- Witch hazel is a topical agent linked to anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial benefits.
- It has been used for centuries to treat common skin conditions, including acne.
- Dermatologists recognize witch hazel for its therapeutic traits but warn that it cannot replace an entire skincare regimen.
Derived from the bark, twigs, and leaves of the witch hazel plant Hamamelis virginiana via steam distillation, witch hazel is a topical agent that boasts a plethora of skin care benefits.
We asked the experts for their take on this natural product and its effectiveness in treating common skin concerns.
What the experts say
Witch hazel, which is native to North America and Asia, has been used as a beauty product for centuries. The extract is added to alcohol or water to make the clear liquid that is commonly bottled and sold as witch hazel.
“It is one of nature’s oldest, and continues to be one of the most effective, beauty ingredients,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross. “Witch hazel extract is a natural toner with anti-irritant properties, most commonly used to remove excess oil deposits in the skin and to clean pores by dissolving any debris.”
David Pollock, beauty chemist, published author and co-host of the weekly podcast, Just Ask David, notes, “Witch hazel typically contains 14% alcohol, which doesn’t need to be listed on the label since its part of the extraction process.”
While witch hazel toner is often used to treat oily and acne-prone skin, Pollock adds some important caveats to its use. “In my opinion, the benefits of the alcohol outweigh the benefits of witch hazel or any other extract for helping to remove excess sebum, killing the bacteria that causes acne, and clearing up problematic skin.”
Consequently, Pollock warns that individuals with normal or dry skin should avoid witch hazel extract as the alcohol it contains will further dry their skin.
New York City based dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah agrees, noting that witch hazel could be diluted before its application to temper the effects of the alcohol. As for how often witch hazel should be used, Dr. Shah says, “This varies based on skin type and issue.” She generally recommends starting three times per week and increasing use up to two times per day as tolerated.
What are the benefits of using witch hazel?
Witch hazel extract contains agents called tannins and polyphenols that have antioxidant, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties.
The benefits of witch hazel are vast and diverse. Here are some key properties of this versatile skincare product.
The tannins in witch hazel give it powerful, natural astringent properties to remove excess oil from the skin while reducing redness and inflammation. With less oil present, bacterial growth on the skin becomes limited, making skin infections and the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads less likely.
The benefits of this compound for individuals with sensitive or oily skin includes smaller pores, a more balanced pH, and non-greasy yet hydrated skin.
Improving skin tone
Bruises, uneven skin tone and irritated skin can seem to linger forever. Witch hazel is an excellent facial toner, making it a natural remedy that can reduce the appearance of swelling and constricted blood vessels.
Curing puffy eyes
From smoking and excess alcohol consumption to stress and allergies, many environmental factors can irritate the sensitive skin around the eyes, making them appear puffy.
Witch hazel is excellent for tightening the skin and eliminating under-eye puffiness in ten minutes or less. For even faster effects, chill witch hazel in the refrigerator before application.
Faster wound healing
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory property, witch hazel acts to cleanse and soothe, and can dramatically shorten the healing time for wounds. It is safe to apply to the whole face and body, including the lips and even inside the mouth on the gums and inner cheeks.
For sunburns, witch hazel can prevent the skin from peeling and flaking. It also works well for razor bumps that arise from irritated hair follicles. Applying witch hazel before you shave can prevent razor burn, while applying it after shaving will relieve the lingering sting of razor burn.
Protect against aging
Natural aging exacerbated by sun exposure results in facial wrinkles, loss of elasticity, dry skin, scarring, and discoloration. Regular use of witch hazel alleviates all these effects by slowing their progression.
The tannins and polyphenols in witch hazel protect skin from general UV damage and skin cancer, ultimately supporting the maintenance of skin’s collagen and elasticity.
How to use witch hazel
As noted, using an alcohol-free witch hazel toner is key. The following alcohol-free witch hazel beauty products are worth considering:
- Thayer’s Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner with Aloe Vera
- Thayer’s Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel
- Dickinson’s Alcohol-Free Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner
To maximize the benefits of witch hazel, use it in the middle of the skin care routine and follow these steps:
- Cleanse the face thoroughly to allow for deeper penetration of the product.
- Apply witch hazel to the face with a cotton ball or pad.
- Apply a serum or eye cream over the witch hazel to seal it in.
- Lock in moisture with a good moisturizer.
Boost benefits with added ingredients
For added benefits, witch hazel can be combined with other natural agents.
- For cleansing the hair and scalp, add witch hazel to shampoo with coconut, argan or other essential oils, like lemon oil and orange oil.
- Mixing witch hazel with anti-bacterial agents, such as apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil or coconut oil, can enhance acne treatment.
- Combining frankincense, evening primrose and vitamin E oils with witch hazel produces a powerful, do-it-yourself anti-aging and facial toner serum.
- Finally, you can make a mineral-rich face mask by stirring witch hazel into French green clay.
Witch hazel can be used alone as a quick and effective makeup remover.
The bottom line: witch hazel wards off skin woes
Overall, our beauty experts agree that this topical agent does indeed offer some real skin care benefits.
The list of its positive attributes includes use as an acne treatment, to diminish puffy eyes and even out skin tone. It’s also a versatile beauty compound that can be used as a toner, serum or even as a makeup remover.
However, remember that using an alcohol-free product is crucial so you don’t dry out your skin.
» For more information on witch hazel toner and other natural beauty products, meet our Medical Review Team.