin care.
For perfume, few brands use it as the starring scent. One that does is Yves Rocher Rose Absolute. It’s a French cosmetics company that’s hard to find at U.S. department stores but you can buy it on Amazon.
When it comes to perfume, manufacturers are not required to disclose concentrations of ingredients. Therefore it’s unknown as to how much of the absolute or otto there is in a product like Yves Rocher.
If your goal is better skin, then the best rose oil for face will be one that’s pure, or blended in a transparent way.
Given how expensive pure rose oil is, it makes more economic sense to use one that’s been formulated with other essential oils that have complimentary advantages.
Rose geranium oil is the most popular. Geranium blends well with rose since both contain high amounts of citronellol and geraniol. Carrier oils like jojoba also work.
Badger makes a damascus rose face oil that’s blended with seed oils rich in antioxidants like baobab, pomegranate, and rose hip. You can get it on Amazon.
While you may find the absolute at Walmart, the essential oil/otto is rarely carried in physical stores, even those which normally have a good selection. Given how much it costs, it remains a niche product.
On Amazon, Doterra offers a roll-on version of pure rose which is the easiest way to apply it to your skin.
For a bottle, we like the reasonably priced 100% pure rose otto sold by Aviano Botanicals.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.